Win Gruening: Momentum builds to put mandatory real estate disclosure on October ballot in Juneau

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By WIN GRUENING

In October 2020, the Juneau Assembly voted to require mandatory disclosure of property sales prices. The ordinance requires buyers of property in the City and Borough of Juneau to disclose to the city assessor under signed oath their full purchase price. Prior to this, disclosure of sales information was voluntary.  Currently, Juneau is the only city in Alaska that mandates full disclosure of real estate transactions.

Subsequently, the Assembly amended the disclosure requirement to include a penalty of $50/day for failure to comply within 90 days of the sale date. Falsifying information on the form is a Class A misdemeanor. The city’s justification for the ordinance was that the information was necessary to more accurately determine assessed values on which property taxes are based.

The Assembly action was controversial at the time but there was limited discussion and testimony and it passed on a vote of 6-3 with Assemblymembers Smith, Bryson, and Mayor Beth Weldon voting against it.  

Since then, dissatisfaction with the new rule has mounted. A group, “Protect Juneau Homeowners’ Privacy”, was formed to educate the public about the ordinance and gather enough signatures to place mandatory disclosure on the ballot in October’s municipal election. 

While there are exceptions to the disclosure rule, as an example, for transactions between close family members and associated businesses, the rule covers almost all real estate transactions in the borough, whether commercial or residential.  In addition to the buyer and seller’s name and sales price, the city disclosure form requires the buyer to list terms of the sale (including financing methods), the value of any personal property, the value of any included business, whether the property was publicly listed, and any other information that may have affected the value of the property.

The information disclosure requirement is extensive and proponents of placing the rule on the ballot assert that it is so far-reaching and invasive that the public should be given the opportunity to either support or reverse the Assembly’s action.

There are many variables that factor into the sales price of any property. For residential sales, the condition and age of the home, special features of the land, closing cost allocations, needed repairs and upgrades, and current interest rates can affect the sales price dramatically. Commercial property is even more complex where sophisticated sales terms, location, and prevailing rental rates play an even larger role in establishing value.

In other words, the sales prices in many transactions are difficult to compare based on square footage and other visible and quantitative factors alone and will likely be subject to the same variability affecting assessment methods Juneau has historically used.

Has the Assembly carefully considered alternatives or the lack of precision inherent in relying more heavily on sale prices and weighed that against the privacy concerns raised by the new disclosure rule?  Some states have chosen to maintain privacy on residential sales by developing algorithms based on mortgage amounts or other reported data to arrive at pricing information.

There is also a great deal of unease among Juneau property owners who have seen what often transpires in other states when real estate disclosure is mandated.

Armed with that information, taxing authorities, like the City and Borough of Juneau, have eyed those transactions as a potential source of additional revenue.  In some states, governmental units levy “transfer taxes” or similar fees anytime properties change hands. These fees can amount to thousands of dollars depending on the value of the property.  This is another way for municipal governments to tax property owners in excess of the taxes they already pay.

There are 35 other U. S. states that, like Juneau,  began with a voluntary request for property sales information. Those states later mandated disclosure and now charge a transfer fee, a sales tax, or an excise tax on property sales.  

The National Association of Realtors historically has opposed real estate transfer taxes, calling them a “major burden to buyers and sellers.”  The NAR contends they are discriminatory and regressive because they target only one type of financial transaction and increase housing costs, placing a disproportionately higher burden on low-income families and those who move often. 

While the Assembly has not yet contemplated such a tax, gathering private information on real estate sales is one step toward doing so.  Considering the prevailing penchant of Juneau to “over-collect” property taxes and deficit-spend, this should give taxpayers pause.

Juneau voters who are interested in supporting this effort can sign a petition at most Juneau realty offices or get more information by visiting either of the Protect Juneau Homeowners’ Privacy websites: ProtectJuneauHomes or facebook.com/protectJuneauhomeowners. Petition signatures must be submitted by Friday, June 3.

Regardless of your opinion on Juneau tax policy, and especially in light of the strong and fundamental right to privacy explicitly recognized in Alaska’s constitution, voters should have the opportunity to decide on an issue as significant as whether private real estate information should be disclosed.

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular opinion page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations.

Win Gruening: Constitutional convention would open up a can of worms

39 COMMENTS

    • If the values of property are better served, then the taxes will be better valued. What’s not to like about that?? The only way it could be a money grab is if by hiding this information the values of property would be less than fair market value. And that is a situation whereby the rest of property owners pick up the tab.
      Give us some reasoning for why this should be the case?

  1. Total subjugation of the people is the earnest and only Alaskan dream possible of these dum-dums.

  2. Enough move our capital north immediately oath integrity would do it just to save money. Our classrooms can go see it then in field trips, it’s our capital we could get involved we could all be part of it the fun it would be for ALL. Not just a handful of oath breakers we all deserve to see our capital. Bring our capital to the citizens now stop the biggest waste of all time government in Juneau. Of by and for the people 850 miles away. Move our capital to the citizens. Stop the evil waste look at all the buildings we have here just sitting.

  3. Frankly, this just comes down to what is the reasoning behind attempting to keep this information secret. Privacy is not enough IMO and this is just another look at why these sort of issues benefit in the light of day, rather than hiding them (also IMO).

        • I guess you have no problem in not being secure in your person, houses, papers and effects. So sad that are those such as yourself that are willing to give up your financial privacy to those who have no business whatsoever of knowing where, what, or how much of our monies we spend on anything.

          • Well Jack, perhaps you can give us a clue as to why it is that income taxes are based on “income” that includes capital gains, determined by monies paid. And where do you get that this is “no business whatsoever?”
            You one of those still thinking income taxes are voluntary? Heheh!

        • Why do you think it’s yours, or anyone else’s, business what he paid for his house?

          Unless you are gonna help pay his note it’s none of your or anyone else’s business. Only him and the bank.

          But let’s see you put your house where your mouth is. List your address and your cost.

          For that matter, your car and your car note.

          • You’ve missed the point entirely as this has nothing to do with paying of any note to the bank. This is just a way to better make assessments better fit the reality (present value) and recent sales can help IMO.
            As for my house, since I poured the foundation in 73, my costs wouldn’t make much sense. Recently purchased a Ford Bronco for approximately $36K.
            Let’s see you put your name to these asinine posts of yours. Heheh!

      • AKP guess who’s been living off other people’s taxes? Kinda like slavery, but you get a whale sculpture or something.

  4. Juneau brings this on ourselves by re-electing the same hard left assembly over and over.

    Every election we have, there is an opportunity to change this dynamic. Yet little ever changes.

    The Juneau assembly will continue to bleed us dry as long as we allow it.

    Sadly it’s just that simple.

  5. In the last year or so Juneau has approved…huge homeless facilities, a palatial new city hall, a secret voting building, a new arts/convention center, a tram, electric buses (that don’t work in the rain and cold), and I’m sure I’m missing more. The solution for funding? Raise taxes!

      • The tram, bought in Europe and is being delivered, will be at Eaglecrest ski area and will run from the base to the summit. I don’t believe the costs for install and maintenance was considered. The European ski resort sold it for a reason (probably age and high maintenance costs).

        • Jimbo, their reasoning was that this gondola capacity no longer worked for their ski area as it had grown significantly. Your reasoning is faulty, as usual.

        • I knew that was in consideration, but didn’t catch it went through.

          I’ve got mixed feelings about it. Eaglecrest can be more than it is, but should be run by a management company instead of CBJ.

  6. My property taxes were raised nearly 50% last year based on a real estate listing,…not a sale). CBJ assessment was significantly higher than two independent bank appraisals. The listing was cancelled.
    We sold nearly a year later(after paying our increased property tax for the year).
    And, while ‘adjusted’ for the new owners, CBJ assessment is still higher than the sales price.
    Does ‘disclosure’ even matter anymore?

    • I assume there is no penalty for over assessment. It’s like a government official or swamper lying to Congress or the F.B.I. or the F.B.I. lying to a F.I.S.A. court or a T.S.A. worker stealing out of your luggage, “At this point. what difference does it make”.

    • That information would likely be enough to get the assessor to adjust their assessment downward. In this case “disclosure” would matter plenty going forward. Would not help prior years taxes though.

        • In over 40 years of paying property taxes in Juneau, I’ve complained twice to assessor and both times my taxes were reduced significantly but not because of a sale price being less than assessment. That said, my experience was that the assessor was responsive to my reasoning about my assessment.
          An actual arms length sale that turned out to be less than the assessment would be a “likely” reason for an assessor’s adjustment IMO. Are you going to argue against that reasoning Jay? Heheh!

          • So before this ordinance you had no complaints? Great reasoning! Who’s teat do you live off? hehe

          • From where I experienced property taxes, there was nothing to complain about. Your complaint only mentions “no penalty for over assessment” yet the property owner has much time to correct any “over assessment” or at the least bring to the attention of assessors their reasoning for said “over assessment.”
            Jeez-Louise Jay get yourself a grip here as the property owner has some recourse and responsibility to point out the issues that may be involved. It’s your reasoning that’s suspect here. And this has nothing to do with anyone’s teat either, as it appears you are running out of argument. You may be a small government kind of guy but that has to do more with taxes, rather than assessments.
            By the way, I’m retired for about 10 years after 25 years fishing PWS drift gillnet.

          • My kind of trolling? I ask a question and you don’t answer. How “asinine’. If you had such a wonderful experience with the assessor over fourth years why would you want to change the system? And do you collect a government pension?

  7. Kinda sad that in a “free” country two individuals can’t enter into a private agreement that harms nobody without Big Swampy getting involved.

  8. Educate me… what is bought and sold that the price isn’t disclosed? From a can of soda to a parking spot to a airline ticket. I mean it’s public knowledge what the price of something bought and sold is. Why would homes be different?

  9. I think the fair market price paid at purchase for residential property should be the tax value for as long as you own the property. Your home shouldn’t be the only purchase you ever make in which the your purchase contract can be modified by a third party without any direct negotiation with you the “homeowner.”

    • Here is how California handled a similar situation in 1978: Proposition 13 declared property taxes were to be assessed their 1976 value and restricted annual increases of the tax to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2% per year. A reassessment of the property tax can only be made a) when the property ownership changes or b) there is construction done.

  10. The Alaska Real Estate Commission Consumer Disclosure makes it clear that consumer confidential information cannot be disclosed by a Real Estate professional during and after the closing of a transaction without a letter of consent by the consumer. Purchase Price is extremely confidential.

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