Politics & Government

Pierce County property values on the upswing, return to 2010 levels

You’re about to get mail if you own property in Pierce County.

Starting Monday, Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan’s office began sending roughly 300,000 annual notices of revised property values to owners of parcels large and small, residential and commercial.

Collectively, the trend shows residential property values jumped an average of 6.6 percent throughout the county. Total value, county-wide: $77.9 billion, up from last year’s $73 billion, but still below the 2008 peak of $92 billion.

In Tacoma, values rose by 7 percent; the average home was valued at $197,694, according to figures from the assessor’s office. Around the county, the average home was valued at $232,497, a bump from last year’s average of $217,964.

The cities of Lakewood, Puyallup and University Place saw values rise between 4.8 percent and 5.7 percent, again reflecting a slow rebound from the recession and values that cratered in 2012.

Overall, values have returned to 2010 levels after three years of steady climbing.

To Lonergan, it’s good news.

“It shows value is coming back,” he said, predicting a bit of relief for homeowners owing more than their houses were worth. “It’ll take some people out from being underwater.”

Unincorporated areas show similar trends, with East Pierce County (Parkland, South Hill and Spanaway) showing values rising faster than the countywide average. To the west, on the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas, the trend was slightly cooler.

Rising values won’t mean corresponding tax increases; that’s always the tricky part of deciphering the annual numbers, Lonergan said.

“It’s the number one cause of confusion — (the assumption that) my value went up, but my taxes are going to go up next year.”

Why won’t your individual property taxes rise at the same level as the value of your home? Because counties and cities can’t increase overall revenue by more than 1 percent each year — unless voters approve such revenue increases. In short, homeowners might see a slight bump in taxes.

“If our values go up 6.6 percent, the county’s revenue can still only go up 1 percent, plus the value of any new construction,” Lonergan said.

What’s more, the actual bill won’t be clear until next February, when the assessor sends its annual valentine with the newest property tax bill. By the time that card arrives, the information will be more than a year old, based on values calculated in January 2015.

Outlying areas showed the largest jumps in value: 11.2 percent in Buckley, 10.2 percent in Wilkeson and a whopping 18 percent in Carbonado. Lonergan suspects those numbers reflect a search for bargains in those areas. He cited an old real estate saw: “Drive until you qualify,” referring to the idea of finding more house for less money outside the urban area.

The only drop in value among the assessor’s statistics appears on Anderson Island, where foreclosure sales and an attempt to market small undeveloped parcels led to an apparent rush of low-value sales, Lonergan said.

While residential values rose steadily, commercial property values remained sluggish, according to the assessor’s numbers. Overall values rose at roughly 2.25 percent.

“The warehouses are going up, but the retail space is down about 2 percent — not in the malls, but in separate retail spaces,” Lonergan said. Restaurant values dropped by about 5 percent, he added.

Values are still being measured for new construction, an important category because it represents fresh revenue for taxing districts. To measure it, appraisers from the assessor’s office review all building permits issued throughout the county and examine improvements — everything from second stories on homes to brand-new buildings.

This year’s new construction likely won’t match the pace of the last two years, when the county averaged more than $1 billion of new construction value.

“This year I’m thinking it’s not going to be quite as high,” Lonergan said.

For property owners dissatisfied with the values set by the assessor’s office, relief remains: They can appeal their assessment by filling out a petition with the county’s Board of Equalization, which reviews assessed values.