New property valuations reflect down real estate market

Revaluation notices arriving in the mail in the next few days will show that property values in the Hoquiam, Elma and Montesano areas declined by roughly 15 percent, on average, according to figures released Thursday by the Grays Harbor Assessor’s Office.

“I should preface the revaluation by making sure people know that each piece of property is unique and although some properties may have gone down on average, each piece of property can behave differently,” Hole said.

It has been four years since the Assessor’s Office last valued the properties in the boundaries of the Hoquiam, Elma and Montesano school districts. The office plans to mail out specific property revaluation notices by this weekend.

Unimproved property values took the biggest hit, declining on average 20 percent in Hoquiam, 19 percent in Elma and 30 percent in Montesano. That means a vacant lot in Montesano valued at $100,000 in 2008, is now likely worth $70,000.

Last year, during the revaluation of the North Beach, appraisers found that general properties declined by about 18 percent, compared to 2007 levels, while unimproved lots declined by an average of 44 percent.

Assessor Rick Hole noted the current round of revaluations appears to be continuing the downward trend.

“It’s important to note that since we’ve only been doing revaluations every four years, this is the first time the property values have been adjusted based on the current economic conditions,” Hole said. “Unimproved lots have taken a big hit.”

The Assessor’s Office will next begin the revaluation process for the Aberdeen and McCleary School Districts, as well as the area around Satsop in East County.

By Jan. 1, 2014, the office is expected to begin an annual revaluation process, which will be accomplished by doing statistical modeling and then visiting properties once every six years. The county currently visits properties every four years but that pace won’t be possible under the new requirements, Hole said. A new state mandate is requiring the change, Hole noted.

Property in the city of Hoquiam had a total assessed value of about $579 million four years ago, but that’s fallen to about $489 million, according to the latest assessments — an overall decline of about 15.5 percent.

Montesano had an overall assessed value of $610 million four years ago, but that’s down to about $502 million, a fall of 17.7 percent.

In Elma, the assessed value was $608 million. It’s now about $536 million, a fall of 11.6 percent. The values in Elma might have fallen even lower at some point, but real estate sales have been better in the community lately.

“Keep in mind this is a 4-year difference,” Hole said. “There was not that steep of a decline in one year.”

Hole says some of the numbers have not been certified yet. And he notes that property owners still have 30 days to contact his office if they spot any glaring errors. Call the Assessor’s Office at (360) 249-4121.

“Maybe we missed something so that’s something to consider,” Hole said.

Hole said the change of valuations do not necessarily reflect what the change in the tax rate will be.

“Certainly, times are tough for everybody so the public really should know that there are property tax relief programs out there and our office will help residents,” Hole said.

For instance, there’s property tax exemptions for seniors and persons with disabilities. Plus, residents with remodeled homes or improvements may qualify for an exemption for a few years. And property that has been destroyed also can get an exemption.

“We’re here to help facilitate the proper valuation,” Hole said.

Instead of mailing letters, property owners will get postcards from the Assessor’s Office. That’s a way for the county to save some money — both in the cost of paper and seven cents each in postage savings. And property owners with multiple parcels will only get one piece of mail in a multi-sheet report, instead of lots of postcards.

“We’re doing everything we can to save money in a very tight budget,” Hole said.

The revaluations notices are coming a bit later than normal, Hole says. That’s also because of his office’s budget challenges, he points out. His employees have been forced to take a pay cut this year as his office closes once a month.