County assessed value drops

Number marks fifth straight year of decreasing values

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Prices for homes, like this property in Dalton Gardens on the market in 2005, began reducing prices as the market decreased.

With nearly 90,000 assessment notices mailed out to Kootenai County property owners on Tuesday, the county Assessor's Office is reporting an $859 million drop in the county's overall assessed value.

The decline to $11,273,000,000 this year, still an estimated figure at this point, marks the fifth consecutive year of sliding values, Assessor Mike McDowell acknowledged.

"It's a tough read right now," McDowell said. "We've seen some signs where the market appears to be reacting favorably in certain segments of the market, while others are kind of uncertain yet."

A possible silver lining is that this year's loss in overall assessed value, reflecting an analysis of 2,950 property sales in 2011, is less dramatic than in recent years.

Last year the county's overall assessed value fell $897 million. Before that, 2010 saw a loss of $2.1 billion, and 2009 of $1.2 billion.

Assessed value fell $720 million in 2008.

McDowell has previously labeled the trend as a return to normal market values, following the mid-2000s housing bubble. This might be a continuation of that correction, he said on Tuesday.

"If anything, the impact seems to be diminishing," McDowell said. "The rate of decline is not getting steeper."

The 87,816 property value assessment notices mailed out on Tuesday are based off local property sales and other market information from the 2011 calendar year.

The Assessors Office conducted sale reviews in 659 county neighborhoods, according to a press release.

Patterns were hard to discern as far as what sales markets are floundering, McDowell said.

"We're starting to see some activity in the area, for instance, with rental housing and rental units," he said. "We're starting to see some entry level housing pick up."

Foreclosures and short sales comprised 41 percent of residential transactions last year in Coeur d'Alene, the county's largest group area, McDowell said.

That was a jump from the 25 percent tallied across the county in 2010.

"There's just more of that property on the market," McDowell said, adding that the office didn't have a county-wide figure for the foreclosures and short sales.

Pat Krug, designated broker at Windermere Coeur d'Alene Realty, said she's seeing indications that the county's housing market "has hit bottom" and is starting to rise.

Average sales prices in most towns in the county have increased since last year, she said, and home buyers are taking advantage of appealing loan programs.

"This market optimism definitely has to be tempered with real estate prices," Krug said. "These buyers are looking for value, and they're expecting it, and those are the ones that are selling."

Michael Threadgill with Keller Williams Realty in Coeur d'Alene said certain market segments are fairly robust right now, especially affordable housing.

"I feel like we've hit a good stabilization point," Threadgill said. "We're noticing that inventory levels are dropping, which would suggest an increase in prices over the short term."

He predicted higher property values, he said, "as soon as we get our inventory levels to equilibrium."

During the county's property sales reviews, the assessor's press release states, property sales didn't indicate the same rate of value change in every neighborhood. The Assessor's Office ensured fair assessments by adjusting according to property type and location, according to the release.

Idaho's homeowner's exemption decreased this year from $92,040 to $83,974.

Property taxes are determined both by a property's assessed value and the budgets set by its local taxing districts.

The county encourages property owners to give input at taxing districts' budget hearings, the dates of which are listed on assessment notices.

Those with questions can contact the Assessor's Office at 446-1500.

McDowell said the county might see overall values rise next year.

"Given the economics and where we're at with starting home prices, I'd say we're getting pretty close to that economic equilibrium," he said.

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