Rising Hamilton County property values spark questions, appeals

Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·4 min read

May 4—The final property reappraisals mailed to property owners over the past month show a 27% jump for the typical home since 2017, the biggest average increase in over two decades of reassessing properties in Hamilton County every four years.

In response, the telephones at the Hamilton County assessor's office have been ringing nearly nonstop in recent weeks with property owners raising questions, objections and concerns about the size of their assessment increases.

Hamilton County Assessor Marty Haynes said most of the more than 11,000 calls or emails so far have come from homeowners concerned about a big jump coming in their annual property tax bills.

Haynes said most callers have become satisfied, if not always happy, about the property value increases when they find out that their property tax bills probably won't increase due to the reappraisal. Under Tennessee law, the Hamilton County Commission and local municipalities must ultimately vote to set the property tax rate and, based upon the assessment increases, the Tennessee comptroller this summer will tell how much the current rate should be rolled back to maintain the same collection value.

"We track property sales, and we report what the sales in your neighborhood are and what that means for the current market value of your home," Haynes said. "We don't control the market, and we don't set the tax rate."

Haynes said he actually expected more calls by now, given the record increases in the residential reassessments this year. In some instances, assessors are revisiting properties to determine if the initial property appraisal should be changed and the Hamilton County Board of Equalization will begin on June 1 formal hearings on appeals from property owners challenging their assessments.

Because of the jump in reassessments this year, Haynes expects the number of appeals to multiply severalfold from the 175 appeals filed in the last countywide assessment four years ago.

Haynes is urging those with questions or who want more information to call his office at 423-209-7990. The deadline to file an appeal with the County Board of Equalization will be 4 p.m. on June 11, 2021, but Haynes is hoping upset property owners will call as soon as possible to begin any reviews that may be necessary.

In a meeting with homeowners in the tornado-damaged area of East Brainerd last month, Haynes admitted that some initial assessments may not be accurate and his office is eager to talk with property owners to help set the correct property value for each parcel.

Property owners also have a right to appeal any decision by the five-member county board to the Tennessee Board of Equalization this summer.

Spurred by continued low mortgage rates, home prices have steadily increased in recent years. With more housing demand than supply now on the market, the average selling time for houses listed through the Chattanooga Realtors' association's multiple listing service fell to a record low of just 33 days in the first quarter of 2021, and the median home price rose in the same period to $255,000, or 20.9% more than a year ago.

"I've been doing property appraisals for 48 years, and my family has been in this business for the past 100 years, and I can tell you we've never seen a market like what we're seeing today," said Henry Glascock, a property appraiser and auctioneer in Chattanooga. "We're getting flooded with calls from people upset by their property appraisals, but for the most part our county assessor's office does a great job of appraising the value of property, and what you're seeing is what the market is demanding. With mortgage rates so low and more people wanting to move to Chattanooga, there's a lot of money chasing every sale."

While residential values are jumping, commercial properties aren't always faring as well, especially those leased for some retail and restaurant businesses hard hit last year by the COVID-19 pandemic. Haynes said commercial properties, in general, did not increase as much as residential parcels in the past four years.

"It's a very unusual market," Glascock said.

Despite some angry calls to his office, Glascock said the reappraisal process is valuable in keeping assessments fair and equitable and the increasing property values are spurring a lot of conversation among homeowners in communities wanting to know about each other's assessments.

"It's got a lot of neighbors talking to one another, and that's probably a good thing," Haynes said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.