Finances

Bell County continues to be a popular destination for people moving to Texas, but a limited number of available homes is driving up house prices. And, according to local experts, that means higher appraisal values and an increase — unless rates are lowered — in property taxes.

“Property values in Bell County correlate directly to the real estate market,” said Billy White, chief appraiser at the Tax Appraisal District of Bell County. “The job of the appraisal district is to mirror what is happening in the real estate market.”

Since 2011, the number of homes sold in Bell County has increased substantially each year.

“As of January 2021, the months of inventory of housing in Bell County was half a month,” he said. “In January 2020 it was two months.”

The term “months of inventory” refers to the current supply of homes offered for sale relative to the number homes being purchased. It indicates the number of months it would take to sell all properties currently for sale at the average monthly sales price.

“A stable market typically has six months of inventory,” White said. “The record high demand, together with record low supply, produce increased sales prices and, therefore, increased property values.”

According to the Temple-Belton Board of Realtors, the median price of a sold home in Bell County during April 2021 was $215,000, up 19 percent from the median price of $179,900 in April 2020.

In Temple, the median price of a home sold in April 2021 was up 14.9 percent from a year ago, and in Belton the increase was 19 percent. Killeen and Harker Heights also saw increases, and Salado prices dropped slightly.

While the prices generally have increased, the number of available homes on the market has dropped. According to Board of Realtor figures, there were 291 active listings in April 2021 compared to 1,041 in April 2020.

In 2020, many Bell County homeowners were surprised by their appraised home value and higher property tax bill. Many protested, and won, and that resulted in their taxes being lowered — temporarily. This year, many of the same home owners saw increases similar to or higher than last year.

“The Appraisal District is required to appraise properties at market value each year,” White said. “We reappraise all properties every year based on current market data. With escalating real estate prices, it may be more common for property values to go up each year, even though the value was lowered the prior year.”

So why are homes in Bell County in such high demand? According to the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, located at Rice University in Houston, many people are moving to the area in search of good jobs and lower home prices.

According to Kinder researchers, many of the new residents are from California. More than 80,000 Californians moved to Texas — many to Central Texas — in 2018 and slightly more than 80,000 moved to the Lone Star State in 2019.

The driving force is not a pull into Texas as much as it is a push out of California because of home prices.

According to Kinder, California home prices peaked at a $570,000 average in 2006, resulting in heavy migration to Texas until 2008 when that state was hit heavily by the subprime mortgage crisis, dropping median California home prices in half to about $280,000. Migration to Texas dropped the following year as Californians stayed home because they could afford to buy a house.

But California prices began to rise again in 2012 and migration to the Lone Star state followed soon afterward. By 2017, average California home prices again topped $500,000 and migration to Texas shot upward the following year, according to the Kinder Institute.

Central Texas has been a popular landing spot because of high tech jobs in the Austin area — many tech-based California companies also have relocated to Texas.

Bell County markets are hot because of good local jobs and new residents who would rather commute to Austin rather than live in a crowded, or more expensive, metro area.

So what does the future hold for Bell County home owners?

“I cannot anticipate what the real estate market will look like at the end of 2021,” White said. “There is continued news of (home) buyers paying listing and above-listing prices. If these early indicators continue throughout the year, real estate prices are likely to continue to increase and, consequently, so will property values.”

That means local government entities will have to lower tax rates to avoid similar increases.

PROTEST FILING DEADLINE

Most in-person property tax protests will be have to be filed by today to meet deadlines, as appraisal offices are closed Saturday.

For information on filing a property tax protest, visit www.bellcad.org or call 939-5841. Your appraisal notice provides information on protest procedures that includes a PIN number that is required to file online. File your protest in person at a Bell County Appraisal office today or by mail. Mailed protests should be postmarked today and mailed to Tax Appraisal District, ARB, P.O. Box 390, Belton . 76513.

The Belton address is 411 E. Central Ave., Belton TX 76513.

The Temple address is 205 E. Central Ave., Temple TX 76501.