F.C. Assessor’s Report Appears Contradicted By Sales Numbers

Claim of Minimal Hike Doesn’t Square With Higher Sale Prices

A summary of annual residential real estate assessments sent out from the Falls Church City Hall Tuesday showed a modest four percent increase in the value of single-family detached homes in the City over the last year, a rate apparently contradicted sharply by City Hall data available to the public.

Public records of home sales in the City of Falls Church show, in a review of all the City’s 35 single family detached home sales conducted by the News-Press this week, that actual sale prices were averaged over the last six months to be 15.5 percent higher than their assessed values from a year ago.

A 15.5 percent increase is a far cry from four percent, and represents a significantly different outcome in terms of revenue projections for the City.

As of press time, the News-Press received no response from Falls Church City Assessor Ryan Davis or others at City Hall to questions about this disparity. According to Virginia state law, as Tuesday’s City Hall statement confirmed, “As set forth in the Virginia constitution, real estate is assessed at 100 percent of fair market value.”

The City statement noted, “The City’s Office of Real Estate Assessment calculates property value annually using mass appraisal techniques that are standard in the real estate assessment industry.”

chartF.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields will calculate revenues available to the City based on real estate assessments as he crafts his recommended Fiscal Year 2012 budget to the City Council next month. The Council, presumably working from the same revenue number projections that will bring the City up short of current expenditures, then will make critical decisions on tax rate hikes and service cuts, including to the City’s school system, by the end of April.

According to Davis’ assessments, which will be mailed to all property owners at the end of this week and will be available for viewing on the City’s website next Monday, while single family detached homes went up in assessed value by an average of four percent in the last year, overall residential values were up an average of only two percent.

That’s because his assessments show town homes to remain unchanged in value on average, and residential condominiums had “varying changes.”

According to his report, “Overall commercial property values declined one percent since January 2010. The real estate value of multi-family apartments increased one percent, large office buildings are down four percent and large retail properties are down two percent. The value of City hotel declined seven percent.”

Overall, according to the report, “The total taxable assessed value for all properties in the City as of Jan. 1, 2011 is $3,102,093,600 ($3.1 billion), a two percent increase from Jan. 1, 2010.”

But a review by the News-Press comparing sale prices to Jan. 2010 assessed values showed that many homes were actually sold for prices far over their assessments. One assessed at $652,600 sold for more than twice that, at $1,356,500, in late October. Another assessed at $320,400 went on the market for $599,000 in mid-August, one assessed at $613,400 went for $739,000 in December, one assessed at $689,200 went for $875,000 in November, one assessed at $681,600 went for $890,000 in July, and so forth.

In all, of 35 single family detached home sales in the last six months of 2010, all but four went for more than their assessed value, and all but five of those went for significantly more than four percent above their assessed value.

The News-Press did not review the data comparing sales to assessments for other property sales in the past year.
The statement issued from City Hall Tuesday noted that public hearings on the coming budget will be held on March 28, April 11 and April 25 at the regular City Council business meetings on those dates.

Concerning assessment appeals, the statement noted, “Homeowners wondering if their assessment is correct should ask the question, ‘Would my home sell for the assessed  value if I put it on the market?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ the assessment is probably accurate. If the answer is ‘no,’ contact the Office of Real Estate Assessment” before March 18, or the Board of Equalization by July 1.