Hays property values soar: Residents protest appraisals

By Brittany Anderson and C.J. Vetter

HAYS COUNTY — It’s no secret that Hays County is experiencing an explosive amount of growth, but with that kind of growth comes an inevitable rise in the cost of living — and property values.

Over 110,000 Hays County homeowners received their property appraisal notices in April, and many were met with a dramatic increase in their property values. 

Back in March, the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts announced “historic growth” in Texas real estate values. The association said that regions around the state have seen increases in values between 10-50% since last year, and the Austin-Round Rock MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) housing market specifically is up 35.35% ‘year over year.’ 

According to the Hays CAD (Central Appraisal District), almost 4,000 new homes and 27 new commercial buildings were added to the appraisal roll for 2022. Total new improvements added more than $2.21 billion in taxable value. 

A comparison of the 2021 and 2022 residential average market and average taxable values in Hays County. Courtesy of Hays CAD.

The overall market value of Hays County’s 2022 preliminary appraisal roll rose to nearly $59 billion, up 53.27% from $38.4 billion in 2021. Commercial and industrial real property increased in value nearly 41%, up from nearly $3.6 billion in 2021 to $5 billion this year. Residential multi-family property grew to $3.66 billion, up from 47.20% from last year’s value of nearly $2.5 billion. 

Alvin Lankford, president of TAAD and chief appraiser of Williamson County, said the Texas real estate market is growing the fastest in the state’s history — in large part due to the increase in population, contributing to a shortage of homes and an increase in prices for said homes. 

Hays County’s rural appeal with easy access to nearby metropolitan areas makes it an attractive option for homebuyers. According to the Hays CAD, high demand with limited real estate inventory in the area contributed to a staggering increase in residential real estate prices, more than 40% in some areas. Acreage land values rose upwards of 80%, while vacant lots rose more than 95%.

Properties are appraised at least once every three years. The appraiser also looks at any improvements made to see if there is any change in the exterior condition of the property. 

The appraisal district will determine the market value of a property as of Jan. 1 using three methods of appraisal, if applicable:

• Sales comparison/market approach: what and how many comparable properties have sold, and how much they are selling for 

• Cost approach: how much it would cost today to build an identical structure on the property

• Income approach: property value is determined through analysis of income, expenses (like maintenance costs) and the return (profit) that could be expected

Property tax, used to provide services such as schools, libraries and emergency services, is based upon value. When the market value of a property changes — due to the economy in general, or changes made to the property — so may its appraised value. 

And although, according to Texas law, assessed values of homestead properties can only increase by 10% per year regardless of how much the market value increases, the increase might still end up putting a dent in your pocket. 

Homeowners were given the opportunity to protest their appraisals to the Hays County Appraisal Review Board by May 18. The Hays CAD office was busy that day with homeowners looking to protest. 

Some filed their petitions online, while others were scheduled for hearings in front of the board. While some have had good experiences, others have not, saying they feel a decision on their property has already been made before even walking in. 

Jeffery Perez, a first-time home buyer who was also having to protest his property appraisal for the first time, told the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch that prices in Texas are “skyrocketing.” 

“We purchased the home in February 2021 for about $240,000,” Perez said. “It went up this year to about $390,000, so about $9,000 in taxes. I understand it’s a new subdivision around the high school, but jumping up $150,000 in only a year is just dramatic … I didn’t think it was going to jump like this.” 

Several other homeowners have experienced similar significant jumps, like James Fort who owns a home in Buda’s Whispering Hollow subdivision. 

Fort’s home is one of several in the subdivision that suffers from foundation cracks, flooded backyards and unlevel streets and driveways due to being built on top of a perched aquifer — but he said his property value still increased $100,000, despite the house being “totally worthless.” 

“There are no boots on the ground,” Fort said about properties being assessed. “Each individual house really needs to be looked at itself … Each case is different. Go down there [to the Hays CAD office]with an open mind and tell them why you think that just because your neighbor put in a swimming pool, and it’s the same size house, that there’s no reason for yours [property value]to be the same.”

Thankfully for Fort, the board heard his protest out and will be lowering the value. But he also pointed out that having to protest values in the first place can be a hassle, saying that most people work during the week, and older individuals might have health issues or lack reliable transportation to take on such a task. 

Many residents have even sought help using local Facebook groups and sites like Nextdoor to ask others in the community questions about how to protest and provide each other with resources and tips on how to do so. 

Still, Fort said there’s a big misconception about the process and those in charge. 

“They’re just human beings on the board who are homeowners in the county also,” Fort said. “People screaming and hollering doesn’t do any good for your case. They’re just people doing their job the best they can with what they have … Go down there and be civil. Just have some facts that you can present them with. If people don’t go down there and do that, they can’t fix the system.” 

Fort’s perspective echoes that of Lankford. 

“As a reminder, according to state law, appraisal districts are to appraise property at its market value,” Lankford said. “Keep in mind, we are not responsible for setting the tax rate. We follow the law, state regulations and the reality of real estate market sales when making our value determinations.” 

While residents should be aware that increases in property values are unavoidable due to the state of the economy and the area’s growth, fighting to make a case to lower your values is your right as a property owner — and if accepted, might offer a small piece of relief amidst the rising costs of everything else. 

More information on the appraisal process can be found at www.hayscad.com. 

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About Author

Brittany Anderson graduated from Texas State University in August 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She previously worked at KTSW 89.9, Texas State University's radio station, for nearly two years in the web content department as a writer and assistant manager. She has reported for the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch since July 2021.

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