Stephanie Miller's home in Brookhaven, now appraised at more than half a million dollars.
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. -- In DeKalb County, it's war, now.
Homeowners in and around the Brookhaven Gardens neighborhood are finding out that DeKalb County is not going to do for them what it's doing for other homeowners.
The county will not lower their giant, six-figure increases in their 2012 property appraisals, even though the county just admitted bungling appraisals on thousands of homes elsewhere in the county, appraising them far above their market value. The county is correcting those appraisals.
But DeKalb County's Chief Appraiser Calvin Hicks is saying that homeowners in Brookhaven Gardens, around 50 of them, deserve their increased appraisals, this year.
Natalie Cheney's home, for example, is suddenly worth $200,000 more since last year. A 48 percent increase. In this market?
"Yeah, it's shocking," she said as she showed her appraisal notice.
"It's obvious there was a mistake made," said Homeowner Stephanie Miller, whose appraisal increased 26 percent.
"The values we have on those properties are within reason," said Chief Appraiser Calvin Hicks on Thursday.
Hicks said homeowners in Brookhaven Gardens don't realize that, until this year, the state had been capping assessment-increases, and holding down home-values artificially, at 2008 levels.
This year, the cap is off.
So the homeowners -- in neighborhoods where Hicks believes the market values increased -- are suddenly seeing four-years of appreciation in a single year.
The way Hicks sees it, they haven't been paying enough taxes.
The homeowners who gathered in front of Stephanie Miller's home Thursday are surprised that Hicks would say that.
"That's ridiculous," said Dennis Hinton.
"Based on what numbers?" asked Karen Smythe.
"The market values have not shown appreciable appreciation since 2008," Hinton said. "He's way off base, way off base."
"I think we're all just kind of wondering how are they getting these numbers," said Andy Peters, who is a real estate agent. "Where are they coming from?"
So the homeowners have filed their appeals and are getting their evidence together, preparing for war, now -- they see this as a fight to hold onto their homes -- a war with the county that may last months, at least.
Hicks said his team looked at sales of two homes "ranging between $483,000 and $550,000" as factors in determining current fair market value for Brookhaven Gardens homes. Hicks said it was clear to his appraisal team that Brookhaven Gardens is an island of increasing values in an ocean of depressed home values.
"I don't think it is an area that is experiencing some of the ills of other areas of the county," Hicks said, and its desirability is pushing values and prices up.
But Andy Peters, the real estate agent, said in his examination of house sales in the area, he has not found any homes that sold for anywhere near $550,000, and "nothing suggesting anywhere close to $500,000" that Hicks believes many of the Brookhaven Gardens homes are now worth.
"To say that property values have increased at all in the last three to four years is kind of laughable," Peters said.
"There hasn't been a $550,000 sale in the Brookhaven Gardens neighborhood in the last year," said Karen Smythe, a real estate broker. "So I'm not sure where he's getting his numbers from. We're fine with [values] catching up, but they need to be catching up in a justifiable manner. What we're seeing here is the county appraisals are well above where fair market is."
Stephanie Miller is organizing homeowners to fight the appraisals, setting up a blog as a central source of information for homeowners.
She said when she initially called Hicks' office, she was told that values had increased in her area, but, "they indicated a five percent increase. That is not what my tax appraisal shows. It shows a 26 percent increase."
Her home's appraisal went from $402,700 in 2011 to $508,100 in 2012, and she's certain it's the result of the same mistakes the county made in other neighborhoods this year, "and the county has acknowledged that the mistakes have been made [in those neighborhoods]. But they're not looking at our area. And so the only fair thing to do is to come back and re-evaluate the Brookhaven area."
Hicks explained Miller's increase by again pointing to the state-imposed freeze on appraisals that he said had kept Miller's home from going up in assessed value until this year.
"We were not allowed to show any appreciation between 2008 through 2011" on Miller's home, Hicks said. The 26 percent increase this year "is really an appreciation that's occurred over that four-year period, and it didn't necessarily occur over the time span of one year."
In fact, Hicks said, Miller bought her house in March 2006, for $475,000, so this year's appraisal of $508,100 is about 7 percent higher than the 2006 sale price, not 26 percent higher than the 2011 appraisal of $402,700.
"We had never placed the value as high as it actually sold for" in 2006, Hicks said, concluding that during the past four years, Miller "was paying [taxes] on something that was about $74,000 below what she paid for it."
But Miller said her house's value, like the values of other homes in the dire real estate market, steadily and rapidly decreased. Last year, she said, when she and her husband put it on the market, they couldn't get $425,000 for it, and they don't believe they could get $508,100 for it, now.
"The most cost-effective and efficient way to resolve this problem is to re-calculate, instead of processing hundreds and hundreds of appeals, which we all intend to file." Miller said.