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Man works to enhance fairness in Mahoning property values

By ED RUNYAN

Staff writer

Poland Township property owner Kim Kotheimer says Mahoning County Auditor Ralph Meacham has said the purpose of the revaluation of county properties recently carried out is to make property values fair compared to other properties.

But Kotheimer observed issues in his own neighborhood that he found unfair, even after the county released the new property values to the public, so he took steps to do something about it.

Kotheimer recently told the county about discrepancies he found on the county auditor’s website about two of his neighbors’ properties. After he met virtually last October with a representative of the company that carried out the revaluation, the county auditor’s office adjusted the values for the two properties, which had features such as more bathrooms, a rec room in the basement and air conditioning, even though the county’s records said they did not.

Kotheimer said he decided to look more closely into some discrepancies involving homes near his last year after learning that his property values had risen dramatically because of the three-year property revaluation the county carried out.

His property value rose from $150,830 to $222,590. This month, he discovered that his property taxes increased by $557 per year following the revaluation. Meacham has said the average increase in residential property values in the county was 38%. He has said the leveling effects of a 1976 law called H.B. 920, however, prevent properties from seeing a dollar-for-dollar increase in property taxes.

Kotheimer said last year he was aware that two homes in his neighborhood were nearly identical to his with the “same architectural style, footprint, floor plans, lot size and amenities as mine.”

Yet, the values of those homes were set at $13,510 and $37,640 less than Kotheimer’s, and the previous yearly taxes were $419 and $528 less than his, he said.

“In other words, I had been paying a lot more than them for the last 10 years,” he said. “I moved here in 2012.”

Both properties sold recently, so Kotheimer compared the real estate listings he found for them and discovered information such as the number of bathrooms and the HVAC information did not match what was on the auditor’s website for each home.

He said one of the homes was listed on the county auditor’s website as having two bathrooms, and no central air, but it has three bathrooms and central air, Kotheimer said. It apparently has had incorrect information listed since it was new, he said. The other home had similar discrepancies.

Kotheimer called the county auditor’s office and scheduled a virtual meeting for October. Before the meeting, he emailed the information he had gathered to the county.

He said his efforts were successful because the county adjusted the values upward for the two properties he questioned, and now both properties are closer to the value of his property than before.

He said he’s glad he helped better equalize the values of nearly identical properties in his neighborhood, “but it was a lot of work.” He said he thinks the public should be aware that the goal of equalizing property values is not always successful.

He has suggested to the county auditor’s office that the county and its reappraisal team better utilize real estate listings the next time.

The Vindicator checked with the county auditor’s office, and Heather DeJesus, chief appraiser for Meacham, confirmed that a representative with the county’s reappraisal company had a virtual meeting with Kotheimer in Octobe.r and Kotheimer shared the Multiple Listing Service real estate information he used to find discrepancies among the two properties.

MLS is a database of homes for sale in a geographic region. When real estate agents list a property for sale, they add it to the MLS database, allowing all agents and brokers in the region who have access to the system to review the listing. Buyers’ agents use the MLS to find homes to show clients, according to the Bankrate.com website.

After the meeting with Kotheimer, the county concluded that one of the properties had two full baths instead of one full bath and one-half bath, and it has a patio for which there was no building permit. That property and the other one both had a rec room in the basement and air conditioning despite that information not being listed on the auditor’s county property website. The second property also has three bathrooms instead of two.

DeJesus said it is common for rec rooms not to be listed on county property records “through no fault of the auditor’s office because we do an exterior inspection” during the revaluation. She said such alterations are considered “relatively small” compared, for instance, to someone putting on a $50,000 addition to the house that is not reported to the county.

The county’s records confirmed the numbers Kotheimer quoted for how much more his property was valued in the fall of 2023 compared with the two other properties.

DeJesus showed The Vindicator how the pictometry tool, which is available to the public on the auditor’s website, was used to identify a patio on one of the two houses. She noted that many people have fences around their homes, so it might be difficult to confirm the existence of a patio, but the pictometry image of one of the houses clearly shows the patio.

The pictometry tool also contains historical images going back to at least 2008 so that individuals can determine what types of features were present going back in time, DeJesus pointed out. The pictometry images come from aerial photography.

As for Kotheimer’s house, it no longer has a patio deck it once had, so that was removed from the county records and it reduced the value of Kotheimer’s property by $2,900, DeJesus said.

The result of the meeting with Kotheimer was that the home that had a half bath, air conditioning, rec room and patio added to the county records saw its property value increase by $8,050.

DeJesus ran that through a “tax estimator” tool on the county property website, and it indicated that the change raised the property owner’s property taxes by $138 per year. However, DeJesus cautioned that the “tax estimator” tool cannot account for all of the variables involved when comparing changes in property values from the 2023 revaluation to the values from the previous property revaluation in 2020. So that figure may not be exact.

The other home’s value increased by $14,950 as a result of the additional bathroom, rec room and air conditioning. The “tax estimator” tool showed that the change increased the property owner’s taxes by $256 per year. That figure, too, cannot be called exact, DeJesus said.

The Vindicator found, following the changes in property values resulting from Kotheimer’s meeting, that the gap between his property value and the two other properties got smaller.

The three homes are all now valued between $200,000 and $220,000. They were valued between $130,000 and $155,000 in 2020.

Kotheimer’s property value is now only about $2,500 higher than the home with the patio and about $20,000 higher than the other home.

Kotheimer’s property value was about $19,000 higher than the home with the patio in 2020 and about $24,000 higher than the other home in 2020.

DeJesus said despite Kotheimer saying the three properties are nearly identical, she found differences between them in square footage and condition. Kotheimer’s, for instance, has 69 more square feet of finished space than the other two.

As for Kotheimer’s suggestion that real estate listings should be used more to catch errors, DeJesus said the appraisal company does use MLS information. She said that information is “good, but it is not accurate all of the time.”

She said the best thing for a property owner to do is to look at his or her property on the auditor’s county property website and check whether the information is accurate. If it is not, let the county know.

She said it is not common to see a person challenging the property values of neighbors, but it is more common at times like this — when property values are rising at a high rate and people become concerned about the potential for their property taxes to rise.

Meacham noted that a county property reappraisal is called a mass appraisal, and it involves appraising 160,000 parcels of property in the county, as required by law. The county pays its appraisal company about $10 to $12 per parcel for its appraisals, whereas a bank appraisal costs about $500 to $600, so people should not expect the results of a mass appraisal to be as complete as a bank appraisal.

erunyan@vindy.com

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