By Ed Runyan
If there is something to be gleaned from the property values generated by the most recent six-year Trumbull County property tax revaluation, it’s that residential values countywide rose by about 3 percent.
It also appears residential and agricultural values in the top two geographic rows of townships rose the most from Jan. 1, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2017. They went up about 7 percent, compared with increases closer to 4 percent in the bottom three rows of townships.
But Doug Constance of Integrity Appraisal Service of Niles, the company that carried out the reappraisal for the county auditor’s office, acknowledges a six-year property revaluation is not a highly scientific process.
As a result, a chart he puts together every six years to show what percentage property values have risen or fallen in the county’s townships, cities and villages is also not scientific.
The revaluation involves looking at nearly every one of the county’s properties to provide a basis for increasing or decreasing the value of each property. The new valuations affect the amount each property owner pays in property taxes and took effect early this year.
Most of the work Integrity Appraisal Services of Austintown did during the revaluation took place in 2016, but they released data from the work less than a year ago.
A chart with this story on Page A1 shows the data Integrity provided.
Whether the revaluation data is 100 percent accurate, local Realtor Dan Crouse agrees with some broad themes expressed by officials – county property has risen in recent years after having fallen significantly after the U.S. housing crisis and Great Recession that began about 2008.
The 3 percent increase in residential property values in the most recent valuation is significant in that it is the first time in about a decade a reappraisal has shown an increase in county property values.
The three-year reappraisal “update” from 2014 showed an average drop of 5 percent in residential values. The six-year 2011 reappraisal showed a 7.5 percent drop.
A brochure issued by county Auditor Adrian Biviano about the most recent reappraisal says its purpose is to “equitably adjust and equalize property values to reflect changes in the market place since Jan. 1, 2011.” It says every county must carry out a six-year reappraisal under Ohio law.
Crouse and his wife, Darlene Mink-Crouse, president of the Warren Area Board of Realtors, say it’s impossible for Integrity appraisers to know the real value during a reappraisal because “county appraisers have no right to view the interior of a home.”
The condition of a home, including interior areas county appraisers cannot see, is a significant factor in determining the true value of a home, Crouse noted.
An appraiser hired by a bank to establish a home’s value, conversely, does have access to the inside of the home.
The Crouses also point out Integrity uses other imperfect indicators of value, such as building permits and housing sales.
Mink-Crouse says raising the value of a home based on a building permit for that property doesn’t tell the whole story because some upgrades occur without a building permit, such as installation of new carpet and kitchen cabinets or interior repainting.
Crouse says using home sales to help set housing values is probably accurate in places where there are a lot of home sales, such as Warren. But that method would be much less accurate in a place with few sales, such as some of the northern county townships.
Constance and Bill Nicholas, chief appraiser for Auditor Adrian Biviano, readily admit these issues hinder their ability to render 100 percent accurate housing values.
Warren and Warren Township are among the county areas still seeing significant reductions in property values, according to Integrity’s calculations.
Matt Martin, director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, the nonprofit organization that handles housing demolitions for the county land bank, says Integrity’s data is evidence that places like Warren are recovering from the housing crisis more slowly than other parts of the county.
He said that’s partly because Warren has been dealing with the effects of job loss on its housing stock for decades.
Job losses, as shown in county demographic data from financial audits, suggest Martin is right.
In 1999, the top five county employers were General Motors Lordstown, Delphi Packard Electric, WCI Steel, CSC [the former Copperweld Steel], and General Electric. Together they employed 26,100 people in 1999. By 2008, those employers had 4,200 workers.
A challenge for TNP is to find the best way to use federal grant money to improve Warren neighborhoods, Martin said.
TNP has demolished hundreds of homes, and will take down many more, but other homes in Warren could be rehabilitated if grant funds could be used for that purpose. Right now, the money is mostly for demolition.
“Demolition gets rid of the worst properties, but it doesn’t help with the middle [quality] ones,” Martin said. TNP currently has about $8 million available for demolition. Martin would like the federal government to allow him to convert about $2 million of that sum to renovation funds.
“We’re going to get stuck in a position where we have more houses than money to renovate them,” he said.