Assessments off base

Published 9:14 am Friday, January 20, 2012

To ignore the significant impact of mortgage foreclosures on real estate values is to ignore reality in today’s economy.

That’s exactly what Wingate and Associates, a western Virginia outfit hired by Southampton County to assess property values for taxation purposes, did in its recently completed assessments.

The result was an absurd conclusion that property in Southampton County is collectively worth 4.9 percent more today than it was in 2005, when the real estate economy was booming.

Assessed values, by law, are supposed to reflect market values. Is there a homeowner in Southampton County who, absent any significant additions or improvements in the last six years, could sell his home for 4.9 percent more today than he could have in 2005?

Of course not, and the newly elected Board of Supervisors, which campaigned on a platform of transparency and accountability, needs to demand some answers. Oddly, the board has shown a reluctance to get involved.

At a minimum, Wingate needs to be brought before the board to answer questions about its methodology, especially the decision to disregard the impact of foreclosures on the market.

Ash Cutchin, a certified real estate appraiser who lives in Southampton County, says a third of all home sales in the region last year were foreclosed properties. To pretend that those sales did not have an impact on overall property values is to fundamentally misunderstand the real estate market.

Taxpayers deserve better from their county government than what Wingate has provided. They will soon find out whether accountability is indeed a new hallmark of county government or simply an empty campaign promise.