Residents in the Katy area will see yet another increase in their property values as local taxing entities prepare to send tax bills to property owners by the Oct. 1 deadline, officials said.
Jack Barnett, communications officer for the Harris County Appraisal District, said Katy-area residents are not going to experience the 20-25 percent increase in property values that was seen in 2014, but there will again be another rise in values in 2016. Between Fort Bend and Harris counties, the average rate of increase for 2016 is 3-8 percent.
“Generally, property values are rising. That is pretty much a given,” Barnett said. “This year, what we have found [with 2016 appraisals] was that prices continue to go up but not as much as in previous years. If there is a market for buyers, then [homeowners] are going to be selling.”
Glen Whitehead, chief appraiser for the Fort Bend Central Appraisal District, said most residents—whether long time Texans or new to the state—do not understand the property tax system nor the appraisal process.
“[Property in the] Katy area has typically been increasing in value,” Whitehead said. “[The Fort Bend County area of] Katy has seen an average of 14-22 percent increase in property values [in the past several years]. Properties over time escalate in value.”
Local lawmakers say the rate of increase is unsustainable.
“This is not an anti-government crusade; it’s a crusade for reality,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. “My taxpayers’ realistic ability to pay has to come into the equation.”
The committee hosted a series of town hall meetings across the state over the past year that included a May 10 meeting at the University of Houston.
Nearly 60 speakers signed up to provide testimony, many of whom believe the recent increases are unfair and the existing appraisal system is flawed. Speakers ranged from homeowners to representatives with Dow Chemical Company and Amazon.com.
Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan attended the event and acknowledged the challenges county taxpayers face.
“Whatever the economic drivers are that drive those values up, the fact is that a lot of people are faced with appraisals they just can’t afford,” he said.
Nathan McMartin, a real estate partner with Jamie McMartin/Coldwell Banker United, said the appraisal process is often frustrating for homeowners, but in the Katy area, there is not much of a gap between the real value of a home and its appraised value.
“[Katy] resale values go up on a consistent basis. But, the values, just because of the market, have gotten stagnant this past summer,” McMartin said. “In 2014, we saw one of the strongest markets we’ve ever seen in Katy and that coincided with the oil boon.”
“There is a lot of gray hair growing. The homeowners trying to sell now—or thinking of selling—are really frustrated,” he said
Veronica Mullenix, a broker with the Veronica Mullenix Real Estate Group, said many Katy-area homeowners are perplexed by the property tax system and why their assessed values are going up—notably in light of the passage of Proposition 1 last November, which increased the homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000.
“When [Prop. 1] passed in November, tax bills went up. [Prop. 1] should have lowered property taxes,” Mullenix said. “[Homeowners] are not realizing the savings they were expecting.”
One of the reasons why the Katy area has seen an increase in the appraised value of homes is because so many companies have been relocating to Katy or are opening new offices there, Mullenix said.
“The demand for housing in Katy continues to be, well, in demand,” she said. “As long as there are companies moving here, people continue to move here. It’s just a high-demand area.”
Mullenix said many real estate experts have theorized that central appraisal district officials are trying to recapture revenue lost from the passage of Prop. 1 last year, which is why home appraised values have risen.
“[Central appraisal districts] are trying to get toward a market value, but they are over-stating the [home] values,” she said. “Homeowners are starting to pay attention to [the appraisal process], as they should.”
The Texas Legislature passed several bills aimed at property tax reform in the 2015 legislative session, and the property tax discussion is expected to resurface in the 2017 legislative session as well. One method of reform that will be up for discussion revolves around implementing a measure that causes tax rates to go down automatically as assessed values rise, Bettencourt said.
Bettencourt also said slowing the rate of growth of government is another important part of the battle.
“Unless the public votes for something, you have to slow down the growth of government because the public just can’t afford it,” he said.