ITHACA, N.Y.—For those hoping for a break in the local property market, 2022 brought little relief. Local property sales prices continued to climb at a steep clip last year, according to the Tompkins County Department of Assessment.

According to numbers provided in the annual report by the Tompkins County Department of Assessment, the median property sale at the time of closing grew from $295,000 in 2021 to $310,153 in 2022, an increase of 5.1%. The median sales price in 2020 was $258,500, and in 2012 it was $179,250 — in other words, a 20.2% gain in two years, and a 73% rise in median price over the past decade. That’s more than double the inflation rate over that decade period, which was a little over 32%.

Meanwhile, the average property sales price rose 3.9% from 2021 to 2022, from $329,468 to $342,374. However, average sales price tends to be a less accurate indicator, as the value is skewed by high-end lakefront lodges and mansions. There were 10 home sales of $1 million or greater in 2022, while there were 28 in all of the period from 1990 to 2020. For clarity’s sake, the assessor’s report focuses on property sales in all categories. However, the vast majority of property sales in Tompkins County are small residential properties (single-family and two-family homes), followed by land sales.

Meanwhile, the total number of sales in Tompkins County continued its upward tick, increasing from 959 sales in 2021, to 995 sales last year. While it’s a fairly modest jump, it’s the highest number of sales since 2006, when single-family housing sprouted in the suburban neighborhoods prior to the housing crisis that would hit the nation a couple of years later. Tompkins County has typically been in the 850 to 950 range for annual sales over the past decade.

In a sense, it’s a different year, but the same story as in the years preceding it. If you’re planning to sell in the short-term, you’re looking at a healthy payout. But if you’re a buyer or still planning on living in the same house for a while, you’re in a world of financial hurt, especially given the rapid rise in mortgage rates as the Federal Reserve seeks to tame inflation. Incomes weren’t keeping up with rising real estate costs before COVID-19, and in the past couple of years, the growth in housing prices has accelerated, though granted 2022 wasn’t as bad as 2021.

Even for those who do sell, buying elsewhere is more often just “treading water” financially. The national trend is very similar to Ithaca’s. In many metropolitan areas, home values have boomed over the past couple of years, leading to widespread affordability issues across the country. It’s so bad in New York, that Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed housing production targets as a way to override towns reluctant to permit new housing.

Moving forward, Tompkins County Director of Assessment Jay Franklin is looking at several factors as his department tries to figure out what happens in the near term. In a report to the Government Operations Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature, Franklin noted that we still aren’t building enough single-family housing to meet demand, interest rate changes are pushing some buyers out of the market, and refinancing during Covid has kept people in their houses during higher interest rates, which slows down the turnover rate for housing — people are staying their homes longer.

“I thought the market was turning, I thought the market was going down. Now I kinda see it leveling off, and not really depreciating at all,” Franklin said. “But we have so many variables acting either as a positive or a negative to value.”

One of the aspects that Franklin sought to make clear this year was how a tax base and tax levy come together to create the property tax rate. The tax base and tax levy are two separate, independent things. The assessor handles the property values as determined by staff, which comprises the base. The tax levy are your local electeds deciding whether to raise or lower taxes. Franklin would much appreciate it if his office wasn’t used as a scapegoat for tax levels — he’s not the one voting on whether to raise or lower your taxes. He and his staff are just trying to determine a fair market value for your property. If the market supports higher sales prices, then assessments follow. If it’s a bubble and it bursts, the assessments will go accordingly, just as they did in the early 1990s.

“We are more than willing to take responsibility for any assessed value on the roll,” Franklin said. “If it is wrong, we will fix it with the help of the property owner, or neighboring owners as we don’t want just the squeaky wheel to get the oil.  But the responsibility for the level of taxes has to go to the towns, schools, city, county, special districts and villages. We don’t control spending here — we just value property.”

Out of 26,053 properties that were reassessed for the 2023 assessment — all residential parcels, mini-storage, cell towers and vacant land, approximately 73% of the 35,768 parcels in Tompkins County — only 210 saw a decrease in assessment. All properties with a revised assessment should get their notice in the mail by March 3. A week after receipt, owners may contact the assessor’s office to schedule an informal review if they believe their property is over-valued or under-valued.

The deadline to request an informal review is April 14. The formal review period when a property owner can file a grievance application with the Board of Assessment Review is from May 1 through May 23. Appointments for the County Board of Assessment Review grievance day will be able to be scheduled starting on May 1.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at