by Barrett Seaman –
Whenever Greenburgh Town Assessor Edye McCarthy calls a meeting for area realtors, they come—but not without a good deal of trepidation. The 2015-16 town-wide reassessment of property values sent a shock wave through the system that is still being felt, especially in upscale districts like Irvington, Dobbs Ferry, Edgemont and Hastings, where home values were hit with double-digit increases and subsequent tax bills that rose in some cases by more than 100%.
It was no surprise then when agents packed the ballroom at Tarrytown’s DoubleTree Hotel on a blustery mid-October Monday morning to hear McCarthy’s latest update. Her news: while the 2017 tax rates were now set, the underlying home valuations that would determine final tax bills were still in flux—and would continue to shift (almost certainly upwards) in the years ahead.
“Every year, from now on,” she said, “we’re going to be looking at the market and we’re going to be making changes.”
Even as the fallout from the 2015-16 reassessment, the first in 60 years, was settling, earlier this year the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services was telling Greenburgh that its home price increases were still “off the charts,” and demanding what McCarthy called a “non-reassessment reappraisal” that hit some 19,000 homeowners with small increases again this past May. Now, she told the brokers, the state was back at them again, saying rising prices demanded that the town reappraise yet again or risk losing its credits for maintaining a 100% market value standard.
“The market is hot,” she declared to a sea of faces that did not look entirely convinced. Inventories were low and homes selling at, near and sometimes even above asking prices. McCarthy acknowledged, however, that these were “pockets” of increases, and that there were also some pockets of decreases. What she asked of the agents was that they help her identify the anomalies. Mostly, she was after homes that were undervalued, but she added, “If you’re listing a house for a million and it’s assessed at $1.5 million, call me.”
More likely, there were going to be houses that, for one reason or another, had been assessed below what the market would eventually bear. “If they’re low taxes,” McCarthy warned, “they won’t be low for long.”
Circumstances for such under-assessments vary, she said. Perhaps a homeowner had made improvements—added a bedroom or updated a kitchen—and not reported it, so that the improvements were not reflected in the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O). “I don’t care if it’s legal or not,” declared the Assessor. “If I go out and I see it, I’m taxing it.”
She ran through the sequence of events that brokers and homeowners can expect in the formulation of tax rates going forward. April is when town and county taxes are announced. May 1 is the deadline to apply for exemptions, like the School Tax Relief deduction for seniors (STAR) or for veterans or the disabled. June 1st through the 21st is when grievances can be filed, and June 21st is when they are adjudicated. Further appeals will be resolved by September 15, and September is when first-half school taxes—the largest component of the tax bill—are mailed out.
In the past, STAR deductions were taken right out of tax bills before they are mailed. As of this year, the state will mail those checks out separately to qualified homeowners.
“I just want to capture the market,” said McCarthy. “I don’t want to kill the market.” But that assurance, coupled with the message or uncertainty on valuations going forward did not appear to assuage the concerns of the professional brokers in McCarthy’s audience. The current state of low inventory and relatively high demand may indicate a healthy home-buying market, but brokers in the high-end neighborhoods hit hardest by the reassessment feared that the damage was not yet done. One Irvington realtor, who did not want to be identified, said that there were a number of homeowners who had either put their houses on the market or were contemplating doing so soon — “not because they want to leave, but because they cannot afford to stay.”