Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Condo owners say values are too high


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Condo owners in Sun Valley’s Elkhorn neighborhood have appealed their assessed values in droves this year. Photo by Willy Cook

When Barry Coe opened his 2009 property tax assessment letter from the county recently, he was shocked to see that the assessed value of his home had jumped by $100,000.

For Coe, who lives with his wife, Jorunn, in a New Villager condominium in Sun Valley's Elkhorn neighborhood, that surprise was quickly replaced with frustration. He said the Blaine County Assessor's Office has put the value of his condominium at $750,000, which in his view is not realistic.

Later this morning, Wednesday, July 1, Coe will go before the Blaine County Commission to appeal that assessment, which he feels is inconsistent with the current state of the housing market. The commissioners will be acting in a secondary role as the Board of Equalization.

"It's way too high," he said. "I guess they don't realize it's a down market."

Coe said he wouldn't think twice about selling his condominium if he could get $750,000 for it.

"If I could get $500,000, I would sell it in a nanosecond," he said.

But Coe isn't optimistic he'll prevail before the commissioners. He feels the county will be reluctant to give up any property taxes.

"They need money desperately, I guess," he said.

Like many other Elkhorn condominium owners who saw their assessed values rise this year—one of the few spots in the county that saw such increases—Coe said he's unsure how the county assessor's office made its determination when he looks around his neighborhood.

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"There's no sales at all," he said. "The prices here have plummeted."

The assessments the county sent out to homeowners this spring are based on real estate sales data from 2008. Because of that, some condominium owners feel the value of their homes has not bottomed out as much as it should. They feel they may not see a real reflection of the current state of the housing market until next year's rounds of property tax assessments, which will value properties based on 2009 real estate deals.

Barbara Renick is another Elkhorn condominium owner frustrated by what she feels is an unrealistic assessment of the value of her property. Renick, who lives in the Arrowwood condominiums with her husband, Leonard, said the lack of activity in the local real estate market suggests the county's assessed value is incorrect.

Like Coe, the Renicks will appeal their assessment before the county today.

Renick said the county has assessed the value of their condominium at "almost a million dollars"—about a quarter of a million more than when they purchased the home in 2002. She said there's no way their condominium could have appreciated so much in that time.

Renick said they're aware of several other Arrowwood owners who are appealing their assessments.

A significant segment of the appeals the county will hear this year hail from the Elkhorn neighborhood. Elsewhere, property tax assessments have dropped significantly.

Last month, Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace put the preliminary assessed value for the entire county at $11.9 billion, roughly half a billion dollars less than last year's figure, which was $12.4 billion. The last time the overall assessed value of the county dropped was in 1986, Pace said.

The county has scheduled five days of appeal hearings. The hearings should end by July 7, though the county has until July 13 to consider all the challenges.

Pace recently reported that more than 100 homeowners in the county have appealed their 2009 assessments—more than double the number of appeals the county saw in 2008, when about 40 such challenges trickled in.

Jason Kauffman: jkauffman@mtexpress.com




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