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Advocate tells homeowners not to delay on appraisal protests as AG's opinion on law looms

By Glenn Evans
May 15, 2012 at 11 p.m.

The head of an area advocacy group is urging homeowners to protest their appraised values now in anticipation of a Texas Attorney General's opinion that could lower appraisals and tax bills - but after the protest deadline has passed.

In Gregg County, the deadline to protest the value placed on a home for tax purposes is June 1.

Meanwhile, the attorney general's office on Tuesday confirmed it intends to issue an opinion on whether or not appraisers are following a new law regarding foreclosures on June 12.

"If you don't protest, then you lose your opportunity to ever revisit that, even after what we think is going to be the attorney general opinion directing appraisal districts across the state of Texas to include foreclosures," said J.D. Davis, head of the East Texas Business Coalition.

Davis and the coalition convinced state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, to ask the state's top law enforcement office in November for clarification on House Bill 1038.

The law took effect in January 2010 and directs appraisers to include nearby foreclosures when setting home values.

Writing as chairman of the Senate Committee on Administration, Eltife asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to clarify the circumstances under which appraisers should factor foreclosures when setting home values in a neighborhood.

Foreclosed homes generally sell well below the price of other homes. And with foreclosures peppering neighborhoods across the country, including in Longview, Davis says appraisers often set values for whole neighborhoods too high by ignoring those next-door bank sales.

Appraisal districts set home, commercial and other property values on which cities, schools and other taxing entities set their annual levies. A lower property value means a smaller tax bill unless the entities raise their tax rates.

Davis is confident the attorney general will indicate property appraisers have neglected the new law, while the chief appraiser in Gregg County Appraisal District is just as confident the other way.

"I'm not worried about the A.G.'s opinion," Chief Appraiser Tom Hays said Tuesday. "Mr. Davis might be a little distraught after he gets his returns. We are using (the new law). We are just not using (foreclosures) the way he wants it done."

Hays, who has never met Davis but is aware of his group's advocacy, consistently has said there aren't enough homes in foreclosure here to alter home values. The Gregg County Appraisal District has not found an instance in which foreclosures met the standard to affect neighborhood property values, Hays said in the fall.

He added that, as a so-called non-disclosure state, Texas does not make sale prices of homes available to property appraisers. They seek those numbers from sellers and buyers who are willing to disclose, or county clerk deed transfers reveal, which don't always include a sales price.

"If we had total sale data in, and a numerous number of foreclosures, obviously they would have an effect," Hays said.

Meanwhile, Davis insists people who don't appeal the 2012 estimated home value they received in recent weeks risk missing out on the favorable ruling he expects by mid-June from Austin.

"Unless people are aware of it, they are going to believe they're going to get some relief down the road - no, you've got to file that appeal in order to get some relief," Davis said. "There's been a lot of effort put in to see that this law is reaffirmed by the attorney general's office, from Sen. Eltife up the list. And it will all be for naught if you fail to appeal your values."



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