Benefits of Owning Commercial Real Estate

Kiah Surgue

As a business owner, you should be aware of the many advantages to owning the commercial real estate where your business is located.  In order to pursue owning, you have to have a solid financial profile and a clear vision for growth.  Investors are more apt to lend to businesses with value and assets, combined with a low amount of debt compared to owner’s equity.  This is important to ownership and access to capital.  Ultimately this type of business investment can serve as a stable foundation for future commercial success. 

    The interest savings on purchasing versus leasing commercial real estate is huge.  When carrying a mortgage on the property, a portion of each monthly payment goes to principal and a portion goes to interest.  A business owner can use the interest portion as a tax deduction.  So, a property valued at $500,000 with 20 percent down, a 20-year term and an interest rate of 4.5 percent has total payments of $607,000 over the course of 20 years, of which $207,000 goes directly to interest.  Thus, a third of the total payments can be deducted over the term, a major tax bonus.

    Property tax write-offs are another advantage to owning commercial real estate.  When you own property, you are responsible for village, county and school taxes which are deductible expenses that can offset business income and business tax liability.  

    Additionally, depreciation on commercial real estate is a benefit come tax time.  All assets but the land will depreciate in value as soon as they are purchased, including the roof, siding, furnace, sinks, toilets, decking etc.  The IRS allows the depreciation of a residential rental unit over 27.5 years and a commercial building over 39 years.  For example, if you purchase a residential rental for $1 million, the annual depreciation that can be written off is about $36,000. 

    Many other tax deductions are available when owning a business.  Any maintenance or renovations done to the property are deductible, as well as purchases of equipment, furniture, fixtures, and inventory and working capital for common area maintenance charges, insurance, phone, electric, internet, office and supply expenses.

    Some investors purchase commercial real estate as a long term retirement investment to generate a valued asset, knowing that the capital gains tax rate on the sale of a building will generally be lower than the personal tax deduction associated with a traditional IRA.  This is another reason that owning commercial real estate can be favorable.

    Looking way ahead, if you plan to leave the property to a beneficiary such as a spouse, family member, partner etc. and they decide to sell the property, they will only pay taxes on the increased value from the time of the owner’s passing.  This is referred to as a post-sales tax savings and is another benefit to ownership. For example, a business owner purchases a commercial property for $1 million and it appreciates to $4 million over time.  Then the owner passes, the property goes to the beneficiary and the beneficiary sells the property for $5 million; the beneficiary only owes taxes on $1 million. What a tax savings!

    The benefits to owning your commercial property may outweigh leasing or renting a space.  If you have a business that is in a solid financial position, consult with your team of experts such as your business advisor, attorney, accountant and banker to see what your next move should be. 

                The New York State Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  They also offer an entrepreneurial training course with presentations by area professionals in law, marketing, accounting, etc.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu. St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu. 

Realtor Association Awards, Inaugurate Boards of Directors

Lance Evans

December marks the end of the elected year for both the St. Lawrence County and the Jefferson-Lewis Boards of Realtors.  Both held their annual meetings which included the election and inauguration of new officers and directors and honoring those departing the Board of Directors. It also is the time of year that various awards are given and funds are raised for various community organizations.

St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors

    The St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors marked the end of the year with a lunch at the Gran View Restaurant in Ogdensburg on Dec. 14.  The occasion included awarding the Association’s first ever Realtor of the Year and Affiliate of the Year, a very successful auction conducted by Scott Boyer with proceeds going to area Neighborhood Centers, as well as inaugurating the 2019 Board of Directors.

    The Affiliate of the Year award is given to a non-Realtor member or member company.  Affiliates include bankers, lenders, home inspectors, media companies, etc. who have an interest in the real estate industry, but are not licensed to sell or appraise real estate. The award was given to Julie Derrigo-Inschert of Fairport Mortgage. Julie, a member for almost 30 years, was praised as having a high degree of knowledge about the industry, treating real estate buyers as VIPS, and having a level of commitment, professionalism, and compassion that makes her an asset to her profession.

    St. Lawrence County’s Realtor of the Year award is given to a realtor member (broker, appraiser, associate broker, or salesperson) who has made contributions to the realtor profession and their community.  This inaugural award was given to Jennifer Stevenson, broker-owner of Blue Heron Realty in Ogdensburg.  A member since 1990, Jennifer has held many offices locally including several terms as president. She served as the Adirondack Region Vice President for the NYS Association of Realtors (NYSAR) from 2009-2010, the 2018 NYSAR Secretary-Treasurer, and will be NYSAR’s President-Elect in 2019.  Jennifer also serves on the Ogdensburg City Council and has been president of her Rotary Club, president of Ogdensburg’s Chamber of Commerce, and is active in the SPCA.

    Jennifer Stevenson, in her capacity as a NYSAR Officer, also oversaw the inauguration of the 2019 Board of Directors. The 2019 President will be Richard J. Wood.  The rest of the team will be Brittany Matott (vice president), Elizabeth Trego (treasurer), Doug Hawkins (secretary), Debbie Gilson (immediate past president), Wendy Smith (state director), and three-year directors, Gail Abplanalp, Tracy Bernard, and Joel Howie.  Also recognized during the lunch was Amanda Kingsbury who served as Treasurer in 2017 and 2018.

Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors

    The Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors held its holiday dinner and inauguration on the evening of Dec. 13 at Watertown’s Hilton Garden Inn. Music for the evening was provided by Chuck Ruggiero.  During the dinner, the departing members of the Board of Directors were recognized, the 2019 Board of Directors were installed by NYSAR Central Region VP Don Radke, an Affiliate of the Year was named, and an auction was held which benefitted several charities including the Salvation Army, Watertown Urban Mission and Hospice.

    Northern Credit Union was recognized as the 2018 Affiliate of the Year.  Some of the reasons cited were their support for programs put on by the Realtor Association and the Women’s Council of Realtors Network, as well as their employees’ professionalism, knowledge, responsiveness, and enthusiasm.

    The Jefferson-Lewis Board will be led by Alfred Netto as 2019 President.  He will be assisted by Britt Abbey (president-Elect), Katharine Dickson (vice president), Mary Adair (treasurer), Nancy Rome (recording secretary), and Desiree Roberts (corresponding secretary). Rounding out the leadership team will be three-year directors Elizabeth Miller, Cindy Moyer, and Vickie Staie as well as one-year directors Daniel Bossuot and Michael Hall and State Director Walter Christensen.  Honored for their service as they departed the Board were Lisa Lowe (corresponding secretary) and Randy Raso (three-year director).

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

Shifting Real Estate

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Why Homeownership Matters

Lance Evans

June was National Homeownership Month which recognizes the value of homeownership and its positive impact on families, communities and the nation’s economy.   An annual celebration, it allows a time to celebrate and promote the American Dream of homeownership and identify the many benefits of owning that roof over your head.

                “Most consumers know that homeownership is among the most sound investments an individual can make to begin building their personal wealth. However, owning a home is not just in the best interest of the homeowner. Homeownership provides social stability, builds communities and is a driving force for the national economy,” said Richard J. Wood, St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors president.

                Surveys back this up.   Recently, the National Association of Realtors released its Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) survey for the second quarter.  It showed that a high number of Americans, 75 percent, believe that now is a good time to sell a house, while 68 percent think it is a good time to buy.   The survey also found that a majority of consumers believe prices have and will continue to increase and that homeownership strengthens our nation’s communities.   In fact, two-thirds of consumers said that homeownership strengthened communities a great deal. Only 10 percent responded “not really.”

                Below are some of the benefits of reaching the American Dream:

  • Social stability: Improved educational performance, lower crime rates and improved health are a few social benefits linked to homeownership. “Homeownership allows households to accumulate wealth, which opens doors to more engagement in communities through volunteer work, involvement in social activities and electoral participation,” observed Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors President Vickie Staie.
  • Strong communities: Homeowners tend to stay in their homes longer than renters, dedicate more money to improve their home and are more engaged in enhancing their community. Mr. Wood added that “homeowners are often more invested in their home and their surroundings, which leads to stronger neighborhoods and communities and increased interaction between neighbors.”
  • Economic force: Being a homeowner also has a positive local and national economic impact. That is because homeownership creates jobs through remodeling, landscaping, lawn service, furniture and appliances, home improvement and real estate services. When a home is sold in the United States, the income generated from real estate-related industries is over $20,000 and additional expenditures on consumer items is about $4,500, which aids the economy.
  • Brings families together: Along with being more involved in their communities, homeowners are often active and connected to their own families. Family dinners and game nights at home could mean a more-connected, happier family.

                Ms. Staie remarked that “home is where people make memories and feel comfortable and secure.  Celebrating homeownership is an opportunity to reiterate that anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home should have the opportunity to pursue that dream and enjoy the many benefits that come along with it.”

                For more information about buying or selling a home, visit www.slcmls.com (St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors) or www.nnymls.com (Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors).   Both list the member Realtors in our area.


                The Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors recently launched a new version of its public website.   This is the first major overhaul in several years and brings new functionality to the search for a property in our area including the ability to search listings by a variety of methods including map tools, filtering by geography and features, searching by listing agent, etc.   Users can also access the websites of area school districts, read real estate news, and find many helpful links. 

                St. Lawrence County Board of Realtor members have a new tool to assist them in working with clients.   The Association recently signed on with ZipForms, a provider of digital real estate forms.   ZipForms allow agents to seamlessly integrate and manage all the documents needed for a transaction from listing to the closing.   These can be shared with clients, customers, other real estate professionals, loan officers, and attorneys.   The documents can be signed electronically, also. 

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

2018 Housing Market Landscape: Majority believe good time to buy, sell

LANCE EVANS

The winter months in the north country are traditionally a slow time for real estate. It is a good time for people to reassess their housing situation.  For instance, is it time to downsize, time to get a bigger home, buy a second property, or stop renting? Potential buyers and sellers can also reflect on last year’s housing market data and examine the 2018 outlook so they can better prepare themselves for entering the market and buying or selling a home.

    Nationally, home sales and prices both increased in 2017.  In 2018, national existing-home sales are projected to be unchanged from 2017, at about 5.5 million sales, after rising the past three years, and the median home price will edge up only about 2 percent. One of the biggest challenges in 2018 will continue to be the low levels of homes available for sale.

    Regionally, the story was slightly different.  According to figures from the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors, all three counties (Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence) experienced stronger single-family home sales in 2017 than the previous three years.  In fact, unit sales were up 6 to 12 percent over 2016 and 25 to 3 percent over 2014. In addition, the number of homes for sale has declined year over year, which corresponds to the national picture.

    However, all three counties experienced a decline in median price, with St. Lawrence County having the smallest decline and Lewis County the largest.  The average price has also declined.  Some of this is due to an increase in homes sold through foreclosure. 

    The National Association of Realtor’s Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) survey tracks topical real estate trends and renters and homeowners’ views and aspirations regarding homeownership.  Released in December, the quarterly survey showed that at the end of 2017 a smaller share of homeowners believed that now is a good time to buy or sell a home, even with strong job creation and faster economic growth in the last months of 2017.  Optimism that now is a good time to buy has slipped from 62 percent in the third quarter of last year to 60 percent, up from 57 percent in December 2016.

    The report also found that 76 percent of homeowners think now is a good time to list their home for sale, which is down from last quarter (80 percent) but up from a year ago (67 percent). 

    This data should help potential buyers and sellers better understand the market environment and know what to expect in 2018.  Working with a real estate professional, they can apply the lessons learned from the past year and expectations for the year ahead to achieve their home buying and selling goals.


    In early February, fifteen Realtors from the Jefferson-Lewis and St. Lawrence County Boards of Realtors and I attended the New York State Association of Realtors (NYSAR) Mid-Winter Leadership Conference and Business Meetings at the Desmond Hotel in Albany.  We joined over 450 other attendees from around the state for meetings and informational sessions designed to enhance and advance real estate in New York and around the country.

    During the conference, Jennifer Stevenson (Blue Heron Realty, Ogdensburg) was sworn in as NYSAR’s 2018 secretary-treasurer.  This puts her in line to be NYSAR’s president in 2020.  As secretary-treasurer, Ms. Stevenson will oversee the finances of the State Association, chair NYSAR’s Investment Committee and Budget & Finance Committee, serve on the Executive Committee, and be part of the elected leadership team joining President CJ DelVecchio of Ithaca and Moses Seuram of Flushing.

                In addition, Lisa L’Huillier (Hefferon Real Estate, Watertown) was sworn in for a second term as governor for the state’s Women’s Council of Realtors (WCR) Network.  Ms. L’Huillier, a past president of both the local and state WCR networks, will work with the WCR networks in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, as well as the local tri-county network.

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

 

Thriving Successfully in A Real Estate World

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
Lori Nettles, right, and Tania Sterling, left, own their own real estate firm, TLC Real Estate.

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Women’s Council of Realtors Honors Area Realtors

Lance Evans

January brought changes and new faces to the leadership of the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors, the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors, and the Tri-County Network of the Women’s Council of Realtors (WCR).

    On December 8, the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors held its annual Holiday Lunch and Installation of Officers and Directors at Ogdensburg’s Gran-View on the River. During this event, the present officers, directors, and committee chairs were recognized and the 2018 Board of Directors was sworn in. The Association will be led by Richard J. Wood (RJ Wood Real Estate) as President. Joining him will be Vice President Brittany Matott (County Seat Realty), Secretary Doug Hawkins (Sandstone Realty), and Treasurer Amanda Kingsbury (Grey Arrow Real Estate). Rounding out the Board will be immediate Past President Debbie Gilson and returning Directors Joel Howie (JC Howie Appraisals) and Gail Abplanalp (Pat Collins Real Estate). Joining them will be new Director Tracy Barnard (Nikki Coates and Associates) and State Director Wendy Smith (Cross Keys Real Estate). There are two members leaving the Board of Directors, Cheryl Yelle (Yelle Realty) and Korleen Spilman (Century 21 Millennium Realty).  Both were thanked for their service.

    The lunch also featured a lively auction with many items donated by attendees. The $2400 raised was split between the Neighborhood Centers in Canton, Gouverneur, Massena, Ogdensburg, Potsdam, and Waddington.

    Several days later, on December 14, the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors held its annual Holiday Party and Installation Dinner at Watertown’s Hilton Garden Inn. Similar to St. Lawrence County’s, a new slate of officers and directors were elected and installed. Leading the Association in 2018 will be Vickie Staie (Staie on the Seaway Real Estate Services and Appraisals USA) as President. Also on the Board of Directors will be President-Elect Alfred Netto (Weichert Realtors Thousand Islands Real Estate), Vice President Britt Abbey (Good Morning Realty and Abbey Appraisals), Recording Secretary Nancy Rome (Rome RSA Realty), Corresponding Secretary Lisa Lowe (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CNY Realty), and Treasurer Mary Adair (Bridgeview Real Estate). Returning directors will include Elizabeth Miller (Century 21 Gentry Realty), Cindy Moyer (Century 21 Millennium Realty), and Randy Raso (Raso Real Estate). Joining them as Directors will be Katharine Dickson (Front Porch Realty) and Desiree Roberts (Lake Ontario Real Estate). Walt Christensen (Howard Hanna Real Estate) will continue in his role as State Director.  Two departing members of the 2017 Board were thanked for their service, Tyler Lago (Homes Realty of Northern New York) and Gwyn Monnat (Howard Hanna Real Estate).

    The dinner also featured both a live and silent auction. The money raised was added to other moneys that were donated for a total of about $3300 which was donated to various area charities.

    During the Jefferson-Lewis event, Vicki Bulger (Howard Hanna Real Estate) was recognized as Realtor of the Year. This honor is bestowed on a Realtor who has been a member for at least five years, is in good standing and to reward the Realtor for effort, time and talent expanded in the interest of their fellow Realtors, their profession, and their community. Vicki was described in the nomination as being honest, having integrity, and as someone who pays attention to details. She was described as knowing the local market, being cheerful, steady, and a competent presence. Vicki has been recognized annually as a Top Producer by the Women’s Council of Realtors. She is a North Country native who has served on the Board of Realtors’ Board of Directors and supported various Association projects like the Community Service Committee, Salvation Army Bell Ringing, and other projects. She is married to John Bulger and has three children, including her daughter Sara who is also a Realtor.  Vicki joined the Association in August 1997.

    The Women’s Council of Realtors installed its Governing Board in October. The group will be led by President Alfred Netto, Vice President Jennifer Bossuot (Humes Realty and Appraisal), Secretary Wendy Smith, Treasurer Kylee Lawrence (Staie on the Seaway Real Estate Services), Membership Director Marsha Gibbons (TLC Real Estate), and Program Director Cheryl Schroy (Key Bank).

Third Quarter Sales: Tri-county home sales drop to lowest price point

BY: Marcus Wolf
Realtors sold more homes in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties during the third quarter last year than any third quarter in the past four years, with prospective homebuyers securing stable employment cited as the reason.

    Third quarter median home prices for both counties, however, fell to their lowest during that time as homes, particularly foreclosures, were sold at lower prices.

    “We’ve seen economic recovery in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties,” said Lance M. Evans, executive officer of both the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and St. Lawrence Board of Realtors. “From the big downturn, unfortunately, we also had some foreclosures.”

    The number of houses sold in Jefferson County during the third quarter increased from the same time in 2016 by 34 units, or 10.3 percent, from 330 units to 364, according to the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors.

    At the same time, the third quarter median home price in Jefferson County fell from the same quarter 2016 by $16,750, or about 11 percent, from $152,000 to $135,250.

    Vickie L. Staie, president of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors, said the U.S. Department of Defense has been stationing more soldiers and federal employees at Fort Drum and providing more long-term work to some current Fort Drum workers, which has led to more home purchases.

    Investors have also driven up homes sales during the third quarter by continuing to purchase foreclosed homes on the cheap and refurbishing them to later sell at a higher value, which has also lowered the median price.

     “I think it’ll have a great effect. We’re eliminating many zombie homes in our area,” Mrs. Staie said.

    Zombie properties are homes that owners abandoned after they stopped paying the mortgage and before banks began the foreclosure process.

    Homes sales during the third quarter in St. Lawrence County were up from the same time in 2016 by 23 units, or 11.3 percent, from 204 units to 227, according to St. Lawrence Board of Realtors.

    The third quarter median home price in the county fell from the same quarter in 2016 by $7,250, or 7.2 percent, from $101,250 to $94000.

    Richard J. Wood, president of the St. Lawrence Board of Realtors, said the Canton-Potsdam Hospital expansion continued to bring more homebuyers to the county. Several people also moved from a different home within the county to expand or downsize, which also drove up homes sales.

    “I think it has a lot to do with the length of time on the market,” Mr. Wood. “People want to wrap stuff up before it gets to the cold weather.”

    Prospective buyers also bought several foreclosed properties in the county, which Mr. Wood, who owns RJ Wood Real Estate LLC in Gouverneur, said brought down the median price.

“I’ve seen homes go right now that have sold for $10,000,” he said.

    Unlike Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, home sales in Lewis County remained relatively flat in the third quarter compared to the same time in 2016.

    The number of houses sold in Lewis County decreased slightly from the same time in 2016 by two units, or about 3.3 percent, from 61 to 59.

    The median home price for the third quarter in Lewis County, however, decreased from the same quarter in 2016 by $20,000, or 17.4 percent, from $115,000 to $95,000.

    Mrs. Staie, who also owns Staie on the Seaway Real Estate Services LLC and Appraisals USA in Alexandria Bay, said several sellers’ asking prices were too much when compared to their market value, which keeps them on the market for a while. Many homes that sold during the third quarter were winter camps and cottages.

    “That brought (the median price) down a bit,” she said.

    Home sales from January to September last year increased from the same time in 2016 in all three counties. 

    The number of houses sold during the first three quarters increased in Jefferson County by 130 homes, or 18.3 percent, from 711 to 841; in Lewis County by 13 homes, or 8.9 percent, from 146 to 159, and in St. Lawrence County by 63 homes, or 12.7 percent, from 496 homes to 559.

    Foreclosure and waterfront home sales drove up the number of units sold last year in Jefferson County, Mrs. Staie said. The Kraft-Heinz plant expansion in Lowville led more people to buy homes in Lewis County, she said.

    “I think people are seeing the advantage of buying over renting,” Mr. Evans said. “It looks like we’re going to have a lot higher number for units sold than we had in previous years.”

    The median price for homes during the first three quarters of 2017 in Jefferson and Lewis counties, however, fell compared to the same time last year.

    The median home price for the first three quarters this year decreased in Jefferson County by $3,500, or 2.5 percent, from $138,500 to $135,000, and in Lewis County by $15,500, or 14.7 percent, from $90,000 to $105,500. Both price drops were driven by foreclosure sales, Mr. Evans said.

    “There are always foreclosures. There will always be foreclosures,” Mr.  Evans said.

    The median price in St. Lawrence County for the first three quarters of 2017, however, has remained relatively flat for the past four years.

    The price for the first three quarters of 2017 only increased by $1,000, or 1.3 percent, from $88,000 to $89,000.

    “We don’t have huge jumps,” in price, Mr. Wood said.

    Statewide, home sales in the third quarter decreased from the same quarter in 2016 by 1,248 units, or 3.1 percent, from 39,693 units to 38,445 units, according to the New York State Association of Realtors. The statewide third-quarter median home price, however, was up this year by $12,500, or five percent, from $249,000 in 2015 to $261,500.

 

The Difference Between Appraisals & Assessments

Lance Evans

BY: Lance Evans

In August, I wrote about assessments.  You may recall that assessments are opinions of value.  An assessor looks at all of the properties in a municipality and comes up with general values that are a component in computing the real property tax. While properties are treated similarly, assessments allow for differences like square footage, lot size, and general condition and upkeep. These variations can affect the assessment.

    How does this differ from how an appraiser works and how does an appraisal end up affecting the price paid for a property?

    Similar to an assessment, an appraisal is an opinion of value.  However, instead of looking at many properties within a jurisdiction, appraisers look at one property (subject property) and then find comparable sales (“comps”) that are like the subject property.  Ideally, comps are within a few miles and have sold within the past six months.  Like the assessor, an appraiser adjusts for differences in lot size, square footage, heating systems, etc. between the subject property and the comps to come up with a value. There is no set rule for what adjustments must be made. It is up to the appraiser’s judgement.  Adjustments are based on market reactions to amenities, features, or land size of a property.  Unique property types throw a whole other set of variables, so there is not a “cookie cutter” approach. 

    An appraisal usually varies from an assessment for several reasons. First of all, you may recall that the City of Watertown actually assesses at 92% of value. This means that a house that might be worth $100,000 would be assessed at $92,000. Other municipalities use different percentages.

    The other reason that there may be a difference is that appraisers are using data that is short term (6 months or less) and may cross municipal lines.  This means that an appraiser who has a subject property on the edge of a municipality might be using comps from a nearby town.  These would not figure into the assessor’s decision making process.

    In the North Country, the “6 month rule” does not always hold. Joel Howie, JC Howie Appraisals in Canton, noted that “One thing I consider in St. Lawrence County is a larger ‘market area’ or neighborhood when looking for comps. I may go outside an individual municipality to a competing neighborhood for comps. Because of the sparse population and diverse housing stock, I also may need to consider sales up to 18-24 months. Also, I may be appraising a modern colonial in Canton and I may need to consider a Potsdam sale in order to find sufficient sales data.”

    As I pointed out last month, an assessor works for a municipality.  Appraisers are generally self-employed and work for a variety of clients including lenders, private companies, and individuals.

    Much of an appraiser’s work is contracted by lenders.  The purpose of the appraisal might be for loan approval for a buyer or when a property owner refinances a mortgage.  The lender is required to use a variety of appraisers on a rotating basis and are not allowed to specify a certain appraiser.  However, the list can be limited based on an appraiser’s certification and approvals.  For instance, an appraiser needs to apply to be Veteran’s Administration (VA) certified.

    So what education is needed for appraisers? Like assessors, appraisers have taken special training to get licensed or certified. In addition to course work, they must work with a licensed or certified appraiser for a period of time.  After being licensed, appraisers take twenty-eight hours of Continuing Education every two years. A portion of this education is in Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).

    Property owners can also hire an appraiser.  The owner may want to find out what his or her property is worth prior to selling the property, it may be needed to help settle an estate, or the owner may want to check the worth against an assessment.

    Appraisals are usually effective as of the date of inspection.  Assessments are based on an earlier date usually as of the date the roll was submitted, which depending on that date could be nearly 2 years prior to the current date. In an increasing or decreasing market, assessment and a current appraisal may be quite different.

    So what is the difference between the assessor’s job and that of an appraiser?  Simply put, the assessor looks at the “forest” of properties and the appraiser looks at individual “trees.”

    In my August article, Last month I made an error in my article on assessment. I stated that if the assessment is $10 per thousand dollars then a property assessed at $92,000, the bill would be $92.  It would be $920.

What is “Assessed Value?”

Lance Evans

By: Lance Evans

The word “assessment” is defined as “the evaluation or estimation of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something.”  In real estate, the terms “assessment” and “assessed value” are used frequently and are interchangeable.  

                Frequently people ask why a property is on the market for more than the assessment and if, after the property sells, the assessment will be adjusted to reflect the purchase price.

                I  spoke recently with Brian Phelps, the city of Watertown’s assessor for the past eleven years. We talked about his experience, what an assessor is, and what his or her job is. 

                Assessors are certified by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. They need to take a basic certification class and then need to take continuing education periodically.

                Mr. Phelps, who has 20 years of experience as an assessor, began his career as one of three elected assessors in the town of Champion. At one point, prior to being hired by the city, he was employed by three different towns in three different counties. This allowed him to see different systems and ways of doing his job along with a wide variety of properties and economic factors.

                Assessments are, at their core, opinions of value. They differ from an appraisal, which looks at an individual property. The assessor looks at the properties as a whole. His/her estimate of the value of real property is converted into an assessment and is one component in the computation of real property tax bills.

                While properties are treated similarly, assessments allow for differences like square footage, lot size, and features like a pool, porch, deck, etc. They also take into account the general condition and upkeep a property has. Variations like a big upgrade or a decline in maintenance can affect the assessment. An assessor  has access to building permits and he evaluates these based on how they impact the quality and condition of the property.

                His job is to “hit the value” with his assessment. Since he has access to property sales, I asked him what happens when a property sells. Does that automatically mean a change in the assessment? His answer was no.

                Before going further, it is important to note that the city of Watertown assessments reflect 92 percent of a property’s value. This means that if a property is assessed at $92,000 and sells for $100,000, the assessment was right on target. 

                When there is a large variance (higher or lower) in the price versus the assessed value, it could trigger a review of the assessment. Mr. Phelps pointed out that what usually has happened is that what was sold is not what was valued in the assessment. There are times when a buyer pays more than a property would normally be valued.

                For instance, in a “hot” market where properties are selling very fast and have multiple offers, the price paid can easily be much higher than the assessment. Similarly, if an area has suddenly experienced a quick drop in market value, properties can sell well below assessment.

                Either way, the assessor looks at the reasons surrounding the difference between the assessed value and the actual sale price and may adjust it accordingly. Mr. Phelps looks at the property as it was valued and what actually sold.

                Outside of a city-wide revaluation, the main way an assessment changes is a physical change to the property like an addition, something that markedly improves the value, or something that causes a dramatic drop in value. 

                Earlier, I noted that the assessment is only one component of how the real property tax bill is calculated. The other portion is the tax levy that the municipality, county Legislature, and local school district set as the amount that needs to be collected. The levy is the amount of money needed to fund government operations after accounting for state aid, sales tax and other income sources.

                According to Mr. Phelps, the total value of property in Watertown is roughly one billion dollars. If the City Council determines that the amount needed from property tax is ten million dollars, then the City’s portion of the property tax will be $10 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. In the earlier example of a property assessed at $92,000, then the bill would be $92.

                Next month, I will be looking at how appraisals work and how they differ from assessments and how they can help determine the market price for a property.