Friday, January 29, 2010

Harrisburg property tax increase; declining values and increasing costs

I wrote earlier this week about recommendations from consultants to the City of Harrisburg that the city raise property taxes by 117%. These recommendations also included large increases in water, sewer and trash fees. I wrote yesterday about the negative effect of these increases on the bottom line for investment properties within the city and, ultimately, on the assessed values of such properties.

This proposal (or anything remotely similar) would have far reaching consequences beyond the assessments and the tax revenues generated therefrom. Major property tax increases depress real estate prices. A sudden decrease in values resulting from a tax increase would trap owners in their properties. Properties with cash flow insufficient to support the new taxes (as well as the prior expenses and the mortgages) will be harder to sell for an amount sufficient to payoff the mortgages. This will be especially true if some city investors manage to sell their properties in order to avoid the new expenses, thus driving down prices in general.

Owners of investment properties might actually be trapped in their city properties. Situations like this often end up being resolved through foreclosure and/or bankruptcy. We could very well be entering a period of general decline in the city, characterized by falling values, higher taxes, abandoned and foreclosed properties, and deferred maintenance.

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