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Takin' it slow and steady

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By Larry Rowell

While some states like California enjoyed double-digit returns on property sales for the past 13 years, these states are now experiencing double-digit losses in the housing market.

Campbellsville and Taylor County, however, played the tortoise to California's hare, registering modest but steady gains that are now leveling off, according to local real estate officials.

Taylor County Property Valuation Administrator Julie Shields, elected in 1989, has seen both ends of the market. Reluctant to talk about averages, Shields said that increases in assessments she mailed to some homeowners in May depended on the area.

Some properties in Forest Hills subdivision had significant increases whereas Sha-Lawn subdivision properties had a much smaller increase. There were no areas where re-assessments decreased, she said.

Property is reassessed based on comparable sales in the immediate area during the last three to four years, according to Shields. A visual inspection of the outside of the property is also conducted.

Foreclosure sales are not used to determine property values, she said.

Reassessments are done according to a state mandated four-year plan, Shields said, where the city properties are divided according to 10 maps and county properties are divided based on 82 maps.

The plan calls for all commercial properties to be reassessed one year, while the next year is all city properties. The third year county residential properties are reassessed, and then farm properties are done the fourth year, Shields said. Between 2,500 and 3,000 properties are assessed each year.

Shields said she has never had anyone come in and thank her for a higher reassessment. However, some 300 people a year on average will come in to contest the reassessment on their property.

She or a deputy in the PVA office will sit down with the complainant and explain how the current reassessment figure was calculated based on comparable sales of like properties in the area.

If an agreement cannot be reached with the property owner, then an appeal can be lodged with County Clerk Mark Carney's office. Carney sets up an appeals board, hears the complainant's case and then renders a decision.

Rarely does the appeals process go beyond this stage, Shields, said. If it does, she said, the next step is to go to the State Board of Appeals.

In her first year of office in 1989, Shields said she saw 11 local board cases filed and three or four that went to the state. In the past 17 years, no appeals have been filed with the state board of appeals, she said.

Campbellsville and Taylor County doesn't have a multi-list service like the Greater Louisville Association of Realtors where statistics are kept on the number of homes sold and the average sales price. But some realtors are in agreement that the local market doesn't necessarily mirror the national market.

Paul Osborne, principal broker and co-owner of Osborne-Humphress Realty, said the property market here has had much smaller gains, about 2.5 percent each year, over the past 10 years and that has added to the stability of the market.

Osborne said the local market probably won't experience the double-digit annual losses currently being experienced in California and Florida.

Also adding to the stability of the local market has been the prudence with which local banks have loaned money to property owners, Osborne said.

"Local banks aren't in trouble like some of the Internet and TV loan companies," he said. "Some of these mortgage companies loaned 105 percent of what the property was worth with no down payment."

Many of those mortgages were adjustable rate loans and when the interest rates adjusted upward, payments increased as much as several hundred dollars a month, cash-strapped homeowners couldn't handle the larger payment and therefore the house would go into foreclosure, Osborne said.

Rodney Burress, Taylor Circuit Clerk, says foreclosures are up this year.

In 2007, there were 51 cases of a judgment and order of sale, he said. Through June of this year, 40 properties have already been ordered sold. If that trend continues, there could be as many as 75, Burress said.

Dewayne Squires, broker with RE/MAX Realty Partners, agreed with Osborne about the local market not reflecting the losses in the national market.

However, Squires said, "We're behind previous years in terms of volume; the higher end of the housing market is sluggish."

This slowing trend started in 2007 and has affected houses selling in the $250,000-and-above price range, he said.

He said he believes the strongest housing market locally is in the $75,000 to $150,000 price range. He also said the sales of farmland and commercial properties have remained strong.

For the past 10 years, Squires said, he has seen an increase in the number of inquiries and sales based on Internet marketing of local properties.

"People from northeast markets, for example, are seeing more bang for their buck in home prices and in lower property tax rates."

- Larry Rowell is a Kentucky Press Association summer intern. Contact him at lrowell@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.