Pitkin County property value protest worth the effort? Maybe | VailDaily.com

Pitkin County property value protest worth the effort? Maybe

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” Pitkin County property owners have been showing up at the assessor’s office in droves to protest their latest property valuations ” an exercise that is not necessarily in vain, according to Assessor Tom Isaac.

Overall, residential assessments are up nearly 40 percent, which translates into jaw-dropping, multimillion-dollar jumps in value for some Aspen homeowners. The total actual value of property in the county, based on the assessments mailed out earlier this month, now stands at about $36 billion, up from $26.7 billion in 2008.

The assessments reflect property values as of June 30, 2008 ” a time when the local real estate market was booming. It has since taken a nosedive, leaving some property owners objecting to valuations that don’t reflect today’s reality.

Take, for example, a 690-square-foot Aspen condo that’s now valued at $1.1 million by the assessor’s office. That’s up more than $300,000 from its value two years ago.

“I don’t think it was even worth that at the height of the boom,” said Bob Leatherman, who owns the condo with his wife. “In a two-year period it’s now up over $300,000? That’s just not realistic.”

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Leatherman plans to file a protest by the June 1 deadline.

“I’m not optimistic, but I think it’s worth the effort,” he said.

Leatherman is correct, according to Isaac.

In 2007, when property assessments also took a huge leap, 2,118 protests were filed with Isaac’s office. Of those, 979 valuations were adjusted.

“I’d say, you’re not going to get an adjustment unless you come in,” Isaac said.

That’s not necessarily true, though. The assessor’s office adjusted the assessment on 73 properties in 2007 even though the owners did not file a protest. Rather, their neighbors did.

If the office receives a lot of protests from a condo complex or particular neighborhood that result in adjustments, it may take a second look at other comparable, nearby properties and make adjustments to their values, as well, Isaac said.

“There are always going to be those properties on the high end of the bell curve,” said Larry Fite, chief appraiser for the assessor’s office. “The art of the appeal is to figure out which ones are on the high end. The ones that are truly on the high end … we fix them.”

Property owners looking for ammunition for a protest should bring in a recent appraisal, if they had one done near the end of June 2008, Isaac advised.

“If we made a mistake in the size, quality ” any pertinent information is always helpful,” he said.

The assessor’s office used sales of comparable properties in the 18 months leading up to June 30, 2008 in assigning new valuations ” a list of those properties is available online at http://www.aspenpitkin.com/assessor. Property owners who know of other sales the assessor should consider ought to provide that information, Isaac said.

Former Mayor Helen Klanderud, who saw her east-side property double in value in two years ” from $2.3 million to $4.6 million ” discovered the “comparable” homes the assessor used to assign her home’s new value were far larger and newer than her house, built in 1969.

Klanderud, like a number of locals who purchased homes decades ago for what would now be considered peanuts, has watched incredulously as Aspen property values escalated beyond reason.

“I didn’t buy it for an investment purpose. I bought it because we needed a roof over our heads,” said Klanderud, who put an addition on her home and raised four children there. “Yeah, I’d say I got my money’s worth.”

Isaac, ironically, is in the same boat. His home has gone up 1,000 percent in value in the 37 years he’s lived there, he estimated. It went up in value by some half-million dollars with the latest reassessment, though Isaac doesn’t plan to protest.

In the past, the values assigned by the assessor’s office have generally lagged behind actual value. Even in 2007, when valuations bolted upward, the frenzied market was outpacing the higher assessments. This time, though, real estate sales have slumped and hard times have made the prospect of a higher property tax bill next January ” the result of higher property values ” hard to swallow.

“If I had a choice, I’d lower everybody’s value,” Isaac said. “But I have to pass the state audit or the penalty is pretty severe.”

The assessor’s office is audited annually to ensure its assessments are valid. If the state finds they are not, the county must conduct its entire reassessment over again, Isaac said.

Isaac’s office will notify protesters of the outcome by June 30. Those who wish to appeal must file a notice of appeal to the county board of equalization by July 15.

Support Local Journalism