by Tony Tucci
Property values (read property taxes) took a huge jump this year in the Oak Hill area—increases being called “outlandish” and “blood boiling” by some local residents.
But it was a good news-bad news situation as Travis County homeowners found property appraisal notices in their mailboxes this month. If you are selling your house you are probably thrilled as never before by the suddenly soaring value of your home.
Officials say you can blame (or thank) the strong economy and growing popularity of Austin.
About 393,925 property owners were mailed notices by the Travis Central Appraisal District, which places a value on each property. That value is used to determine how much each property is taxed by cities, counties, school districts and other taxing jurisdictions.
Chief Appraiser Marya D. Crigler reported that the average homestead taxable values in Travis County increased 8 percent from $222,486 last year to $240,139 in 2014. Some local homeowners, however, reported increases that are much higher.
An increase in taxable value was good news for homeowners thinking about selling their property. While taxable value is not the same as market value, it can be used in determining a sales price.
The majority of property owners, and particularly those on fixed incomes, see the increase in tax valuation as bad news, because it will translate into higher property taxes.
Realtor Bob Ream, whose practice includes the Oak Hill area, called it a double-edged sword. “If you’re like most homeowners, the thought of paying higher property taxes can really make your blood start to boil. My own property went up 9.9% higher in value in 2014 than the 2013 Tax Appraised Value. Of course that can spark a double-edged sword of emotions: happiness that my home is going up in value, optimism for the future… and some anger and frustration that my cost of living just went up (again.)
“As the market continues to grow, Austin home sellers are experiencing the thrill of being in a seller’s market like maybe never before in our history. Multiple offers, bidding wars, sometimes just hours on the market instead of days, weeks or months,” Ream said.
Noah Marburger, president of the Oak Hill Branch of Prosperity Bank, said the increases are “outlandish,” particularly coming in a single year. “I had a 13% increase in my property taxes,” Marburger said. “It seems irresponsible to have such a large increase all at once. We should have a steady increase.”
Oak Hill realtor Barbara Gremillion, of Coldwell Banker United Realtors, has a one-month inventory of property, meaning that homes are on and off the market within 30 days. A balanced inventory is typically around four months,” she said. “It’s a seller’s market, and it is very common for homes to be sold at list price or above. In the past 30 days, homes have been sold in just 17 days.”
Ream said he intends to protest his appraisal, and he urged everyone to do so. “Usually you can get something off. They can be very generous,” he said, referring to the Appraisal Review Board.
The deadline for filing a protest with the Appraisal Review Board is June 2, or 30 days after the appraisal district mailed the notice of appraised value, whichever is later. Crigler said that last year the appraisal district received 78,000 protests.
Crigler said the increased values this year are fueled by Austin’s strong economy, including a steady growth in population and job market. “Austin is the only city in the nation with a five-year job growth rate in double digits, at just under 11%, and consistently ranked as the top economy in national reports,” Crigler said. “In 2013 the unemployment rate held at 5.0% and Austin added 27,200 jobs for a strong 3.3% job growth rate (ahead of the overall state growth rate of 2.8 % and national rate of 1.6%).”
In her report, Crigler said while the residential market sector increased 8%, overall values in Travis County increased 15% from 2013 levels, from $107 billion to $123 billion, led primarily by new construction, growth in the commercial apartment sector, and a strong residential sector.
“Successful events such as Circuit of the Americas Formula One Race, South by Southwest, Austin City Limits and the addition of the “X” Games have added to the demand and have spurred new hotel and apartment development. The apartments sector remains exceptionally strong with vacancy at 4.4% and continued demand outpacing available supply, despite 5,133 new units added in 2013 and over 11,000 units under construction to be delivered in 2014.
“Occupancy and rental rates in the Austin multi-tenant office market held steady with vacancy rates at 16.1% mark and a 3.1% year-over-year gain in rental rates. The industrial and retail sectors continue to improve with new power centers in Pflugerville at Pfluger Crossing and continued construction at Stone Hill Town Center.
“Austin will also see continued business investments as established businesses Samsung, Apple and Visa expand their presence in Austin, several well known corporations Dropbox, Websence and Athenahealth established new offices in the market, and the addition of the Dell Medical School creates a new medical district on the northern edge of downtown Austin.
“The residential market sector continues to show strong growth with new housing starts hitting a six year high in 2013. The number of months of inventory for single-family homes was at a low 2.2 months, meaning demand for Austin homes continues to significantly outstrip supply (6 months of inventory in a market in which supply is balanced with demand). Residential homes continue to sell at an accelerated rate, spending on average 51 days on the market. Sales of existing homes increased from to 25,506 to 30,071. The average sales price of existing homes in Travis County increased 11% from $261,000 in February 2013 to $289,500 in February 2014. Strongest residential growth is in east Austin and the urban core. Average homestead taxable values in Travis County increased 8% from $222,486 last year to $240,139 in 2014.”
Crigler said there are ways that residents can reduce the amount of tax valuation besides filing a protest. Several exemptions are available that remove part of the value of property from taxation and lowers the tax bill.
“Residence homestead exemptions apply to most owner-occupied homes in Texas and are the most common type of exemption,” she said. “In addition to an exemption amount, homestead property is also eligible for property value limitation. The notice of appraised value will provide the market value (price a property would sell for), and the appraised value (homestead limitation of 10% increase over last year’s appraised value). For tax purposes the taxable value is calculated as the lesser of market value or appraised value minus any exemptions. Property owners should check their notice of appraised value to make sure that all exemptions to which they are entitled are in place.”
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