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Mercer Island property values skyrocket, buildings worth less

Many Island homeowners were shocked when they opened their mailboxes last Friday to find that the assessed value of their home and property had changed dramatically. The King County Assessors office mailed out its new batch of "Official Property Value Notices" to Islanders and residents throughout the county. Islanders are puzzled and angry by what they saw.

Island real estate valuation consultant Harley Hoppe said that his phone has been ringing off the hook. In less than three days since the postcards arrived in the mail, he and his staff had received dozens of e-mails, letters and people coming into his office, waving the offending card. "I have more business than I can handle right now," Hoppe said last Wednesday afternoon.

From what Hoppe and his staff have reviewed so far, it appears that valuations for Island property throughout the Island have skyrocketed, with most of the increased value in land.

The postcards at Hoppe's Island office also indicated that the valuations were all over the map. Some landowners saw their assessed value increase between 20 and 40 percent while other landowners had their values jump as much as 200 percent. Other taxpayers saw the value of the land that they own adjusted upward by 50 percent or more while the value of the buildings on the land fell the same amount.

"The land value should remain somewhat stable," he said. "Given the market over the last year, I think it should have gone down."

Hoppe, a former King County Assessor for 12 years, has been a taxpayer advocate in private practice for 25 years on the Island. He said this latest round of valuations is by far the worst he has ever seen.

"I have never seen anything so overdone," he said. "It has to be a computer error."

According to the King County Assessor's Web site, the valuations were done based on land sales on the Island between January 2005 through December 2007; a time that many would agree Island property was selling at a premium. However, Hoppe feels that a good assessment looks to see if the values are reasonable for the near future.

"Let's consider what we know is happening now in the market," he said. "From what I have seen, it is totally inept, unfair and unjust."

In the summary report on Mercer Island valuations published on the web by the County Assessor's Office, a table shows that for a sample of 5,894 properties, the average land value increased by 37 percent overall while the improvements fell by 23 percent, resulting in a net average increase of just under 12 percent.

But the averages do not impress Hoppe. He is worried about the potential impact on Islanders who have lived in their homes for years and who are on fixed incomes.

One woman wrote a note to Hoppe that said, "We are ages 73 and 68 on fixed income," she wrote. "You helped us in 1977. We would appreciate your help again."

Another note stated, "Our [property] went up 27 percent. We could not sell it for that amount."

For more information on the appraisal methodology for Mercer Island, go to www.metrokc.gov/Assessor.

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