Just As I Thought

I’m a happy miser

I’m dreading my next property tax assessment. Here’s why:

Home assessments in Montgomery County have risen nearly 70 percent in the past three years, according to state officials, driven by a hot real estate market that is likely to keep producing steep increases across the Washington region.

“It is unprecedented growth,” said James K. Kneussel, outgoing president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. Although 2005 assessments in the District and Virginia are incomplete, officials in those jurisdictions say homeowners should expect increases similar to those in Maryland.

… In Virginia, where properties are reassessed on an annual basis, officials said they also see no slowdown in the real estate market. Last year was the fourth year in a row that Fairfax County homeowners have seen their home assessments rise by double digits, including 14.2 percent in the Falls Church area. Valuations rose 17.2 percent in Arlington and 16.9 percent in Alexandria in 2004. Assessment notices will be mailed to Northern Virginia property owners over the next few months.

While the increases demonstrate real estate’s value as a long-term investment, the higher assessments also translate into burdensome increases in property tax bills. And rising property values price a growing number of middle-income families out of the real estate market, forcing them to drive long distances in search of an affordable home.

This bubble — if that’s what it is — is both exhilarating and terrifying. It’s become almost impossible to find affordable housing here; it makes me crazy wondering just how people are affording to buy these highly overpriced houses.
This story comes at a coincidental moment as I have been thinking about my property value this week. I’ve mentioned it before, because it seems to go up up up up; but now it’s getting truly ridiculous. Really: in 1997, I paid $131,000 for my house. Now, the market value of my house is $380,000. It’s gone up by $100,000 in the last six months.
My jaw is still on the floor over that one.

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