Each year a great deal is made of the fact that Texas, like 11 other states, does not require the public disclosure of real estate sales prices. This year the discussion of the pros and cons of full disclosure will be intensified. The Travis County Chief Appraiser, Marya Crigler, has taken the unprecedented step of announcing that she is going to freeze the 2020 home valuations at the 2019 tax values. This announcement has caused a great deal of angst with local officials who have to prepare the budgets for everything in Travis County from school districts to the county expenditures. It was a clear orchestration to put intense pressure on the Austin Board of Realtors.
One aspect of a boom like Austin is experiencing is that the local politicians can usually brag that they, “held the line on tax increases.” Of course, this is seldom true. It is often the case that the taxing entities decide to “hold the line” on the tax rate, but with rapidly rising values we end up with significant tax increases. This happens so often in Travis County that the various taxing entities count on the revenue bump . . . as if it is a built-in tax increase that they did not have to approve. It provides the politicians with a degree of cover, all the while netting the revenue increases that they seldom own up to.
About a year ago the MLS discovered that our vender, CoreLogic, had been secretly selling our MLS data to the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD). This was blatant breech of the contract and once it was discovered the MLS immediately sent the district a cease-and-desist order.
Cut off from the surreptitiously acquired sales data, the chief appraiser has announced that there is no way for her to do her job without MLS data and that TCAD will not change any residential tax values in 2020. This leads me to two specific points. First, I knew Art Cory when he was the chief appraiser and he had to scratch and fight for sales information as well, but he found ways to fulfill the role of appraising all the property in Travis County. Second, like Art, Ms. Crigler is facing an uphill battle without the MLS data, but she is trying a novel approach in an effort to gain full disclosure.
By announcing that TCAD is freezing values for 2020, Ms. Crigler is waging war on the Austin Board of Realtors and the MLS. It is a risky tactic. I cannot imagine what the taxing entities are telling her, but it cannot be pleasant. They were expecting their politically free revenue increase. If this freeze holds, many elected officials will find themselves on the hotseat if they have to vote to increase tax rates to balance their budgets.
Clearly Ms. Crigler is betting her employment on successfully creating enough bad press for Realtors that we acquiesce or the elected officials finally alter the non-disclosure rules. I doubt either will happen, which will be interesting for Ms. Crigler’s future.