Appraiser mistakes contributing to soaring house prices

The county assessors' office may not be the only reason property taxes have increased

An 11Alive investigation uncovered how mistakes made by appraisers could be adding to Fulton County’s soaring property taxes. It happens when appraisers, hired by banks, make a mistake by artificially inflating home values.

County assessors are not regulated by the state appraisal board. They’re governed by a different governing body. Once the appraiser makes a mistake, there’s little homeowners or the state can do when the home’s sale closes. 

Identifying whether your bank’s appraiser made mistake is difficult, and neighbors are typically left in the dark. 

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Stephanie McDowell is one of those homeowners. 11Alive Investigator Andy Pierrotti caught up with McDowell as she was moving into her new condo in the River West community. 

"I love it. I absolutely love my entire place," she said.  

While McDowell did her homework on her home before moving in, there’s something she didn’t know about the condo across the street that may have impacted the price of her two-story Atlanta condo. 

According to state records, the Georgia Real Estate Appraisals Board sanctioned an appraiser in 2015 for failing to include nearby home sales “that would have indicated a lower opinion of value” when appraising her neighbor’s home. 

Its homeowner, who declined to be interviewed, says the appraiser inflated the price by $30,000.

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Because the sale closed before the state cited the appraiser, the price stuck. Since then, similar homes in the neighborhood jumped 51 percent in value.

McDowell had no clue. "It’s not noted anywhere. I wouldn’t have known if you had not mentioned it to me," she said. "I’m really happy with my property. It still makes me wonder, did I pay a little bit more than I should have?"

An 11Alive Investigation uncovered the state appraisal board has cited hundreds of appraisers over the past 15 years for similar mistakes. 

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Ann Milano is a long-time Atlanta real estate broker.  When an appraiser mistakenly increases a home value, she says other homes in the neighborhood will eventually follow suit. That means everyone in the neighborhood eventually pays more in property taxes. 

"The natural progression in real estate, hopefully, is that your property values and the investment you make in your property is going to go up," Milano said. "It’s when it’s over-inflated very quickly that it impacts the homeowners on a very severe level."

The 11Alive Investigators also found appraisers cited for undervaluing homes. Records show numerous appraisers not including porches, finished basements and not identifying the correct comparable properties with similar values when completing their appraisals. 

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Craig Coffee is the deputy commissioner for the Georgia Real Estate and Appraisals Boards. While the number of appraisers cited by the state is less than one percent each year, Coffee says his agency isn’t sure how many bad appraisals were performed by those sanctioned by the state. That’s because the board isn’t required to maintain a list of those appraisals and who performed them. 

"We actually don’t even know how many appraisals they’ve done," Coffee said. 

All of the board’s investigations are complaint driven, which means it typically does not look at past appraisals performed by appraisers who have been cited by the state. 

"That’s true, but you have to think, not only do our complaints come from homeowners, the lending institutions that are loaning for the residential properties mostly, have a very intensive review process," Coffee said. 

Right now, there are 48 active investigations into appraiser mistakes across the state. Investigations can take between a few months to a year to complete. 

By then, though, the damage is already done to the homeowner and neighborhood. "A year is a long time, but you have to think of the court process and due process," Coffee said. 

If you think your home was incorrectly assessed by an appraiser hired by your bank, click here to submit a request for an investigation (http://www.grec.state.ga.us/forms/investigationforms.html)

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