Thursday, October 30, 2008

I did a little research today...

It's easy in the City of Waukesha to research information on the ownership, price-paid, tax valuation, estimated full market value, as well as details on year-built, lot size, amenities, square footage of any residential property. All you need to know is the address. When a "sold" sign goes up on the real estate agent's sign, you can quickly learn what it just sold for.

Try it yourself: go to this link and plug in your own address.

I did it with a piece of information printed in some of the sludge-on-newsprint bundled with the daily Waukesha Freeman (disclaimer: I do not buy the Freeman: I can't use it; I have very little fish to wrap. I found it on the counter in the coffee shop this morning).

In a listing of recent sales/closings of real estate in City of Waukesha was this notation:
October 24, 2008 -- 2701 Sandra Lane -- $190,000.

The details were all there in the link (above) when I plugged in that address. It is a Condo:

Year built -- 1999
Last Sale -- May, 2003 -- $205,900
"Valid" sale -- means that it was an arm's-length (willing selller/willing buyer) transaction, not an "I sold it to my son for a buck" exchange.
Assessed Value -- $235,400. This was its valuation on the 2008 tax bill.
Total estimated Fair Market Value -- $257,700. This is an informal update to assessed valuation, hinting at what the owner would likely pay taxes on in a year in which all property is re-assessed. It goes w/o saying that it isn't in actually touch with present reality.
Recent Sale -- October 24, 2008, what was reported in the Freeman this morning: $190,000.

There is likely a very sad, if not painful, story here. The recent sellers' names are in the information, and they have my sympathy. It is public information. Just five years ago they paid Sixteen Thousand dollars more than they realized from the sale this week. Add in $8 or $10 thousand in selling expenses and it looks like economic slaughter. It is not unlikely they had to bring money to the closing.

What does this mean for thee and me?

If this keeps up (even though only a small minority of owners are selling their homes) the assessment process will use this and similar current sales information to gauge the value of all similar homes in the city at the time of the next re-assessment. That is likely to be scheduled within a year or two. The net effect of lots of properties currently languishing unsold or changing hands for severely depressed prices, will drive down everyone else's valuation. And the City of Waukesha's total tax base will shrink. For decades it has grown, every year, year-after-year. Now, it is beginning to contract.

And the cost of government: Municipal, County, Schools, VTAE will be spread over fewer-than expected households, less tax base

In the past, homeowners met higher valuations of their property with mixed emotions. They typically enjoyed the notion of their property being worth more (on the assumption that the assessor's valuation was correct and that one could realistically expect to sell the property for the assessed amount or more). And they knew from experience that when the tax base is expandinging (that's what sprawl is all about) tax rates do not usually go up very much since there are more properties/taxpayers on whom the costs are spread.

There is every reason to believe that--with a huge number of houses in Waukesha for sale-- that other sellers are hearing their own personal real estate bubble POP as they take whatever offer comes their way.

A very nice house on the block where I live has been vacant for ten months, the owners-- now living in Menominee Falls--are paying on two mortgages. They came down a dime, will probably have to come down another quarter before it sells. I see them regularly, as they come back to the neighborhood to keep the landscape in ship-shape.

The anxiety is palpable.

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.