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CLINTON — Homes in Clinton County sold at a healthy pace over the past year – healthy enough that all county homeowners will notice.

“Just looking at the numbers, it would be hard to tell there was a pandemic going on,” said Matt Brisch, designated managing broker for Howes & Jefferies Realtors.

“We’ve been fortunate that we continued to be busy, even with the pandemic,” said Hannah Peart, manager of Ruhl & Ruhl Realtors’ Clinton office.

Clinton County saw 854 residential sales last year, compared to 617 in 2019, according to County Assessor Brian Tiesman. He said 465 of 2020 sales were in Clinton, with the rest throughout the county.

Those strong sales are expected to increase the property assessments used to calculate homeowners’ property tax for the 2022-’23 budget year by about seven percent, Tiesman said.

The state Department of Revenue requires a county’s assessed values on residential property fall between 95 and 105 percent of market value – its “sales ratio,” figured by dividing a property’s assessment by its sale price. The calculation adds up all sales in each class to calculate the median value to set the sales ratio.

As most properties don’t change hands often, the assessed value may be adjusted every odd-numbered year against comparable properties’ sale prices to assure assessed values accurately reflect the market.

The state Department of Revenue compares the year’s sales to assessors’ abstracts. If assessed values for a property class aren’t within five percent of the median sale, they’re adjusted to bring them into compliance with state law.

In a strong real estate market, that means sales may push assessed values higher for similar properties. Counties mail new assessments to property owners April 1, setting the basis for property taxes payable fall of 2022 and spring of 2023.

A higher valuation doesn’t necessarily mean a homeowner’s property tax bill will increase – that’s up to county supervisors, school boards, and city councils that can adjust the year’s levy rate to offset increased property values.

COVID-19’s onset proved only a brief halt to sales – not enough to counter the effect of low interest rates and other market factors.

“It felt like a two-week lull when everybody was kind of unsure about what was going on,” Peart said.

“It really changed the dynamic,” said Brisch. “There’s a lot more virtual showings, and a lot more care had to be taken to respect people’s desire to be healthy and safe. People were understanding of the whole situation.”

New work-from-home routines and pandemic concerns were reflected in some home shoppers’ priorities, Brisch said.

“Certain features that before may not have had as much value are draws,” he said. “A swimming pool, sometimes that may not add much value to a home, but people were figuring it’s something safe to do outdoors.”

Peart said her customers’ desires were “pretty familiar.” She said continued strong sales mean those looking to buy this year are in a sellers’ market.

“They need to be (ready) if they want to find a house, that’s just the truth of it,” she said. “The homes are selling so quickly.”

The Iowa Association of Realtors’ monthly report counted 89 homes on the market at the end of February compared to 154 in 2020.

Peart said the inventory for homes under $50,000 and over $275,000 is balanced, meaning homes are coming on the market about as quickly as others are sold. It’s a sellers’ market for mid-priced properties.

“In Clinton it’s a complete sellers’ market,” she said. “$125,000 to $200,000 seems to be the sweet spot in Clinton – they’re going to get gobbled up.”

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