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Property assessments double in some cases as towns and cities reevaluate after hot housing market

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Property owners may be a little shocked when they see the latest assessments for their land and home.

The hot housing market since the pandemic is leading to higher assessed values across the state.

Municipalities regularly have to get properties assessed to keep up with market values.

State law requires that property assessments between within 10 percent of the market value.

If towns and cities haven’t done a full reevaluation in the last two years, those numbers are likely way off.

Ari Brown is a senior research associate with the Wisconsin Policy Forum. The non-partisan organization recently put out a report about the rapidly changing assessment values.

“There are 21 municipalities in Oneida County. Only one of them assessed residential property outside of that 90% to 110% range in 2017. Just five, six years ago 20 of the 21 were assessing residential property inside of that 90 to 110% range. In 2022, just last year, only one of the 21 municipalities was within that range, and all 20 that were out of the range were below it. I think that kind of gives you a good sign as to what's going on here,” said Brown.

A local assessor, Terry Vosburg with Hoffman Appraisals, told WXPR that properties he’s been reassessing in Vilas County have increased as much as 120%.

The main thing he and Brown stress is not to panic if you see a large increase.

While property assessments are used for taxes, a higher value doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be paying more taxes.

“It can be alarming to see your assessment increase that quickly. But as far as implications go for paying your property taxes, it's no reason to be that alarmed, certainly not to the scale of, you know, the percentage increase in your assessment,” said Brown.

Keeping up with assessments is to help ensure people are paying their fair share of taxes, especially in a state like Wisconsin that depends heavily on property taxes.

“What you have generally right now is, because we've had such a hot housing market, the residential assessment ratios are much lower than the commercial ratios. So generally, commercial property owners are paying slightly more of the share of property taxes than they should be,” said Brown.

Every five years, the state requires property assessments to be within that 10% range of market values.

If a municipality is not, the state can require it to do a full reevaluation which can be a financial burden to towns and cities.

Some larger cities will have an assessor on staff. Smaller communities like the Town of Washington in Vilas County will hire out the work.

In the case of the Town of Washington, paid Hoffman Appraisals $123,700 this year for an exterior reevaluation, a step below a full reevaluation.

Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that has assessments done by towns and cities. In most states, it’s done at the county level, the logic being that counties typically have larger budgets that can more easily afford the assessments.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum doesn’t advocate for specific changes, but Brown hopes that officials may consider changes to how the state does assessments.

“I think what we tend to see, especially in smaller rural areas, in some of our towns that have a very small population, is that when you don't have the means to conduct some sort of full reevaluation and when the market is hot, you're going to start to see those assessments slip away from the market values,” said Brown.

For people who have questions about property assessments, Vorsburgh recommended the Department of Revenue’s Guide for Property Owners.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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