Soaring appraisals stun Victoria County homeowners

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

May 24, 2014 at 12:24 a.m.
Updated May 26, 2014 at 12:26 a.m.

Adam Luther holds his 3-week-old daughter, Marley, in a swing in front of his home, which was appraised at an additional $30,000 after he built a carport for $10,000. The hike in taxes, he said, will be difficult to pay, considering a new addition to the family.

Adam Luther holds his 3-week-old daughter, Marley, in a swing in front of his home, which was appraised at an additional $30,000 after he built a carport for $10,000. The hike in taxes, he said, will be difficult to pay, considering a new addition to the family.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

When Darryl Burns opened his tax appraisal notice this year, he knew immediately he'd be filing a protest.

The 3-acre tract he owns off Krawietz Road, 2 acres of which is a pond, had increased in value by $7,010, bringing his appraisal up to $32,970.

"That tells me that either the appraiser doesn't know how to appraise correctly, or they're getting crazy out of hand with all this tax business," Burns, 49, said. "It could be a mixture of both."

His wife, Sharon, went to Facebook to share their plight and realized they weren't alone - the same thing was happening to neighbors, friends and other property owners.

As supply and demand for property leans toward the seller and the appraisal district works to keep up with market values, Victoria property owners are finding the worth of their homes and land could be more than they want.

The average market value of a house increased almost 8 percent to $141,925 from $131,685 in 2013, according to preliminary information from the Victoria Central Appraisal District.

"We do something similar to what a Realtor would do," said John Haliburton, Victoria Central Appraisal District's chief appraiser. "If you had a house that you were considering to sell, they would look and see what other houses that are very similar to yours in size, structure and condition are listed for. We look at what they're selling for."

Victoria Realtor Lee Swearingen said he resents the comment.

"The appraisal district is not representing the taxpayers. They're representing the taxing entities," he said.

While Haliburton is governed by state law, Swearingen said he is governed by the market.

"In no way do Realtors appraise your property in the same way a tax appraiser would," he said.

Haliburton said appraisers use the market values, not asking prices, of homes as a basis for their method to the adjustments. From that value, the appraisal district will adjust up or down.

In Texas, the selling price of homes is not public information.

"We send out sales letters to all buyers and sellers and ask for that information," Haliburton said.

He estimated that less than half the letters, which come with self-addressed stamped envelopes for convenience, are returned.

The appraisal district uses "mass appraisals" rather than a value a hired appraiser can individually tailor to a property.

"There may be two houses in a neighborhood, but because of condition, how they're presented to the market, so forth, that may create a different value," Swearingen said. "The appraisal district is trying to throw a blanket over everything."

The appraisal district sent 35,000 letters in May to notify property owners of increases in their values.

Of the county's 58,215 parcels, 33,292 are residential, and 8,186 are commercial. The remaining are farm and ranch land, oil and gas, utilities and exempted property, according to the appraisal district's annual report.

Haliburton said he did not know how many properties had their appraisals lowered or how many appraisals stayed the same.

"This is mass appraisal," he said. "That's why we send out notices in order for people to bring their concerns to us."

He expects more than 2,000 property owners to protest their appraisals. Property owners have until midnight June 6 to protest their appraisals.

Property taxes help fund public schools, city streets, county roads, police, fire protection and many other services.

In 2013, the county had $7.8 billion in taxable value, according to the state comptroller. The figures for 2014 are not available.

Being a public employee didn't lessen the blow of a higher appraisal for Adam Luther, 37, of Victoria.

After adding a $10,000 carport to his home in the Northcrest subdivision, Luther opened a letter notifying him of a $30,000 increase in his property value.

He purchased the 1973-era brick home in 2004 from a foreclosure sale.

"It was a dump," he said. "We got it for a good deal, but we put a lot of work into it."

Since then, its value doubled, and it is now listed on the tax rolls at $141,000.

"I made some improvements, and I understand that home values increase, and there's inflation to consider, but that's a pretty big jump," Luther said.

If he sold the house today, he said, he thinks he could get that tax roll figure, but he doubts he'll be able to once activity from the oil industry dies down.

He unsuccessfully protested four or five years ago and plans to try again.

With his first child born in May and no chance of seeing a 25-percent pay increase, he said his tax bill will be a big pill to swallow.

"You almost feel silly complaining about it," Luther said. "On one hand, my home is worth more, which is great because I have more equity, but on the same hand, I have to pay almost $800 more in taxes this year, and that's a big hit."

Related story:

Tax consultants give tips for lowering appraisals



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