Islanders’ property valuations drop 12 percent

The value of Vashon’s residential and commercial properties is 12 percent lower this year compared to last, according to the King County Assessor’s Office.

The office is currently mailing out the assessor’s 2010 property valuations to all Island property owners — notices that, on average, reflect a 12.1 percent drop in value.

“What we’re seeing are continued problems in the residential real estate market,” said John Wilson, the county’s deputy assessor. “It’s not as steep of a decline as it was a year ago, but there still is a lack of sales and a difficulty in financing things that is having an impact.”

The drop in valuation comes after a similar decline last year, when then-County Assessor Scott Noble decreased values by 15 percent county-wide, Wilson said.

According to the county’s analysis — a look at 82 sales from the beginning of 2008 to the start of this year — the average home sale price on Vashon was $421,700; the previous analysis put the average price at $479,700.

Dick Bianchi, owner of the Windermere office on Vashon, said the numbers from the assessor’s office “are probably within the ballpark.” But because its sample size is small and was taken over the course of two years, the county’s numbers often lag behind that of the current real estate market, he noted.

“It may be not right on the mark, but their numbers are close,” he said.

Jean Bosch, an agent with Vashon’s John L. Scott office, said the county’s numbers fail to capture the intricacies of the Vashon real estate situation. Bosch, who with her sister Leslie Ferriel writes a quarterly newsletter analyzing the housing market on Vashon, said the Island’s real estate market appears to be experiencing a modest recovery.

It has yet to show on paper, however, because most of the activity is in what she calls the “bottom half” of the market, “and I think that tends to drag the statistics down.”

In the latest issue of the newsletter she and Ferriel produce, published last month, the two agents noted that 71 percent of the houses that closed during the first half of 2010 where under $500,000; a year ago, 65 percent were under $500,000.

The new values set by the county will form the basis of property owners’ 2011 tax bills, which will be issued early next year when the county sets the 2011 tax rate. However, because that tax rate usually increases when property values fall, Vashon’s lower valuations won’t necessarily lead to lower property taxes, Wilson said.

“It does not go hand in hand that if your values go down, your tax bill goes down,” he said.

Tax deferral program offers help

A new tax deferral program allows Washington residents who have owned their home for at least five years and make $57,000 or less to defer the second half of their yearly taxes, due Oct. 31. A lein is put on the house and interest for the amount deferred is charged; when the house sells or the homeowner no longer lives in the house the loan must be paid back.

According to Hilary Emmer, a tax preparer on Vashon, the program is good “for people who are making choices between buying food and paying taxes.”

The deadline to apply for the deferral is Sept. 1. Emmer will help Islanders fill out the application. Call her at 463-7277.

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