Most of Pierce County’s property tax valuation appeals for the 2014 tax year come from a single source: Invitation Homes, the county’s largest owner of single-family rental houses.
“This is the bulk of appeals to deal with this year,” said county assessor-treasurer Mike Lonergan.
That fact is merely interesting, not troubling, property tax officials say. All property owners have the right to appeal how their property is valued. It’s just a small example of the change in the landscape since Invitation Homes arrived in Pierce County. At almost 1,000 properties, Invitation Homes is the county’s largest single home-owner.
The company has appealed its property valuations in King County, too, officials there said this week, though not as many as in Pierce County.
Pierce County’s Board of Equalization sorts out appeals from property owners over what the county assessor says their property is worth. County assessors try to value each property at its market rate, and that number is used to calculate taxes to be collected by cities, the county, the state, a school district and other taxing entities. But the valuations usually lag the sales market by a year.
The number of appeals each year varies widely. Pierce County appeals spiked in 2009, as assessments did not yet reflect the decreasing home values seen in the sales market. That year, 4,321 property valuation appeals were filed with the county’s equalization board.
In 2013, just 698 appeals were filed. Of those, 284 were from Invitation Homes. The company withdrew 93 of them, leaving 191 to be determined by the board.
Not all properties have the same tax assessments. But using the county’s average tax rate of $15.17 per $1,000 of the properties’ values, Invitation Homes ended up saving itself $16,475 in taxes for those 191 properties —which works out to a savings of about $86 per property.
For the 2014 tax year, the board has received 1,106 appeals. Of those, 560 were from Invitation Homes — about 51 percent of the appeals.
“Even though their numbers represent half of our appeals, it won’t be half of our workload,” said Jim Hall, a division manager in the assessor’s office, which must file a response to each appeal with the board. The company bought these homes recently, so sales data is fresh and available online, Hall said.
Plus, Hall said Tuesday, the company made official its withdrawal of 212 of those appeals, leaving just 348 to work through. In King County, where property values have skyrocketed, the company has filed 225 appeals.
The company’s staff “is overwhelmed, too,” Hall said. “They have this same situation in a lot of different communities. They’re looking for ways to do this quickly.”
Part of the reason Invitation Homes is overwhelmed, county officials say, might be that this year company officials are directly handling the appeals. Last year, Invitation Homes used Altus Group, a real estate consultancy that acts as a client’s agent in real estate matters.
This past fall, “it took me almost 8 weeks to reach some one (with Invitation Homes) and have someone call back,” said Kim Shannon, the clerk who schedules appeals hearings for the board.