Surging DeKalb property values cause higher taxes

Many homeowners in DeKalb County received distressing notices in the mail this month — their property taxes have skyrocketed.

“For some people, there’s going to be a little sticker shock,” said Chief Appraiser Calvin Hicks.

Across metro Atlanta, home prices are bouncing back as the damage done by the Great Recession fades.

In DeKalb, which was hit hard by foreclosures a few years ago, residents are now experiencing some of the steepest increases in home values. The hot real estate market has given the county more information about how much properties are worth, Hicks said. The estimated worth of some houses has more than doubled since last year.

Residential real property assessments are up 17 percent in DeKalb, 11 percent in Clayton, 10 percent in Fulton, 7 percent in Cobb and 6 percent in Gwinnett, according to preliminary figures.

Appraisers estimate individual home values based on nearby sales combined with computer estimates that factor for location, square footage, condition and other considerations.

“Whether your home is losing value or gaining value, our job is to place those assessments in line with whatever the market is doing,” he said.

Some homeowners say the enormous jump in property assessments is unreasonable, and they want the county to approve a significant tax cut to reduce the impact on their personal finances.

“The numbers they’ve come up with aren’t understandable, realistic or fair,” said Nancy McCall, whose rental property near Stone Mountain is valued 56 percent higher than last year, costing her a projected $369 more than she paid last year.

McCall was one of about 250 people who crowded into a standing-room-only Brookhaven town hall meeting earlier this month to discuss their appraisals and how to appeal. Many of them said they plan to fight the evaluations.

Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May has proposed a modest tax rate cut, saving residents about $8 million, but it’s far outpaced by the rise in home values. In all, the county’s tax-funded revenue is projected to increase by almost $37 million.

Deborah Sunday of Brookhaven will face even larger tax hikes than most of her neighbors. Sunday’s property tax bill will rise by $1,321 this year after her home’s assessment increased from $409,000 to $534,400, according to county property records.

“I’m happy my house has gone up in value, but to get that much of an increase in one year? It’s hard to say if it’s fair,” she said.

Despite the sharp uptick in prices, residential real estate values haven’t caught up with their previous highs from before the recession hit, Hicks said. The county’s total taxable value of property including residential, commercial and industrial is nearly 10 percent higher than last year but still 11 percent lower than its peak in 2008.

Areas with properties that lost the most value and had the most foreclosures are now making the biggest comeback, according to county tax data. Residential appraisals are up most steeply in Pine Lake, Clarkston, Lithonia and Doraville.

“It’s a mixed blessing,” said Pine Lake Mayor Kathie deNobriga, whose home assessment leaped by 88 percent this year. “I’m going to be paying more. But, in the long run, I’m ecstatic that home values are rebounding.”

Others, like Jay Forlini of Brookhaven, said his home’s assessment is inaccurate. The county increased its valuation of his house by 118 percent, resulting in an estimated additional tax of $2,728.

“I don’t think they could come up with a rationale for raising prices like they did,” Forlini said. “Now I have to defend myself (on appeal). It’s like I’m guilty until proven innocent.”

The angst over the giant increases is widespread, said Andy Goldstein, a property tax consultant who helps homeowners appeal their assessments.

Appeals must be filed by July 13, and then residents can present their case for why they believe their homes are overvalued to a citizen panel called the Board of Equalization, which then makes a decision.

“People are just stunned. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Goldstein said. “The phone is ringing off the hook. I can’t remember when it’s been this busy.”

Some homeowners understand that the government’s values need to align with fair market prices, he said. But others are seeing large increases that don’t seem to make sense.

“It’s too high. It’s unfair,” said Jimmy Veeranarong, whose taxes will go up by $720 after the county raised his Decatur-area property value by 19 percent. “I think DeKalb wants more money.”

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