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Wauwatosa revaluations likely to be done closer together

City assessor says that should make value swings more gradual

Dec. 11, 2013

After a seven-year gap between citywide revaluations, City Assessor Steven Miner said he will strive to shorten the time in the future.

"Our intention is to start doing reassessments on a more regular cycle, like every three years," Miner said. "That is really kind of the focus for us as we move forward."

More frequent reassessments would help prevent dramatic swings in value such as the kind seen this year, when the aggregate value of the housing sector dropped 9.3 percent, and the value of all commercial properties rose more than 8 percent.

Location remains key

The old adage says that the three most important things about real estate are location, location and location, and that was the story in the rise in value of commercial property this year, Miner said.

"The market for a commercial building is not the same as the market for a residential property," he said. "The fact is, the most important thing that affects value is the location. Wauwatosa is really in an excellent location, and it translates into demand. You can see that evidenced by the commercial values — they've held their values very well. That whole Mayfair corridor has been very strong, and there's just a lot of interest in the North Avenue neighborhood, and in the Village."

Business owners have taken note, Miner said.

"The buyers recognize that. The people who are interested in locating businesses are interested in being in this neighborhood. There's a lot going on with redevelopment, whether it be for retail, or for offices, medical offices, restaurants, whatever. All of those things generate (news) and that creates awareness that people then take note of."

Importance of job centers

Businesses in the Mayfair Mall area and near the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center held their value very well, Miner said. Even homes in those regions, with easy access to the jobs the businesses and the hospital provide, did well.

Conversely, neighborhoods further from employment centers — the north end, the west side — saw more declines in value.

Condominiums, as a rule, also came down a little bit more than average, he said.

"That's a statement of demand for those units — it's not what it used to be," Miner said.

New multifamily housing going up around the city — the Mandel project at Innovation Campus, the Wangard project off of State Street, and others — are all planned as apartment buildings, rental units, not condominiums, reflecting that transition.

Unusual challenges

Miner said his staff saw more appeals of assessments this year than it normally would. And, the nature of many appeals was different, too.

"We were surprised this year at how many people came in and contested their value because it went down," he said. "A lot of people — I don't know if it was half, but it sure felt like half of the people."

More typically, people challenge an assessment in which their property value went up, chiefly because it could result in a higher property tax bill.

"We think we talked to about 2,100 people" during the open book process, he said. That represents about 13 percent of the property owners. After a normal reassessment, that number would be between 5 and 10 percent, he explained.

"It was more than we expected it to be," Miner said.

He attributes the difference to those who challenged reduced valuations.

Those people might be motivated by the prospect of selling their properties in the next year or two, he said. Older people, too, for whom the home is their most significant asset, and who may be counting on that value for their retirement, might challenge a declining valuation.

"But there are a lot of people who just want to get their assessment right," he said.

A strange market

A number of factors come into play, Miner said.

"The market has been so topsy-turvy these days, unpredictable, you know, not everybody's assessment was in lock-step with everybody else's."

The condition of a property is one reason similar properties might have varied assessments. Some properties have been updated, and others have fallen behind the times, and those factors can play a role in sale prices and valuation, he said.

Also, changed uses were abundant, and these were reflected in the assessment.

This was true in places such as on Burleigh Road, at the future site of Mayfair Collections, where former warehouses are being rebuilt into a retail shopping center. State Street is another place where this is happening; a recent example is the planned razing of Eckert Door Co., to make way for a UW Credit Union.

"We're seeing properties purchased, the buildings are torn down, or the buildings are gutted out and re-used for another purpose after significant remodeling," Miner said.

A staff of five

Miner directs a staff of five full-time assessors, and a part-time clerical worker, and he said they worked long hours to get the reassessment done.

In non-reassessment years, they still visit about 1,000 properties annually, he said, either because they were requested to, or to have a look at an addition, or a new garage, or some other significant change.

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