Scarcity of lots reflected

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Owners of single-family homes in Steamboat Springs could find out this spring that valuation of their building lots has increased by 50 percent in two years.

Routt County Assessor Amy Williams said this week that when notices of valuation go out in June, residential property owners will see a substantial increase in the valuation of their lots. For example, the valuation for tax purposes of one improved lot in Whistler Meadows jumped from $120,000 in 2003 to $150,000 in 2005.

Williams' office is scheduled to conduct its biannual valuation of property throughout the county in May. However, the valuation of residential land, including undeveloped lots and lots with homes sitting on them, already happened.

"I had thought (valuations) would probably level off," Williams said. "But when you see it on paper, Routt County land values have continued to grow. I ended up double-checking the work to make sure the sales supported it."

The assessor's office bases valuation for tax purposes on comparable sales within a neighborhood. Ray Wright, a Realtor with Steamboat Village Brokers, said a lack of supply explains why the value of building lots is climbing so steeply.

"We have a building lot crisis," Wright said. "There just aren't any lots, and that's what's fueling this" trend.

Wright said a lot in Whistler Meadows that sold in autumn for $189,000 is now back on the market for $229,000. That example helps illustrate the growth in valuations, but it is important to note that market prices are not the same thing as valuation for tax purposes.

Although the assessor's office has finished residential land appraisals, they aren't public record yet. Williams' office will appraise improvements, such as houses and other structures, to building lots in May. Homeowners can expect the valuation of their homes to increase from 2003, when they last were appraised for tax purposes. But they also can expect land values to represent a greater percentage of the total valuation.

"That happens a lot in a resort community," Williams said.

She pointed to Old Town Steamboat as an example. Homes there are in high demand, but many are modest older homes whose value isn't proportional to the value of the lot on which they sit.

The same property in Whistler Meadows, where the owners saw the tax valuation of the lot rise by 50 percent since 2003, illustrates the trend.

Valued at $49,500 in 1996, the building lot, independent of the improvements on it, represented 26 percent of the total valuation. By 2003, at $120,000, the lot represented 45 percent of the total.

The escalation in lot valuations doesn't necessarily mean property taxes will go up, however. Increases in residential property valuations mean the overall valuation of the county is larger, and the residential tax burden can be spread across that broader base.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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