Property values in greater Bel Air and Fallston have increased an average of 6 percent since 2014, based on figures released by the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation Wednesday, meaning affected property owners may have to pay more in real estate taxes, but they could also get a better price when they sell their houses.
And for now, it's a seller's market in Harford County, according to local Realtor Robert McArtor.
"We're still in what I would consider a seller's market, where the sellers still have the upper hand," said McArtor, the team leader for Maryland Homes Team Inc. of RE/MAX Components in Fallston.
The Department of Assessments and Taxation released reassessment data Wednesday for more than 750,000 commercial and residential properties across the state effective Jan. 1. Increases for individual properties are likely to reflected on county and municipal real estate tax bills sent out July 1, 2017, depending on the owner's eligibility for certain credit programs.
The properties reassessed are in Group 2, with the group's average value statewide increasing by 8.2 percent compared to the last triennial assessment completed in 2013 for 2014 state and county tax year.
The state bases its reassessments on evaluations of property sales in the neighborhoods being reassessed over the three years since they were last reviewed.
That average "marked that group's largest increase in value since 2008," the department said in a news release.
The latest Harford County reassessment was carried out by DAT staff based in Bel Air during this calendar year (2016) and covered 32,674 properties in the Bel Air and Fallston areas that make up Group 2. Out of that total, 26,509 properties, or more than 81 percent, had an increase in value, according to data posted on the department's website
Harford is divided into three zones. Group 1 includes all of northern Harford County, portions of Joppa and Edgewood and the City of Havre de Grace, according to an DAT map posted online. Group 2 includes the City of Aberdeen, the Route 40 corridor through Joppa, Edgewood and Aberdeen and areas north of Aberdeen.
The Group 3 properties will be reassessed during 2017 for Jan. 1, 2018, and the Group 1 properties will be reassessed during 2018 for Jan. 1, 2019.
"The economy is in better shape than it was three years ago, when it only went up slightly," Nancy Schmidbauer, the DAT's supervisor of assessments for Harford County, said of Group 2 property values.
Group 2 values increased by 1.6 percent for the 2014 tax year reassessment, the beginning of a climb after a 15.3 percent plunge in 2011. The values had increased by 38.6 in 2008 and 37.6 percent in 2005, according to a table on the DAT site, years before the bottom dropped out of the national housing market during the mortgage crisis leading up to the recession.
Property values in other parts of the county are showing a recent increase, too; Group 1 values increased by 3.2 percent for the reassessment conducted last year, and Group 3 values grew by 3.1 percent two years ago, after declining for their previous reassessments, according to the online table.
McArtor, who uses a drone to shoot aerial videos of properties listed for sale with his firm and then posts the videos online, said home sales for his team have improved in the past year and a half, as buyers activity has picked up with still-low interest rates. He said sellers can realize a profit because of the higher valuations.
The real estate market in Harford County tumbled during the recession of 2007-09, a reflection of the national market. The local market has slowly rebounded, though, as indicated by the increased property values.
McArtor noted homes would have been sold at a loss in past years because of the drop in equity.
"With the increase of the valuations here recently, they're able to now put their homes on the market and be able to sell with a positive equity," he said of homeowners.
Houses are also on the market for a shorter time – going from 90 to 120 days to 30 to 60 days – plus multiple offers are being made on individual properties, according to McArtor.
"We're having a problem keeping homes in our inventory for our team because buyers are putting multiple offers in on our homes," he said.
"We've been climbing out of that deep dark chasm that we were all in back in early 2009 and '10 and '11," Schmidbauer said.
Like McArtor, she noted how little time homes spend on the market. She said some properties in the Bel Air area were on the market for less than 30 days.
"It was a matter of days or weeks this past summer," she said. "It was very interesting."
Her department tracks property sales to set assessments.
"What we look at is, what was the value of a particular house prior to its sale and what did it sell for?" Schmidbauer said.
As an example, if a house that was valued at $200,000 as of 2014 has sold for $300,000 since then, then DAT staff must reassess the property value in accordance with the sale price.
"We strictly arrive at our assessments based on what the market tells us," Schmidbauer said.
She noted an increase in the value of a property or properties that had been sold can lead to an increase in property values for the neighborhood, reflecting the new market value.
Schmidbauer said that can draw complaints from neighbors who did not sell their house but must pay higher property taxes, based on the new value, but they can also get a better price if they decide to sell.
She said department staff "try to be as fair as we can when we're applying an increase" in a neighborhood.
Homeowners who live in their dwellings can apply for the state's Homestead Property Tax Credit, which gives them a credit for any property value increase above 10 percent. The credit applies to Harford County property taxes when reassessment values increase more than 5 percent, according to Schmidbauer.
Property owners have the right to appeal their new assessments to local assessors and then a county appeal board. Information on appeals, as well as assessments in general, can be found on the assessments and taxation website dat.maryland.gov.