Sady Swanson with the Fort Collins Coloradoan published this article today, in response to the large number of assessor property valuation protests it received this spring. Larimer County residents' frustrations, highlighted in the article, match what I witnessed when I offered comparable sales to Nextdoor folks in my community. Most citizens (including myself) don't understand how an assessor is able to determine value when they have never stepped foot inside their home, nor know if flooring, kitchens, bathrooms, landscaping, paint, or windows have been updated. Of course an assessor can look at permits that have been taken out for items such as roofing, backflow preventers, electrical, plumbing, finishing a basement, or structural additions, but these are only a small part of what determines value in a home.
Furthermore, I heard from a number of neighbors that their home's value actually decreased. Huh? I understand the rare occasion where a wildfire has scarred all surrounding land (as is highlighted in the article), but everything within city limits (at least Fort Collins, Loveland, Wellington, Estes Park) has dramatically increased in value-single detached homes, condos, townhomes, manufactured homes, vacant land, commercial property. Nobody could logically argue otherwise. Most rural properties as well have seen double digit percentage increases in value. I'm sure those people with decreasing assessed values aren't going to complain, but it does call into question the integrity of the system when some folks are seeing $80K decreases while others are experiencing $80K increases.
Larimer County's assessor, Bob Overbeck, does describe how his office is taking into account traffic noise, views, golf course and lake proximity, etc... and that is good. We all know that a house located on a busy street just doesn't sell for as much as one backing onto quiet and scenic open space. Mr. Overbeck took over after Steve Miller's nearly 34 year tenure, in early 2019, and it seems like he is making progress. I must say that my own protest two years ago succeeded, and for this year, I felt that the valuation assigned to our house was fairly accurate. Hopefully we are on the right path forward!
Below is the article in its entirety...
Larimer County homeowners concerned, confused over latest property value increases
Sady SwansonFort Collins Coloradoan
Judy Kinard is no stranger to Larimer County's property valuation protest process.
Kinard said she's protested the county's valuation on her vacation home in Red Feather Lakes every two-year cycle for at least the last 15 years, and she's always prevailed.
"What is so frustrating is that they never get it right the first time," Kinard said in an email to the Coloradoan.
"I shouldn't have to do this," Kinard said in an interview.
This year was no different for Kinard: Her 720 square-foot cabin's valuation rose from $66,300 in 2019 (the value after she protested) to $162,400 — an increase of 145%.
"I laughed, first of all,” Kinard said of her reaction to her property's new value. "... It goes from laughing to just extraordinary frustration. ... I only wish it was worth as much as what the county says."
Property values in Larimer County rose an average of 5% this year, but some areas of the county saw sharper increases than others, with Red Feather Lakes and Livermore seeing the largest spikes:
Fort Collins: 3%
Red Feather Lakes: 19.3%
Estes Park: 12.2%
As of Friday afternoon, the county received 10,292 valuation protests, Assessor Bob Overbeck said. Protests were due Tuesday but are accepted if mailed and postmarked by the deadline, according to the county.
Property owners flooded Overbeck's office with more than 24,000 protests in 2019 — the most received in a single year for at least the last 25 years — when valuations skyrocketed 18.7% countywide. The county adjusted 67% of the protested property valuations that year.
After 2019's spike in property valuations, the assessor's officer underwent an independent audit in an effort to improve the process. Overbeck said the office implemented the recommendations that came out of that audit and, while they did improve the process, he said he hopes his office will continue to improve it for future valuation cycles.
"I would say we did a great job," Overbeck said, thanking his staff for their hard work and flexibility getting the assessments done during historic wildfires and a global pandemic.
Overbeck said staff implemented a new calculator into its model this year — the effective age calculator — which calculates how any remodels or upgrades to a home may impact the home's value.
"The effective age calculator is an appraisal practice tool that we use to help differentiate between a newly remodeled home and one that hasn't had much work done," Overbeck said. "We began using it this cycle and it will improve over time."
Overbeck said he followed the audit's recommendation to increase the amount of sales data used in the model. This cycle, staff looked at five years of data instead of two.
He also implemented use of geographic systems mapping, or GIS, to look at property virtually and double-check data when something didn't match up. His office also used GIS to create interactive property value change maps so the public can look at property values from across the county, Overbeck said.
In-person protests were not accepted this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, a decision Overbeck said he had to make in March not knowing that public health conditions would improve so much by May.
As an in-person substitute, Overbeck said the assessor's office introduced phone-in protests in 2019 and offered them again this year. About 8% of protesters, or 756 people, used that system to submit their protests this year.
With no in-person protests, Overbeck said the assessor's office saw an increase in the percentage of mail-in protests — 40% in 2021 compared to 23% in 2019. About 52% of protests were filed through the online system in both 2019 and 2021.
In total, about 6% of the approximately 157,000 property valuations were protested this year, which Overbeck said he saw as a success.
Linda Wheeler-Holloway said when she received notice that her home of 25 years near Carter Lake increased in value by 34%, her reaction was, "Oh my goodness."
She said she doesn't understand what caused the property to increase in value by so much. The most recent renovations were done in 2003 through 2005, she said. Her brother-in-law's newer house in a similar area is now worth less than her 45-year-old home.
She said she and her husband, who are both retired, are worried about what this steep valuation increase could mean for their financial future.
"In reality, this is our forever home," Wheeler-Holloway said. "... It was a worry to wonder how much that would increase our mortgage."
Wheeler-Holloway and Kinard were two of more than 120 respondents to a Coloradoan survey about the 2021 property valuations.
Of those who responded 19.8% said their property value declined compared to 2019 while 25.4% said their property's value increased by more than 20%. About half of respondents said they planned to file or already filed a protest with the assessor's office.
While some respondents said they understood why their value declined — including one person who owns property in the Cameron Peak Fire burn scar — others said they were confused as to what led to the decline.
A person living in Oakridge Village in Fort Collins said in their survey response that their neighbor's houses "have been selling like crazy" for more than $500,000, and they didn't understand why their home's value would dip below that. But they said — like all other respondents who said their values declined — they did not plan on protesting.
How the property value assessment process works
The assessor’s office assigns a value to each home using a model that looks at comparable, qualified sales in each neighborhood during the last two years. For this cycle, that included sales between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2020.
Comparable sales include homes of the same or similar design within 20% of the house’s square footage and 15 years of its build date. If there weren’t enough comparable sales during that time period, the office looked further back in 6-month increments.
The model also takes into account the square footage of the home, any improvements made since the last reappraisal period, the home’s quality and the home’s location attributes (such as: near a golf course or lake, traffic in the area, the home’s view), among other things. All these factors should reflect the home as it existed Jan. 1, 2021.
The actual value is multiplied by the residential assessment rate (7.2%) to create the home’s “assessed value,” which is used to determine property taxes along with the homes mill levy rate.
Reporter Jacy Marmaduke contributed to this story.
Sady Swanson covers public safety, criminal justice, Larimer County government and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
Cover Photo Image by giovanni gargiulo from Pixabay. Street Sofa Image by Pexels from Pixabay. Sold Home Image by tkoch from Pixabay