Kent County-GRAR agreement could ‘lift all boats’

The agony of the blackest days of the housing market meltdown during the Great Recession appear to be fading to a still-painful memory, and while there are high expectations, caution comes in the words of the Federal Reserve: Expect interest rates to rise by year-end.

There have been many victims in the meltdown, especially considering the tentacles of this debacle that ebbs through every other industry. One must commiserate, too, with the duties of hapless property assessors and finance administrators in the public sector who were left with no template of how to project property tax revenues into governmental coffers.

Kent County commissioners are lending a hand, with a new agreement with Grand Rapids Association of Realtors. The county is contracting with GRAR for one year to collaborate on information-sharing regarding residential property, giving the county assessors “read only” listings and pre-sale information, asking prices and average length of time a property has been vacant. The Realtors association will have access to the county’s real property data.

The attributes of such an agreement do, in fact, benefit homeowners, would-be homeowners, real estate agents and county assessors, but the information sharing is more detailed than “public records” information now available to the public — and caution must be strongly stated.

Additional information for assessors is a tremendous aid in determining property values that continue to mar the housing market recovery with slow progress. Such information can help stabilize the re-evaluations, property tax revenue projections and the ability for recovery of governmental services.

The Business Journal reported last week that building associations are projecting the best year in nearly a decade, with single-family home construction increasing by 39 percent. The good news, however, was preceded by record lows in new construction.

There has been celebration of the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland region, noted among the top 10 in the country for increased list prices on existing homes, as compiled by Realtor Magazine Daily in January. The publication is the best-read among real estate professionals, but its rankings are predicated on list prices, not actual sale prices.

Kent County remains scarred with 10 percent of all existing homes in the county sitting vacant — more than 18,000 all together. Climbing interest rates likely will have an adverse impact on those properties, as buyers paying a higher interest rate are now more likely to look again for new homes rather than a property that has sat vacant and requires much repair.

It must be emphasized that the county Land Bank Association can have a mitigating effect on the loss of those property values and tax revenue.

The new agreement between GRAR and the county could help “lift the boat” for everyone, but caution must guard this process in a day rampant with identity theft and privacy considerations.

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