The numbers are in. And the numbers are up.
The results of Buncombe County’s latest property tax revaluation, publicly released on Feb. 1, show double-digit percentage increases in the sales ratio for nearly all areas of the county. That figure indicates how much the county’s appraised value for a property went up since the last revaluation, effective in 2017, to match the property’s market price.
The only exception was Biltmore Forest, which saw a sales ratio increase of just 4%. However, the median property value increase for the wealthy municipality was $92,900, the most of any area reported by the county.
Since 2013, Buncombe has operated on a four-year revaluation cycle, twice as frequent as the state-mandated eight-year cycle, in response to the area’s booming real estate market. Keith Miller, the county’s tax assessor, notes that North Carolina law also requires a revaluation when the countywide sales ratio drops below 85%; as of December, that ratio was 83%.
While Miller explains that the median sales ratio for the county overall increased by roughly 18% to bring properties in line with market value, the rise was not evenly distributed. He says that urban areas such as Central Asheville and Southside generally saw larger percentage gains than did rural areas like Candler and Avery’s Creek.
But some areas bucked that trend. The sales ratio in the Central Business District, for example, increased by only 14%, while that in East Buncombe increased by 27% — the biggest rise anywhere in the county. Miller points out that the appreciation of downtown commercial property values slowed over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic; in contrast, the virus bolstered demand for residential property.
Miller says a steady stream of residents has contacted his office for more information about the new values over the past week, with roughly 330 submitting online appeals as of early Feb. 5. The county hasn’t observed any particular trends in the demographics or property locations of those who have submitted appeals thus far, he adds.
Higher property values, Miller emphasizes, will not necessarily translate into higher property taxes. “I’ve tried to stress that to people, to keep people from the anxiety and getting worried and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to do this?’” he says. “People just need to remember that you cannot calculate your tax bill based on that percentage [increase in sales ratio.]”
How the new valuations will impact those tax bills is determined by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, which sets the property tax rate annually as part of the county’s budget process. After the 2017 revaluation, the board set a rate 2.6 cents higher than the revenue-neutral figure, a decision that increased the average tax burden by about 14%.
During a Jan. 19 briefing, commissioners heard a presentation that weighed Buncombe’s property taxes against those of other large North Carolina counties. The county’s median residential tax bill of just over $1,500 ranked seventh among the 11 counties of that benchmark group.
However, as Performance Management Director Rafael Baptista pointed out, many Buncombe residents still struggle with housing due to the high cost of available properties. “It’s not the tax bill that’s making the unaffordability, it’s the mortgage,” he said.