Editorial: Angst over property assessments

Homes are supposed to appreciate, but not at the rate we've seen this past year

It comes as no surprise that homeowners across Metro Vancouver, including many in Langley, reacted with shock and distress last week when their property assessment notices arrived in the mail.

The numbers in some cases were staggering.

One couple who contacted the Times learned the assessed value of their townhouse had climbed by a whopping 63 per cent since last year.

Normally, the negative reaction, which seems to materialize every January, is a bit counterintuitive, considering that homes are supposed to increase in value.

Buying a home is an investment.

Nobody enjoys seeing their tax bill climb, but that is something that’s going to happen regardless, as the cost of running a municipality rises.

If a home’s value didn’t increase —  factoring in years of repairs and maintenance, renovations, interest on a mortgage and, yes, property taxes — it would make almost as much sense to rent as to buy.

The issue this year, of course, is the magnitude of the growth that took place over a 12 month period, between July 2015 and July 2016 — the latter being the peak of the most recent house shopping frenzy in the Lower Mainland.

Municipalities, including the Township, are working to reassure homeowners that a steep increase in their assessment, won’t necessarily translate into a huge jump in their property taxes. Coquitlam mayor, Richard Stewart, outlined the process clearly on his open Facebook page.

Once the mill rate is set, based on the average increase, those with lower-than average increases might even find themselves paying a little less this year,  he said.

By extension, one can assume that those on the high end can expect to see their tax bill climb by an unknown and therefore potentially exorbitant amount. With many households already pushed to the limit when it comes to rising costs of everything from groceries to gasoline, the wait for that next crucial piece of mail from the government is going to be a tense one for some.

The real concern for many, though was that the value of their average family homes was being pushed beyond the threshold for the homeowner’s grant, making them ineligible for a portion or even all of the $570 tax relief offered to owners for their principal residence.

On Tuesday, the province removed some of that angst when it announced it was raising the threshold from $1.2 million to $1.6 million, creating a bit of welcome breathing room for many Langley homeowners.