May 27—As tax assessment notices began landing in mailboxes around Cobb County this week, the county's head property appraiser said nearly 70% of homeowners can expect to see their valuation go up.
The residential real estate market that's been booming since the pandemic is continuing to drive up prices, with the average home's value climbing by about 21% this year. The average increase in home values was $66,091, which is 74% higher than last year's average, according to Chief Appraiser Stephen White.
All told, the average average sale price of Cobb homes increased more than any year in the last decade, climbing by $51,000 from 2020 to 2021.
The good news for homeowners, White said in a county-produced video this week, is that "your investment is doing very, very well."
As is the county's bottom line — Cobb's tax digest is projected to grow by more than 10% this year.
But though a 21% jump is the average countywide, some homeowners are seeing even more eye-popping increases. Mary Jane Bennett, who lives in the Oakton neighborhood in northern Marietta, had the assessed value of her home rise by more than 60% over last year.
"I was surprised, because I had actually just looked at a couple of the online valuations — Zillow, Redfin, and all that — and I had a number there of about $40,000 or $50,000, even $100,000 less than what the actual assessment was," Bennett told the MDJ.
Bennett's case may be an outlier, but many homes throughout the desirable neighborhood just a mile from downtown saw valuation increases ranging from 30% to 49%.
Assessment notices and the accompanying tax bill estimates aren't necessarily final, however.
The tax bill estimates are based on the county's 2021 general fund millage rate of 8.46 mills, with each "mill" representing $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in property value. Cobb's Board of Commissioners has yet to approve a millage rate for the upcoming year (and will do so later this summer), which means the final bill is subject to change.
Under Georgia law, rising property value assessments not accompanied by a corresponding millage rate "rollback" that offsets the increase in tax due are considered tax increases and must be advertised as such.
Once the millage rate is finalized, a separate office — that of Cobb Tax Commissioner Carla Jackson — will send out the bill.
Homeowners also have 45 days from the mailing date of their notice to appeal their valuation if they believe it's incorrect or unfair.
Sara Sorensen, an Atlanta-based attorney specializing in property tax law, said the first step for homeowners with sticker shock from their assessments should be to check that basic details of their home are correct — square footage, lot size, etc.
From there, they should look at the sales price of comparable homes in their neighborhood (Cobb's assessor site, cobbassessor.org, includes a search tool for this).
"I think that's where a lot of homeowners will have to take a look at what properties have been selling for, because the market has been so strong. A lot of people will be sort of surprised to hear that maybe if they start looking into it, the valuations are not all that out of whack in many situations," said Sorensen.
The most important part of the appeal, she added, is remembering the deadline. Unlike income tax filings, for example, the 45-day mark is a hard cutoff.
"Don't put it in a drawer. Be proactive about it. Look at the assessor's records," Sorensen said. "Think about what what homes are selling for, and if your home has been overvalued, file an appeal or find a professional to handle the process for you."
In 2021, White told the MDJ the strong housing market had largely staved off any pandemic-related shrinkage in the county's largest revenue source. That's only continued this year.
"As we see sales prices escalate, we find that we have to keep up every year by increasing the value, so that we can have a value that reflects fair market value," White said.
"As sales continue to go higher and higher, that means that we have to reassess more and more. We're finding that more and more neighborhoods are getting reassessed every year, because of the way that the real estate market is moving in Cobb."