How Accurate Are St Joseph County Tax Assessments?

by Nick Molnar on March 8, 2016

If you own a home in St. Joseph County, there’s about a 15% chance you could cut your property tax bill in half by appealing the assessed value of your home.

Everyday, I see homes for sale at prices dramatically different from the tax assessed value. I’ve often had buyers tell me about the great deal they are getting and sellers tell me about the great price they are offering because a sales price is lower than the assessed value of a home. Please don’t ever buy a South Bend area house because you can get it for less than the assessed value. You can do that almost anytime and you might still overpay for the property. There are  20 homes for sale now for less than half of their assessed value.

Obviously there are bad assessments. But to get beyond anecdotal reports and figure out percentages, we need a larger sample of homes. And to get useful information, we need to compare the assessed value to the price at which the homes actually sell (market value). 3,852 homes sold with Realtor involvement in St. Joseph County in 2015. On those homes, 1,626 Realtors included the assessed value in their MLS listing.  Looking at the values of those 1,626 homes,

  • 48.95% sold below the assessed value
  • 51.05% sold at or above the assessed value
  • 56.70% were assessed at 75-125% of their sales price (my self-invented threshold for a fair assessment)
  • 2.28% were assessed at 50% or less than their sales price (severely under assessed)
  • 15.19% were assessed at 200% or greater than their sales price (severely over assessed)

Here is the complete dataset. If these percentages hold for the greater pool of homes in the county, there’s about a 30% chance you are over-assessed at 125%+ of market value. And there’s a 15.19% chance you are severely over-assessed at 200%+ of market value, at which point the relatively inexpensive but very slow process of appealing your assessed value is probably worth your time.




1429 Honan Drive | Erskine Manor | South Bend

by Nick Molnar on April 3, 2015 has just listed one of South Bend’s best homes for sale: 1429 Honan Drive in South Bend’s Erskine Manor neighborhood. It’s a modern home in a classic neighborhood with mature trees, architecturally significant homes and a history that includes South Bend’s most famous company. Let this traditional home with modern updates and its convenient and historic location become the setting for your future plans.

photos and details:
call 574-309-3758 or e-mail

1429 Honan Dr South Bend IN-large-004-A Home in Erskine Manor-1500x997-72dpi







1429 Honan Dr South Bend IN-large-011-Living Room with Fireplace-1500x1000-72dpi







1429 Honan Dr South Bend IN-large-018-HighEnd Stainless Appliances-1500x1000-72dpi







1429 Honan Dr South Bend IN-large-027-The Master Suite-1500x1000-72dpi







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1429 Honan Dr South Bend IN-large-049-Large Deck-1500x1000-72dpi







photos and details:
call 574-309-3758 or e-mail


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The House for Sale Closest to ND Basketball

by Nick Molnar on March 28, 2015

Before tonight’s game against Kentucky, we wanted to highlight the home nearest the Notre Dame baseketball team’s home at the Joyce Center. Excluding a few condos and townhomes, it is 1316 Black Oak. 3 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, $299k. Tour it with a agent and we’ll buy you a basketball!

1316 Black Oak


Black Oak to Joyce Center


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In Indiana, foreclosures “happen” through a sheriff’s sale. It’s a public auction and proceeds are paid to the property’s lienholders. The sales prices rarely cover the judgment to the bank holding the property’s first mortgage, so all proceeds commonly go to that bank only. In those cases, the sale generally clears the other liens on the property so it can be sold.

In St. Joseph County 90 – 95% of the sales are “won” by attorneys bidding for the banks holding the first mortgage. These aren’t “sales” in the common sense of the word. When the lienholding bank wins the auction, they essentially buy the property from themselves. The bank’s attorney pays the sheriff, who pays the money back to the bank as first lienholder. It’s a dance to scrub the other liens.

Given that, sheriff’s sale are a convenient way to track the number of foreclosures in an area, but a poor way to see what they sell for when they leave the bank’s hands.

In St. Joseph County, the Sheriff’s Department has sold more than 8,500 properties at its weekly sheriff’s sale over the last six years.

Here is the breakdown of the numbers, provided by the Sheriff’s Department:

Year Number of Sales
2014 926
2013 1,429
2012 1,418
2011 1,165
2010 1,572
2009 2,004


8,514 foreclosures. For context, there were 18,282 residential sales in St. Joseph County in the MLS in that same time period. While there is considerable overlap, the numbers make the point: foreclosures have been a significant part of our market.

Foreclosures have a community wide impact. Obviously the occupants and neighbors, but other homebuyers and sellers, landlords, investors, city departments, schools all feel them. And the only information the sheriff’s department has available is the count above. It’s remarkable that there isn’t more data on it.

Indiana is a public disclosure state for sales prices, so it’s possible to recreate much of this data. Skipping through the details, by identifying 75+ variants of “St. Joseph County Sheriff” as the seller, I’ve compiled specifics on almost 5,000 foreclosures. While that’s not comprehensive, it’s a “good enough” to way to further investigate them as a group.

And I used it to tackle a question I’ve had for a while, “What’s the final outcome of these properties, especially those that sell at a very low price? Are they fixed and sold? Rented? Demolished? Do they sit empty for years?”

To tackle it, I broke out the 19 foreclosure sales I found under $10k for 2013.

location of foreclosures under 10kdetails of foreclosures under 10k

And researched them using the MLS and public records sites and making a few educated guesses. As near as I can tell and with fair confidence, it appears that 1-2 years after foreclosure,

  • Five are owner occupied
  • Four are listed for sale now with Realtors in the MLS
  • Four are investor owned
  • Three were donated to Habitat for Humanity
  • Three are bank owned and not listed for sale

I find this encouraging. I had suspected most were not financially viable rehab projects. If half or more of the foreclosed homes in the worst shape can be recycled into homes people want to live in, that is a positive indicator for the impacted cities and neighborhoods, even if it’s a slow process getting them back into use.

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HGTV is a major influence on how popular culture thinks of real estate and helps shape popular design trends with shows that include Love It Or List It, Property Brothers and House Hunters. They’ve made my job easier by giving buyers a script to follow when looking at homes and bringing entertainment and enthusiasm to real estate sales. They now even publish a magazine. But they are not statisticians or investigative reporters.

The HGTV magazine recently reported that house price appreciation in South Bend is “the sharpest increase in the United States” at 26.8%.


HGTV clip


It’s an impressive figure that just missed making a lot of marathoners smile and it is getting a lot of attention locally.  But it doesn’t fit with what I see looking at houses and property sales here everyday: If you bought a house here a year ago for $200k,  you’re probably not going to get $253,600 for it today unless there are some very special circumstances. So I had to look further into the figure.

HGTV cited the National Association of Realtors (NAR) as its source. When I couldn’t find a press release from NAR, I contacted them for greater detail. The 26.8% rate quoted is the year-over-year increase in the median price of sales from the first fiscal quarter (Jan-March) of 2013 compared to the first quarter of 2014. The lag is likely due to the lead time between a magazine article being written and the publication hitting the bookstore.

NAR source data


That means the technical answer is that yes, that’s the calculated appreciation and HGTV is not wrong. But they’re not quite right either, the 26.8% figure requires the following explanatory notes:

  • This data is from the census defined statistical area or Core Based Statistical Area- CBSA 43780 – and not from the city limits of South Bend. It includes sales from South Bend, but also from Mishawka, Granger, Osceola, Lakeville, and parts of Michigan including Edwardsburg and Cassopolis.
  • The data is old, ending more than nine months ago in March 2014.
  • The data is sourced from the relevant MLS es. It’s probably the cleanest data set, but it does excludes many new construction and For Sale By Owner sales.

When I recreate the investigation with sales data for just South Bend, with data I manually pull from the same MLS, I  see that

for Q1 2013, there are

  • 366 sales
  • median sales price of 49k
  • 102 of the sales were for 25k or less.

And for Q1 2014, There are

  • 298 sales
  • median sales price at 70k
  • 65 of those sales were for 25k or less.

South Bend Real Estate Sales Q1 2013

South Bend Real Estate Sales Q1 2014












Simply, it means that if the data is for “South Bend” and not “South Bend and the nearby cities,” the bulk of the reason the prices went up was that were were a lot of low price sales in Q1 2013 and fewer of them in Q1 2014. It wasn’t because the house at 123 Main Street went from $100,000 to $127,000. The “mix” of homes sold changed, more than the values did.

So, the data is “true” if misleading. But interestingly, it also underreports the appreciation rate for the city of South Bend for the time period it uses when calculated in the same manner, which is +42.9%.

So it boosts South Bend real estate in a confused manner, making it seem that “wow, homes are increasing in value” not the more accurate “wow there were a lot of low price sales and those are becoming a smaller part of the market.” Both are good news, but quite different. And South Bend and its nearby cities and partners in the statistical area have enough great stories to tell that they don’t need muddled if positive statistics. I’ll try to cover a few of them in coming posts, they include: progress towards new mixed use buildings in central South Bend and Mishawaka, renovation of at least one midrise building in South Bend, a quick buildout of The Triangle neighborhood south of Notre Dame, and a significant rise in higher-end new construction homes in two South Bend neighborhoods.