By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
ROCKFORD — Property values across Winnebago County have swelled to levels not seen in more than a decade, growth fueled by a surging real estate market.
The equalized assessed value of all property in Winnebago County sits at $5.37 billion this year, according to the latest data from Supervisor of Assessments Tom Hodges. That number could change before year’s end as home and business owners challenge their assessments. But for now it’s the highest countywide value since 2010, when it was $5.38 billion.
The assessor’s value is based off three years of sales data as of the start of the year, so it doesn’t take into account the record-breaking home sale prices that had buyers competing in bidding wars this summer. However, sale prices have been climbing for several years.
“While housing dragged us through the recession, I think it’s also pulled us out of the recession,” said Conor Brown, CEO of Rockford Area Realtors. “There’s still other aspects of real estate that are soft, like office and large retail, but the housing market is incredibly strong, and so is quality industrial.”
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The highest countywide taxable property value was $5.54 billion in 2009, before the effects of the housing market collapse took hold.
Brown said there are significant differences today from the prerecession runup in 2007-08. Homebuyers are putting more money down and there’s a greater percentage of all cash buyers now than in 2008, he said. There are also stronger mortgage qualification requirements in place and therefore more solid applications for purchases.
“Markets change and it’s not always going to be as robust as we’ve seen it this past year plus, and that’s OK,” Brown said. “It may be smaller growth over the next few years.”
Property values often have an inverse effect with the tax rate you pay. As values go up, the rate falls because a smaller percentage of the home’s value is needed in order for local governments to collect the same amount.
“We know what happened in reverse: As values were plummeting our rate was skyrocketing,” Brown said. Rockford taxpayers paid a record high rate of 15.26 in 2015, when countywide values were at their lowest point in a decade.
Winnebago County has one of the highest average property taxes in the country, ranking 151 out of 3,143 counties ranked in order of median property taxes, according to a calculation by Tax-Rates.org.
“If we’re going to bring down this rate two things have to happen. One, our values have to go up, and two, our local government bodies are going to have to hold the line on increasing the levy,” Brown said. “It’s really not a secret sauce. It’s that simple.”