Housing values in Washington County have rebounded after years of sharp decline, with much of the upswing appearing in growing west-border cities, from Cottage Grove north to Forest Lake.
Further evidence of a recovery in the real estate market appears in the pages of the county's new assessment report, which documents trends in 31 cities and townships from October 2011 through September 2012. Single-family residential values had fallen generally since 2005, while negative housing indicators such as sheriff's sales surged.
"We are starting to see some recovery," said Jennifer Wagenius, director of the county's property records and taxpayer services division. "It does tend to be community and neighborhood specific."
Bayport led the cities showing the largest value increases, with 17.2 percent. Among west-border cities, Oakdale had 8.6 percent and Woodbury had 4.1 percent.
Forest Lake, a city of about 18,500 residents, saw a 6.9 percent growth in values. In Cottage Grove, a city of 35,000 residents, values grew by 3.4 percent.
While most cities and townships showed improved housing values, a few didn't. Scandia had an 8.5 percent decline, as did St. Mary's Point. Newport fell by 4.9 percent and Marine on St. Croix by 4.5 percent.
"Location, location, location," is how Wagenius said assessors are summing up the reversal this year. Influences such as a city's closer proximity to the metro area or a neighborhood's boundary with a golf course drive up values, she said.
Overall, a median single-family house now is valued at $204,300, the assessments show. That compares with $195,200 the previous year and reverses at least three consecutive years of sliding values.
The latest assessments come as good news to homeowners who have been waiting for market prices to rise before listing their houses for sale.
Plenty of buyers are waiting, too, real estate agents report, and in most cases relatively few houses on the market sell quickly.
A healthier Washington County housing economy has been apparent in other ways. More new houses are being built. A four-year backlog of foreclosures and bank-owned properties is disappearing from the market. Potential buyers want to see new listings right away, agents say.
The total number of "arm's-length" transactions — meaning housing sales between traditional private buyers and sellers — shows an upswing in the county's 2013 assessment report after a free fall that began in 2006.
Meanwhile, foreclosures and short sales are declining in number. Just a few years ago, those bank-mediated sales were more common than arm's-length sales.
The county's assessment report shows 7,696 residential sales from 2009 to 2013, compared with 18,585 sales from 2004 to 2008.
In Woodbury, the county's largest city, the strong rebound lifted median single-family housing values to within $7,500 of where they stood five years ago.
Wagenius said now is the time for property owners to contact her office to discuss assessment notices received in March. Those values will determine in part the cost of property taxes in 2014, but "value change doesn't necessarily mean a tax change," Wagenius said.
The Washington County Board will set a preliminary property tax levy in September and a final one in December.
The full assessment report can be read on the county website at www.startribune.com/a2203.