Comal and Guadalupe County residents received their 2019 home value appraisals in the mail in April from their respective appraisal districts, and the numbers showed rising home values on par with increases seen in recent years.

The median home price in Comal County as of March 2019 was $292,626–a 7.1% year-over-year increase from 2018, according to real estate data from the Four Rivers Association of Realtors, the Texas Association of Realtors and the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.

Similarly, Guadalupe County’s median home price as of March 2019 was $231,400, a 5.2% increase from March 2018.

“The housing market in these two areas is currently extremely healthy,” said Peggy Jones, president of Four Rivers Association of Realtors, which does business in Caldwell, Comal, Gonzales, Guadalupe and Hays counties. “It is because of the extraordinary growth in the Central Texas area. Austin and San Antonio are both very high-growth major cities causing everything in between to be very high-growth as well.”

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Comal County had a population of 148,373 people in 2018, a 36.8% increase from 2010. Guadalupe County has experienced similar growth: in 2018 it had a population of 163,694 people, a 24.4% increase from 2010.

Local reactions to home values

Jones said that, overall, her team of Realtors in Comal and Guadalupe counties has observed two common reactions among homeowners to their appraisals this year.

“I’d say that the first emotion is confusion, and then the second emotion happens to be anger,” Jones said. “I have heard from my own clients, and other people have heard from in the course of everyday business that people are getting [their appraisals] in the mail; they’re opening it up expecting that there might be a small increase. But these are big increases—every county. This is across the board in this area.”

When property value appraisals rise significantly year over year, the local real estate market often feels the consequences, she said.

“The problem is that as the tax appraisals go up by extraordinary jumps, it can cause people to pause—to be hesitant to go buy in that area because of the fear of how out-of-control the property taxes may become,” Jones said.

Overall, though, Jones said both counties are currently fostering a seller’s market, a sign the housing markets in Guadalupe and Comal counties are in good health. This, she said, means homeowners are often able to quickly sell their houses for the full asking price because there are more buyers than there are homes for sale.

“The fact that we have a very good economy in Texas—we have employers; we have universities; we have a wonderful climate here—all of these things are attracting people to this area,” Jones said. “And that’s why we see this being one of the highest-growth areas basically in the country.”

The appraisal process

Comal County Chief Appraiser Rufino Lozano said appraisal districts run formulas using the previous year’s sale information in a given area to determine what a property’s current market value is.

Guadalupe County Chief Appraiser Jamie Osborne said appraisals for her district were sent out April 12. The deadline for recipients to challenge their appraisals in both Guadalupe and Comal counties was May 15 or a month after the postmarked receipt of the appraisal.

“It is definitely important for property owners to take a look at the notice for appraised value and look at the value that we’re proposing for their property, as the Jan. 1 appraisal is for ad valorem tax purposes,” Osborne said. “If they get that, they take a look at it and don’t believe [the appraised] value is reflective of market value, then they would need to file their written notice of protest with us and then go through that process.”

Since annual property tax is directly linked to property value appraisals by the county, owners may have to pay a notably larger bill in 2020 if the 2019 appraisal comes significantly higher than the previous year.

When filing a protest to an appraisal, homeowners must specify whether they are disputing the new value because it is not in alignment with other appraisals for homes in the same neighborhood or that it is not consistent with the neighborhood’s recent home sales, Jones said. Protesters may cite both reasons as grounds for their dispute as well.

“It’s very important to challenge the appraisal,” Jones said. “And you might as well just go ahead and do it, even if you don’t have the supporting documentation yet. And then go find yourself a licensed Realtor to assist you in generating a comparative market analysis so you have documentation.”

If such an analysis or other supporting documentation shows that a certain property’s appraisal is not in line with homes in the same neighborhood, a property owner can have an informal meeting with the appraisers at the central appraisal district or have the case heard by the county’s appraisal review board, which consists of members appointed by the county judge.

Although the deadline to protest an appraisal was May 15, the counties’ appraisal review boards  do, in some cases, allow protests to be made after the cutoff date, according to the Texas comptroller’s office. Exceptions include if a property owner failed to receive the required notice from the appraisal district or if the district appraised the property at least one-third higher than its market value.

Protests may also be heard after the deadline if a property owner finds a clerical error in his or her appraisal or if he or she errantly receives multiple appraisals. If a given county’s appraisal review board rules in favor of the property owner, it will instruct the chief appraiser to notify the taxing entities about the change.

Jones said protesting appraisal may offer homeowners with soaring property values some relief from larger tax bills.

“Here’s the thing: You have only 30 days to protest the appraisal,” Jones said. “If you sit on it, and you don’t get it in, you have passed your opportunity to even say anything about it. And then your tax bill comes at the end of the year and is due by Jan. 31 of the following year, meaning 2020. And you’re going to owe that tax.”