West OC Property Values Leveling Off

WEST OCEAN CITY – When West Ocean City property owners retrieve their reassessment notices from their mail boxes in December, they will likely be relieved the anticipated increases have returned to levels not seen since the big real estate boom in the area started several years ago.

While all of the final figures have not been completed and the new assessment notices will not be mailed out until the end of the year, West Ocean City residents can rest assured the most recent assessments of their property values will not reflect the staggering 70-80-percent increases they saw the last time around three years ago. With a decidedly cool real estate market in the area, property value increases in West Ocean City have returned to normal somewhat, according to Robert Smith, director of the State Department of Assessment and Taxation (SDAT) for Worcester County.

Smith said this week the increases for West Ocean City appear to have returned to levels considered normal before the big real estate boom in the resort area sent property taxes to unprecedented levels. Smith said the increases in West Ocean City for the most part should come in around 15 percent for the next three-year period or about 5 percent per year.

“They’re not going to see the dramatic increases they have in the most recent reassessments,” said Smith. “It’s not bearing out that way. There will be some changes, but nowhere near the changes seen in recent years.”

One of the reasons West Ocean City property values have stabilized is the fact the area has been frozen for four years. SDAT reassesses property values in Worcester on a rotating basis every three years with Ocean City assessed one year, northern Worcester County assessed the next year and the southern end of the county assessed in the third year.

West Ocean City used to be lumped in with the northern section of Worcester County including Ocean Pines and Berlin, but because of increased development and the density of properties in the north end, West Ocean City was splintered off the north county assessment area and lumped in with the southern portion of the county this year.

The realignment was done in an attempt to equalize the three areas and make it easier for the assessment office to do their work. For example, the old northern section included as many as 17,000 individual accounts with 8,000 in Ocean Pines alone. The southern section of the county, including Snow Hill and Pocomoke, had only around 8,000 property accounts.

Smith said the current reassessment of the south end indicates property values have increased in areas like Snow Hill and Pocomoke over the last three years, but values there are much more stable compared to the volatile north-end where the second home and vacation home market drives property values.

“There are far more resident-owned properties in the south end and, therefore, the values are much more stable,” he said. “You don’t see the big spikes one way or the other in the south end, although it is changing considerably. There are some big projects coming on line in the south that will have an impact on property values in the future.”

While SDAT officials are putting the finishing touches on reassessments for West Ocean City and the south end of Worcester County and should mail the results out by the end of the year, they are already preparing for the reassessment of properties in Ocean City next year.

Smith said the uncertainties surrounding the real estate market in the resort makes predicting what will happen with reassessments difficult.

“It should be very interesting this time next year in Ocean City,” he said.