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Rising home values outstretching ability to sell

By Justin Boron

Even though Clayton County has completed its reassessment of property and the value of many homes and businesses has gone up, taxpayers won't know how their bills will change until the budgets are approved, said Chief Appraiser Rodney McDaniel.

Both county government and school system officials say they are working to avoid any increase in the millage rate.

But even if the tax rate remains the same, more than 3/4 of the county faces a little extra baggage on their tax bill because of rising assessed values, McDaniel said.

For example, the tax bill for a Clayton County house worth $100,000 with a normal homestead exemption this year would go up about $30 if the total millage rate increases by one or go down by that much with a one mill decrease, McDaniel said.

Seventy-eight percent of the county got a 0 to 10 percent increase in assessed value, he said.

Bulging sale prices of homes are to blame for the higher assessments, McDaniel said.

The average price for homes sold in the county went up by $7,000 this year to $136,702, he said.

With the latest reassessment, all the land and buildings are now valued at about $15 billion, McDaniel said.

The lift in residential worth is part of a larger increase over the past five years, stemming primarily from the scarcity of undeveloped land, McDaniel said.

Since 2000 in the close to built-out county, the assessment of residential property, which state law places at 40 percent of the fair market value, has gone up every year by an average $8,171.

In 2000, the average assessments went up by $14,113. That sharp of an increase probably won't happen any more, McDaniel said, because of plans to reassess annually.

"You're not going to have those huge 20 percent increases," he said.

At the same time as value has been increasing, real estate brokers say residents are struggling to sell their homes at the market price because of the reputation of political instability that Clayton County has built.

From 2003 until now, when assessed value sprung more than $10,000, the county grappled with the tumult on the Board of Education, a series of discrimination suits in Riverdale, and the most recent sheriff controversy resulting in a federal discrimination suit.

"It's a tough market in Clayton County," said Kent Miller, for the Miller Group at Re/Max Advantage

Sandra McCrary, a real estate broker for Re/Max Advantage in Jonesboro, said while the bad publicity isn't affecting prices as much, there is some reluctance from purchasers.

The upward trend for home value isn't likely to stop either.

"Generally speaking, property values go up in Atlanta," said Julian Diaz III, the interim associate dean for master's programs and professor.

He said appraisers do try to remain conservative with the assessments, given the rising prices.

But the trick, Diaz said, about conservative assessments, which can be as low as 36 percent of fair market value, is the millage increase usually will be large enough to offset the lower valuation.

McDaniel said his office tries to stay as close as they can to the 40 percent guideline.

This year, he said the assessments were around 38 percent of fair market value.