Get ready to take it in the wallet

Following on our massive discussion about downtown development and existing homes, the Statesman reports that property taxes in Travis County are about to increase by the largest amount in recent memory.

Most homes will receive taxable values that are 15 to 20 percent higher. State law limits new taxation to the first 10 percent of the reappraised value, but tax on the remainder is added in future years.

I’ve noticed in my many visits to TravisCAD over the years that the county appraised value lagged behind the actual sale value of homes by roughly 15 to 20 percent, but I just assumed that’s the way things worked. Is Travis County that out of whack compared to other places?

20 Comments so far

  1. REpimp (unregistered) on February 11th, 2006 @ 10:17 am

    This story understates what’s coming for central Austin. This also will bring a dramatic end to downtown development and this whole move toward in-filling the central core of the city, as assessment will be up 40% in these areas. For years the powers that be have been understating property values in order to blunt Robinhood. Look for a big acceleration in sprawl again. If you rent in central Austin, your rent is about to skyrocket– or else landlords will be forced to abandon properties.

  2. M1EK (unregistered) on February 11th, 2006 @ 12:24 pm

    Those against densification should ponder this: if a bunch of parking lots downtown turn into high-rises, the (school district/county/city) can raise X dollars of tax revenue with a smaller tax rate than they could before. McMansions aren’t the real issue here – it’s the unwillingness of neighborhoods to support additional housing UNITs which is to blame here. And housing units like the ones downtown which are less likely to have kids in them are an even bigger win for all existing taxpayers.

  3. lurker (unregistered) on February 12th, 2006 @ 3:01 am

    M1EK your logic is flawed her. There are a set number of people currently in Travis County. The tax burden is distributed among them. Building more units doesnt change this fact. If more people move to Austin to fill these units yes tax revenues go up. But the amount of government expenditures will go up to since there is a larger populance to serve. (If this wasnt the case cities like New York would have minimal taxes.)

  4. M1EK (unregistered) on February 12th, 2006 @ 10:52 am


    That’s fundementally untrue. A person living in one of those high-rises downtown creates less expense for the city and more revenue than if the same person lived in a house in Circle C. Sewer, water, road maintenance, even the cost of police, fire, and emergency services tend to scale with the size of the area being covered more than they do with the number of people inside that area. Plus, when living in that condo downtown, there’s less _demand_ for the roadway itself – meaning less pressure to expand.

    You even get some economies of scale with services such as libraries, parks, etc.

    And yes, the city taxes in New York are high, but you get a hell of a lot more bang for your buck than you do around here.

  5. DenseSprawler (unregistered) on February 12th, 2006 @ 5:20 pm

    Well, well. Densification (with accompanying gentrification) or urban sprawl? Yep. Fun isn’t it? We can sit here all day in liberal 78704 and slam sprawl, but just wait till we beging to densify as desired. Oh yeah, our property taxes go through the roof in the central city as they properly should. Remember the realtor’s motto — Location, Location, Location. If you hate sprawl, you love densification. If you love densification, you love gentrification. If you hate gentrification, then you inadvertantly support sprawl. Me thinks I see a dilema.

  6. lurker (unregistered) on February 12th, 2006 @ 11:49 pm

    So your argument is decreasing zoning rules and allowing developers more flexibility will lead to lower taxes. Its kind of silly for you to theorize what will happen when a city has already gone down this route. We can easily look at a city that has done this in Houston. A city in Texas that has no state income tax and limited zoning restrictions on developers. Do we see lower property tax rates. No we actually see higher tax rates. So you can theorize all you want but your grand plan has already been implemented and it sucked.

  7. M1EK (unregistered) on February 13th, 2006 @ 7:39 am


    Again: Houston doesn’t do what you think they do. Read this:

    It’s actually harder in Houston to build townhouses or small-lot houses, for instance, than it is in Austin.

  8. lurker (unregistered) on February 13th, 2006 @ 12:11 pm

    Are you really arguing that Houston has more restrictive zoning than Austin. Knowing several people that have developed in both Austin and Houston that is simply not the case.

    And by the way the article you keep posting to prove that Houston has more restrictive zoning than Austin doesnt even mention Austin. But lets look at the particulars

    Houston says you cant build on a lot smaller than 5000 square feet. In Austin you need 5750 square feet. That is why in Austin there are several vacant lots that have been vacant for years because there are undersized.

    From the article when talking about Houston
    *Single-family homes must be on lots large enough to “(e)nsure that two vehicles per dwelling unit can be parked entirely on the lot.”

    Austin has this same requirement. I know because I have had to go to the city to get plans approved. In addition if you have a duplex you have to have 4 spaces. But in addition Austin has a requirement you cannot stack more than two cars in.

    In addition Austin has impervious cover requirements. And in addition to that we have zoning. Which more than makes up for some requirements about townhouses since even it Austin they make up a pretty small portion of housing. So when you sum it all up Austin easily has more restritive development requirements than Houston. The fact that you are even arguing to the contary is silly.

  9. M1EK (unregistered) on February 13th, 2006 @ 7:08 pm

    Yes, I am arguing that it is harder to build a small-lot house or townhouse in Houston than it is in Austin. The minimum lot size in Houston for both is much larger. When this is combined with the heavy use of restrictive covenants, Houston does, in fact, restrict density more than does Austin.

    If you read the referenced paper, the author has studied the effect of regulations on residential density and he, not I, came to the conclusion that Houston restricts such density MORE than the average city, not less.

  10. M1EK (unregistered) on February 13th, 2006 @ 7:09 pm

    By the way, the minimum size lot for a single-family house in Austin is smaller than the number you quoted.

    3600 feet.

  11. lurker (unregistered) on February 13th, 2006 @ 8:27 pm

    Dude is that it. Ok first off most of Austin is zoned where 5750 square feet is required. You mentioned 3600 which is true of SF-4A and SF-4B lots. Do you know how many lots in Austin are zoned SF-4A and SF-4B the answer hardly any.

    But wait its gets better. I said Houston has a mimimum lot size of 5000. I didnt want to get into specifics but I guess I will. From your glorious paper you are all ga ga about.

    In 1998, [FN63] Houston narrowed the scope of its minimum lot size ordinance: the
    5000-square-foot minimum now applies only to “suburban” areas, [FN64] defined as areas
    outside Interstate Highway 610, [FN65] a highway which encircles, and is about five miles from,
    downtown Houston. [FN66] In “urban areas,” by contrast, the minimum lot size is now typically
    3500 square feet.

    And trust me the number of lots in Houston in the urban area is far far far greater than the number of SF-4a and SF-4b lots in Austin.

    So in summary in Austin most lots have to be 5750. A very very small number of lots can be 3600. In Houston suburban lots can be 5000. And urban lots can be 3500.

    Whats funny here is you have to realize your argument is falling apart. Houston has less zoning. The grand plan of less zoning has already been tried and failed badly.

    Why did it fail? Because allowing developers to do whatever they want doesnt fix all your problems. It makes a crappy downtown and only makes a neglible dent against sprawl. Thats why in Houston you have a crappy unzoned downtown and you also have massive sprawl.

    So again if the idea of a neighborhood bothers you so much move to fucking Houston.

  12. NativeAustinite (unregistered) on February 14th, 2006 @ 7:06 am

    Ok Kids. Let’s settle this in the ring! Better yet, one of you go join SOS and the other join That way the two groups can tear each other apart.

  13. MD (unregistered) on February 14th, 2006 @ 9:37 am

    I tried a long comment that got trashed. In short: The study asserts that the TOTAL of all development-affecting regulations in Houston are actually more restrictive than in most cities, and nothing you have said since then comes close to refuting it.

    If the idea of density offends you so much, move to Iowa.

  14. MD (unregistered) on February 14th, 2006 @ 9:38 am

    AHA! I’ve been banned at my normal name/address, since “MD” and this one worked.

    Good show guys. Real nice.

  15. ttrentham (unregistered) on February 14th, 2006 @ 9:46 am

    No, M1EK, as far as I can tell, you haven’t been banned. Settle down. No one has e-mailed me about the comments and there hasn’t been any discussion about this internally. If anything there’s something wrong at Metroblogging central command.

    I’m enjoying the debate on this thread and the Towering Dread thread. You guys don’t have to get so personal about it however.

  16. lurker (unregistered) on February 14th, 2006 @ 3:55 pm

    I almost feel bad continuing this argument. I feel like im kicking someone when they are down.

    There was a paper that people used to prove Houston has more restrictive zoning than Austin.

    We went through the items in the paper. The problem is Austin has almost all of these same rules. In fact in many cases Austin has these same rules but they are actually stricter in Austin.

    In addition to the rules Houston has Austin also has impervious cover requirements and Austin has actual zoning.

    All MD or M1EK can do is dumbfoundly point back at the paper. I think they are so used to pointing at the paper they have no other response.

    Its kind of amusing but its kind of sad at the same time.

    I know you really really want to think that once we eliminate zoning in Austin everything will be great. And you really want to ignore that Houston has already done this and it ended horribly.

    Even though the evidence is staring you in the face you cant switch positions. You have invested too much time in your current position to admit your wrong.

  17. M1EK (unregistered) on February 14th, 2006 @ 4:35 pm

    As mentioned in the other thread, the paper analyzed (Houston) vs. (average cities) and found that Houston was more restrictive of residential density. The sum total of ALL regulations, INCLUDING lot size, parking, restrictive covenants, block length, street widths, etc.

    Austin, most of us would agree, is LESS restrictive than the average US city for residential density.

    Do you have this much trouble getting to “4” from “2+2”?

    If you hate density so much, why don’t you move to Iowa? If you hate the free market so much, North Korea is calling. See how fun this travelogue stuff can be?

  18. lurker (unregistered) on February 14th, 2006 @ 10:34 pm

    Im posting the same message as I posted in the other thread. I think you tried to actually make some argument there. Which is posted below.
    I guess the only thing new here is why I dont move. That is easy. I live in a nice neighborhood in Austin that I like. Most of the people in the neighborhood like it as well and we have successfully fended off developers trying screw it up. So as long as it stays that way I will continue to enjoy living here. So yeah that way easy.

  19. lurker (unregistered) on February 14th, 2006 @ 10:44 pm

    Oh I should I reread that I was in a hurry to leave. I wrote. “It was not that hard since every single point they mentioned about Houston applies to Austin as well.” I meant to write every single restriction I have looked into so far Austin has had as well and in many cases the Austin restriction was actually stricter.

  20. MD (unregistered) on February 15th, 2006 @ 7:24 am

    You are incorrect. Not every point they mention applies to Austin as well.

    – smaller lot sizes allowed in Austin for houses (pre-1998)
    – MUCH smaller lot sizes allowed in Austin for townhouses
    – Virtually no restrictive covenants on residential property in Austin

    That’s three, off the top of my head.

    Keep trying, though. I’m sure you’ll eventually tire me out.

    You have to not only shout me down, but somehow make the internet forget that entire paper, which, again, shows that Houston’s regulatory regime is harder on residential density than is the average city’s.

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