Early assessment news in some towns hints at property value hikes in Syracuse suburbs

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Lysander property values

The assessed value of almost every home in the towns of Lysander and Van Buren will increase this year, sometimes on top of spikes from the year before.

It is an early indication of the impact of last year’s hot housing market on assessed values in the Syracuse suburbs. If school districts and local governments continue to spend at the same rate or more, it could mean higher property taxes for many.

The two northern towns are among the first in Onondaga County to notify homeowners of changes for 2021. Marcellus, which conducted a full revaluation of property this year, has also sent notices to homeowners. The value of property increased across Marcellus by about 15%, Assessor Larry Fitts said.

Other towns will send notices after May 1.

“There’s what I would call a raging buyer’s frenzy out there right now,” Clay Assessor Rob Bick said.

Home prices were already booming in Central New York when the coronavirus pandemic hit last March. Then, the market squeeze came.

Fewer people put their homes up for sale at the same time many people wanted to buy. Families wanted more space for home offices and remote school. Interest rates hit historic lows. Bidding wars broke out. Across the county, median home sales were 10% higher in 2020 over the year before.

“The values are going straight up,” said Theresa Golden, the assessor for both Lysander and Van Buren. “This is the most reappraisal work that I’ve had to do in 20 years.”

Schools, towns and county governments raise money for basic services by charging a rate for every $1,000 of each property’s assessed value. If everyone’s assessment goes up and spending stays the same or decreases, an increase in assessed value would not result in higher taxes for everyone.

But if school districts, counties and towns spend more money in 2021, higher assessments would increase some homeowner’s taxes at a time when families are already overburdened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Assessors hear a lot about high property taxes. But their only job is to ensure home values are fair and in line with market trends. Assessors don’t control government spending.

“I don’t need to hear about your taxes,” Golden said.

In Lysander, Golden and her staff reappraised homes in 27 neighborhoods, starting last September. That means they looked at each house in person to see the condition and analyze comparable sales. They also reviewed aerial photographs and building permits for changes that would increase or decrease values. Those homes will see adjustments one-by-one. Most values have increased, unless the homes suffered fire damage or were torn down, she said.

In another 12 neighborhoods, she applied a 6% increase to every home. That is based on more broad market trends. Some of those homes saw increases the year before.

Only three of 42 residential neighborhoods did not change this year, she said.

In Van Buren, almost all homes increased in value. Eight neighborhoods were reappraised one by one. Values in nine other neighborhoods were increased across the board by 3%, she said.

“They’re doing thousands more than the asking prices,” she said. “When one or two people do that, that’s an anomaly and it doesn’t make that much of an impact. When it becomes routine and the majority of these properties are in that situation, where they’re paying way more than the asking price for these properties, that’s the market.”

Golden has already started booking informal phone calls, which is why she gets started a full month before the other towns.

“Most people are concerned about their taxes and a lot of people have questions about why they got done two or three years in a row,” she said. “The answer to that is that values have gone up significantly over the past three years and every year, we’re playing catch up.”

Larry Fitts conducted a full revaulation of every property in Marcellus leading up to the 2020 assessment process, but he put it on hold during the pandemic. He reviewed properties again for 2021. It had not been done since 2008.

As the pandemic started to shut down the economy, Fitts said, people thought values would decrease, people would not have the money to buy or the stock market would crash.

“That’s totally opposite what happened,” he said.

He gave this example: One home was valued at $131,000 and he increased the assessment to $161,000 for this year. It recently sold for $249,000.

“Which is insane,” he said.

Property owners in other towns can expect to receive notice of any changes to their assessments after May 1. That is when they are required by state law to publish tentative values. That gives homeowners about one month to do research before they might make a case to a Board of Assessment Review on Grievance Day, at the end of May or beginning of June.

Bick, in Clay, said it will be hard for anyone to make an argument that assessments are too high when assessors clearly can’t keep up with the market.

“Something on the market six months ago is worth more today,” he said. “It’s something I’ve never seen.”

Published by Syracuse.com

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