Homeowners in Routt County received their notices of valuation for tax purposes in the mail this week and quickly noticed a double-digit increase in the value of their property.
Steamboat homeowners who saw a 15 percent increase in their homes' valuation weren't far off the countywide norm.
Routt Coun--ty Assessor Amy Williams said the average increase in property values was 14.5 percent.
"We did some analysis of the increases in isolated geographic areas," Williams said. "Hayden averaged 20 percent."
Those figures take into account residential, commercial and agricultural property. Several classifications of property, including personal property and state-assessed property owned by utility companies, have not been valued.
People who see their property's valuation increase typically expect to see their taxes increase, too. But Williams said that's not necessarily the case.
It's not unheard of for residential property owners here to see their taxes stay virtually the same, or even decrease slightly, despite increases in property valuation. That's because the state constitution fixes the ratio of residential to commercial taxes at a level favorable to homeowners. At the same time, Routt County's residential base is growing significantly every year with the construction of second homes and resort condominiums.
Every other year, when Williams' office sets out to re-appraise the value of homes, there are more homeowners to share the tax burden.
May is the best month for homeowners to appeal the valuation of their property to the Assessor's Office. But Williams' office does not have the authority to consider appeals of actual tax amounts because it does not levy taxes.
County appraisers value homes by looking at actual sales of comparable homes in the same neighborhood. The value is current as of June 30, 2004, and is based on sales that occurred July 1, 2002, through June 30, 2004.
The system is set up to ensure that appraisers are looking backward at factual data rather than into the future, Williams said.
Property owners who are most likely to succeed on appeal are those who gather concrete information to support their position.
For example, if the owner of an undeveloped lot brings in information that confirms water is difficult to access, appraisers might be persuaded to support the appeal. Similarly, if the topography makes the lot a challenge to build on or access is compromised, it could result in changing the valuation.
Rather than appealing the valuation simply because it increased, Williams encourages property owners considering an appeal to follow a two-step process, she said.
First, Williams recommends gathering the information her office can provide, then walking the neighborhood to look at similar properties used in determining the valuation.
If a homeowner is convinced that his or her home isn't on par with the comparable sales used by the appraisers, his or her next step is to document the reasons for reaching that conclusion.
Recent fee appraisals -- those done to satisfy a lender, for example, won't necessarily sway the Assessor's Office. That's often the case even when fee appraisals are lower than the valuation her office assigned to the property.
"Appraisals done for a divorce settlement or an estate are done for different reasons (than an appraisal for tax valuation)," Williams said. "But it can be a good beginning. By all means, bring it in."