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Home assessment values drop in Joppatowne, Havre de Grace, northern Harford

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

9:29 AM EST, January 7, 2013

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Residential property values in the southwestern Route 40 areas of Harford County plummeted by 15 to 20 percent since 2009, while those in northern Harford and the Havre de Grace area dropped by an average of 7 percent, according to the latest round of property tax assessments.

While decreases in assessments occurred for most of the residential properties, the value of commercial properties, primarily those in Havre de Grace, continued to rise, according the state Department of Assessments and Taxation. Roughly a third of the county's residential, commercial and industrial properties are assessed annually, meaning an individual property goes three years between new assessments.

Nancy Schmidbauer, assessments supervisor for Harford County, said residential properties in areas assessed during 2012 fell on average by 7 percent in value since they were last assessed three years earlier. The area covered includes the northern tier, Havre de Grace and the southwestern corner of the county, including Joppatowne and a portion of the Joppa/Kingsville area.

"Generally we had a roughly 7 percent decrease," she said. "Some areas took a larger decrease, for instance, in the Joppatowne area, because that market is still experiencing a steeper cut in sales prices."

Schmidbauer said Joppatowne saw a 15 to 20 percent drop in residential values, far more than places such as Jarrettsville.

"They are still having some foreclosure issues, more than the upper area of the county," she said about the southwesternmost part of Harford County's Route 40 corridor.

"They don't like to see it coming, but it's what's really indicative of what's going on down there," Schmidbauer added.

Schmidbauer noted Havre de Grace commercial property "went up a bit," by about 6 percent since the last assessment.

In 2009, the last time the same batch of properties was assessed in Harford, values fell by about 14 percent compared with 2006, when values rose more than 50 percent. Residential assessment values declined by about 10 percent in areas of the county assessed in 2011 and by 17 percent in those assessed in 2010.

The state analyzed close to 1,000 sales in the assessment areas and 26,000 accounts were valued, Schmidbauer said, noting that decreases locally were on par with elsewhere in the state.

"Harford County is still holding its own. It's still a strong market," she said.

Meanwhile, the much-hyped Homestead Tax Credit will not be helping out as many homeowners as people might expect, she said, because their new assessments are lower than their previous ones.

The credit is a state law mandating that all taxable assessment increases for homeowner-occupied properties cannot increase by more than 10 percent each year or by a lesser percentage if chosen by the county government. Harford's cap on annual increases is 5 percent.

"The Homestead Tax Credit has been panicking people," Schmidbauer said. "Many people mathematically will not qualify and a lot of people don't understand. We have been getting bombarded with calls."

Harford County did not create its 5 percent assessment cap until just a few years ago, after property values had skyrocketed and prior to the 2008 mortgage bust that sent most values down sharply. Other jurisdictions had lowered their homestead caps well before then.

"By that time, it was too late to help people," Schmidbauer said of the Homestead Credit's impact locally. "Some people in Baltimore City have a 4 percent cap and they have qualified for a lot of money [savings] for a long time."

In Harford, "this is really to provide relief in the future when the market hopefully goes up," she added.

The decline in property values is reflected in the latest assessments from the rest of the state, with 77 percent of properties statewide decreasing in value over the past three years. On average, property values for residential properties fell by about 7 percent across Maryland.

Commercial property values increased in 13 of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions, by an average of 11 percent.

Rick Pernas, deputy director of the county's treasury department, said he is not surprised assessments went down and noted it will mean less revenue for the county.

"It's not a surprise to us. We had estimates at the beginning of December saying they were going down," he said, explaining the amount of real estate taxes the county will bring in, based on the same tax rate last year, will be affected.

"It is going to impact Harford County," he said.

"This is the first time around that [with] the Homestead Tax Credit, the assessments have actually gone down and people will see a decrease in their actual property values," Pernas added.