Residential assessments down nearly 20 percent in Maryland

By Larry Carson
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Baltimore Sun

Nearly all Maryland homeowners due to receive property assessment notices being mailed Tuesday will see a lower assessed value on their homes, reflecting what officials say is the largest decline in the state assessment office's history.

On average, residential property values dropped 19.7 percent over three years, according to C. John Sullivan, director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.

"I've never witnessed anything like it. It's unprecedented," said Sullivan, who has worked at the agency since the 1960s.

The slide, which comes after sharp increases in home values during the housing bubble, is expected to continue into next year.

Commercial properties increased slightly in value, however, meaning that overall property values dropped 16.1 percent statewide since 2006, the last time the areas were evaluated, he said.

Sullivan said 673,221 notices are going out, reflecting physical inspection of nearly one-third of the properties and a review of 68,261 sales over the past three years. More than 93 percent of the homeowners who will receive notices will see a decrease.

"These areas were last valued three years ago, and that was at the top of the market," said Larry White, assessment supervisor in Carroll County, where residential values in the southern third of the county dropped 21.5 percent. The state sets home values, and local governments set tax rates.

But many homeowners will not see corresponding declines in their tax bills July 1, officials warned, unless local governments reduce the tax rate, which is unlikely.

Many residents are paying taxes on only a fraction of their home's assessed value because the state's Homestead Tax Credit program caps the amount of increase that can be taxed each year.

As home prices climbed rapidly early in the decade, owners were protected from sudden jumps in tax bills. The cap statewide is set at 10 percent, but most jurisdictions have lower ceilings.

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