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A scramble to reassess home values

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Bob Moon: Now that we’ve assessed the rental market, it may be time to reassess home valuations. That’s one way for struggling homeowners to pinch some pennies.

It turns out many homeowners are paying property tax like they’re still in the bubble. So, they’re appealing to get their property values reassessed to more realistic levels, given slumping home values. And that’s got local governments scrambling.

Marketplace’s Stacey Vanek-Smith has more.

STACEY VANEK-SMITH: Home prices have dropped an average of 30 percent since their peak three years ago, but many counties and cities only assess property values every few years. That means lots of people are paying property taxes like it’s 2007. So they’ve started appealing their home values.

Anthony Sarro owns a business that specializes in property tax appeals. And business is booming.

ANTHONY SARRO: Oh, at least doubled. Maybe tripled.

Sarro says he’s typically able to get a 20 percent adjustment on a property. But now he has to fight a lot harder than he did a decade ago.

SARRO: If you presented a halfway decent case, you didn’t really get much of a pushback. But now they are fighting tooth and nail for every case.

They are cities, countries and schools. Local governments get roughly half of their revenue from property taxes. And they’re doing whatever they can to make up for losses, says Pete Sepp with the National Taxpayers Union.

PETE SEPP: They have to respond almost immediately by raising rates or trimming back on relief programs.

Sasha Henry is a homeowner in Olympia, Wash. During the housing bubble, the value of her house went up about $50,000 a year, and her property taxes kept climbing, too.

SASHA HENRY: We got to the point where we were just afraid to open our envelope with the yearly property assessment.

But this year, Henry got a break. Her home was assessed at $25,000 less.

HENRY: We were so excited. We just went: Woo-hoo!

It was a short celebration. The county raised her property tax rate, so Henry says she’s saving about $6 a year.

I’m Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.

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