As property values continue to rise in Northwest Austin, residents are divided on its effect

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Residents throughout Northwest Austin have reported significant increases in home values over the past several years, some seeing a doubling or tripling of values since purchasing their homes just years before.

In Gracywoods, just minutes east of The Domain, one resident reported receiving on offer on her home Feb. 1 for $304,000, just hours after listing it for $299,000. The resident bought her home 15 years ago for $149,900.

From 2013-17, the median value of homes sold in Gracywoods surged 63.1 percent, according to data from the Multiple Listing Service, an independent agency that tracks real estate listings and other data.

In nearby Quail Creek, the median value of homes sold from 2013-17 rose 68.7 percent. One resident reported on Nextdoor, an online neighborhood-based social network, that her house has increased in value by almost $70,000 in recent years.

“As long as Texas is such a business-friendly state and big companies are bringing employees with good-paying jobs over here, the need for housing close to these people’s jobs and in a pretty good price range—and as long as we continue to be a cool city with businesses in terms of attractivity—the prices will continue to rise,” said Rachel Cox, an Anderson Mill resident and Realtor with Northwest Austin-based JB Goodwin Realtors.

Rising values

On Karen Dale Wolman’s street in the Milwood neighborhood in Williamson County, almost every household has someone who works nearby in the technology industry.

As the hub of the city’s tech workforce, Northwest Austin remains in high demand for housing for incoming residents, and that drives up values as well as sales prices.

“All market indicators show that [values]will go up again,” said Alvin Lankford, chief appraiser for the Williamson Central Appraisal District.

For Wolman, her home has increased in value by 32.6 percent since 2013, and she said her taxes are higher than her mortgage payment. She said the challenge for her as a single mom is making sacrifices in her budget to accommodate increasing taxes, such as not traveling or cooking at home instead of eating out.

“One of the big things is [having]less money for repairs and upgrades to the house,” Wolman said. “The house is 40 years old, and stuff goes wrong.”

In an effort to reduce her home value, she has protested twice to WCAD, objecting to how WCAD increases the value of all homes in a neighborhood at the same rate and does not consider school boundary zones, Wolman said.

“The process doesn’t seem to consider the condition of the house and location within the neighborhood,” she said.

WCAD drives neighborhoods looking for visible improvements and analyzes aerial photography to identify property improvements, Lankford said.

“We look at multiple sections within one neighborhood or the neighborhoods as a whole, looking for homes that compare to each other,” he said.

Melissa Wile, a Walnut Crossing resident and Realtor with Keller Williams Realty, said some residents do not see increasing values as a downside.

“Most people are actually happy because they are building equity in their home, and that’s going to be beneficial to them in the long run,” she said.

Appraisal process

The easiest to way to reduce the value of a home is to apply for a homestead exemption on a primary residence, Cox said. This exemption reduces the value of one’s home by a certain amount, depending on the taxing entity.

If residents are unhappy with the market value of their home—the price the property would sell for—they have the option to protest the value set by the appraisal district in their county. This year the deadline was moved up two weeks to May 15 to file a protest after property appraisals are mailed in April.

Marya Crigler, the chief appraiser for Travis Central Appraisal District, said the Texas Legislature created appraisal districts in 1979 for each county in an effort to provide unbiased reporting of market values.

“We’re just really a reporting agency,” she said. “A lot of property owners misunderstand, and they think the appraisal district is determining [the value]and we’re setting what houses are going to sell for. And that’s really not the case. We’re looking at what has sold and what the market data tells us.”

Coming up with the property’s value includes TCAD staffers researching data, including recent home sales and property conditions, to determine the market value.

“The biggest thing that’s going to drive the market is what are other homes similar to [yours]selling for,” Crigler said. “If other homes in your neighborhood or near your area are selling for more, that is going to increase the value determination that we make in terms of how we appraise your property.”

Appraisal districts can only adjust someone’s market value, not his or her tax bill, Crigler said. Even if someone is granted a reduction in the market value, it might not affect their taxes. This is because the assessed value caps the amount a property’s value can increase at 10 percent of the previous year’s value, she said. Appraisal districts also use the previous year’s tax rates because taxing entities do not set new rates until after appraisal notices are mailed.

“Even if we make a significant reduction you could still pay more because tax rates go up,” Crigler said. “We come first in that [tax bill]equation, so there’s no real predicting of the true impact because you don’t know what the tax rates are.”

Rising taxes

Property values affect homeowners’ tax bills because taxes are assessed per $100 of home valuation. But it is only one half of the equation. Most area taxing entities, including the city, counties and school districts, have increased tax rates over the last few years.

Several residents reported on Nextdoor their concerns about having to pay a hefty tax bill when they retire and their ability to remain in their homes.

Thom Lang, who has lived in the Jester Estates neighborhood since 1992, said he and his wife’s concerns as retirees have more to do with how the city spends his tax dollars, such as a bond to help fund $1.5 billion worth of repairs to city pools or the failure of City Council to approve a new police contract.

“I don’t see anything changing in the city,” he said. “The roads haven’t gotten any better.”

He also questions Austin ISD’s proposal to spend money on building new schools when enrollment is declining.

In March, Lang said he and his wife will make their last mortgage payment. The market value on their home increased by 43 percent from 2013-17, according to TCAD. For now, he said paying roughly $1,000 per month in taxes is sustainable for them.

Wile said she has not heard from many homebuyers about their concern over taxes when buying a home.

“Buying a home is an amazing investment,” Wile said. “If you can get out of renting, you will not regret it.”

Additional reporting by Iain Oldman

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COMMENT
  1. The trade off for not having a state income tax is the hefty property tax bill. Maybe it’s time to offset by having all income taxed instead of homeowners bearing the brunt.

Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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