Lack of sales makes Eagle County assessments challenging
EAGLE, Colorado – Mark Chapin has been in the property assessment business much of his adult life, but he’s never had a year like this.
Chapin, the Eagle County assessor, is currently in the middle of a re-appraisal of all the county’s property. It’s a two-year cycle embedded in the state’s constitution, which is why property taxes are still based on the county’s property values in mid-2008. The latest cycle began June 30 of last year.
After almost a year of digging through the latest data, new notices of value must be sent in May of this year. Those new property values – which will presumably reflect the market’s drop since late 2008 – will be the basis of taxes paid in 2012.
Chapin has estimated that property values for tax purposes will probably drop an average of 30 percent from the 2008 valuation to 2010. He didn’t change that prediction at a Tuesday meeting with the Eagle County commissioners and other county elected officials. In fact, he wouldn’t offer any guesses at all – the work isn’t anywhere near finished yet.
“This is the most difficult re-appraisal I’ve ever been involved in,” Chapin said. “There’s a decided lack of information out there.”
The problem is that the drop in property values has been accompanied by a lack of sales, and it’s sales data that Chapin’s office uses to determine what property is worth.
While sales picked up in 2010 from their 2009 nadir, they’re still well off the numbers posted during the mid-decade real estate boom.
Not only is there little sales data available, much of it comes from foreclosure or “short” sales – transactions in which property is sold for less than the amount owed on the mortgage. Chapin said those sales are part of the value equation, but the best data comes from regular sales.
Searching for an example, commissioner Sara Fisher used the example of a buyer who picked up a number of vacant lots at a big discount from their boom-days retail prices. Chapin said that would affect the value of other vacant lots only if that bulk deal affected the retail sales of other lots.
With the relative lack of sales data, Chapin said he expects thousands of people to contest their property values during the next protest period. There were more than 8,000 protests filed in the last cycle, when property values were still zooming. Chapin said he expects more than that this cycle, most likely from people who believe their property values haven’t fallen as much as the overall market.
But that won’t start until after the notices of value go out in May, and spring is a lot of work from now.
“We aren’t close (to being finished) now,” Chapin said. “But every day we’re getting closer.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930 or email@example.com