Opinion: Don’t be fooled

By Judy Crondahl

There is an effort, largely coordinated by local real estate agents, to gather enough signatures for a ballot initiative to repeal the ordinance requiring disclosure of sales prices in real estate transactions. The public rationale for this effort is that it is an invasion of homeowners’ privacy to have to disclose the purchase price of their new home. Don’t be fooled. This has nothing to do with the privacy of homeowners.

The city assessor may find it useful, but not essential, to know how much you paid for your home. There are probably many other homes similar to yours which are comparable and a fair and accurate assessment can be made. Before the seller decided on a price, they probably even consulted an appraiser who gave an evaluation based on “comparables,” similar homes that were recently on the market. When you bought your house, you looked at other homes and based your offer on your own assessment.

This repeal effort is not for the benefit of homeowners. It is for the benefit of commercial property owners. Remember when the subport property was sold? The city estimated it would sell for $5 million; it sold for $20 million, four times the city’s estimate. We only know this because it was public property sold through a public bid. Had it been a private sale we would never know. How does the city assessor learn about the value of commercial real estate in Juneau? Unlike residential properties, many commercial properties have no comparables; they are unique. Without disclosure of the sales price, the city assessor is flying blind and has little or no information to make a fair and reasonable assessment.

Over a year ago, Hearthside Books and Annie Kaill’s were forced to move from their Front Street location because the building sold and the new owner raised their rents to unaffordable levels. The city assessor doesn’t know how much that owner paid because that was before the disclosure ordinance.

Did that new owner pay two, three, or even four times what the city assessor has valued the building, as was the case with the subport property? We can’t know, but if that is the case, it would mean that commercial property owner is paying a lower tax bill than a typical homeowner. Now multiply that one commercial property by all commercial property in the Borough. That heavily skews the tax burden on to residential property owners. How many of us could dream of selling our homes for two, three or four times our city assessment? None, because we would be laughed off for even trying. There are too many comparable homes to even try.

The $20 million sale of the subport property was a wake-up call for the assembly. They could not deny the evidence they had been under-valuing, under-assessing, and under-taxing commercial property to the disadvantage of homeowners. As a homeowner, I will not be suckered into signing the petition to repeal the ordinance to require disclosure of sales prices on all properties in the borough. I’m urging you not to be fooled into signing it either.

• Judy Crondahl is a resident of Juneau and has been a Juneau homeowner for 57 years. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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