Absence of sales makes it hard to value land, assessor says

77 percent of vacant land in county owned by out-of-state investors

KINGMAN - Mohave County Assessor Ron Nicholson gave a grim assessment, so to speak, of the state of property values throughout the county at a meeting of the Kingman/Golden Valley Association of Realtors Thursday morning.

Nicholson acknowledged that property values across the county have fallen nearly 46 percent over the past three years, with total valuation dropping nearly $1.5 billion between fiscal years 2008-09 and 2010-11. In Kingman, values have dropped nearly 39 percent over the same period, or about $129 million.

"This market has crashed," Nicholson said.

He noted that roughly 60 percent of all the property in Mohave County is owned by someone with an out-of-state mailing address, with the total rising to 77 percent for vacant land. Vacant land, Nicholson said, provided a special challenge to the Assessor's Office, since most assessments are determined based on how much property has recently sold for - and land simply isn't selling much these days.

"Land is an extremely difficult problem for me, because there are so few sales, how do you determine where the bottom really is?" he said. "Until sales start to generate in a number than we can have significant credibility, we're challenged with what the real value should be on a piece of land."

Nicholson noted that assessors will rarely come out and actually assess the value of an individual property. Instead, he said, his office takes sales prices of various properties and runs them through a model to help determine what values are likely to be for the surrounding properties.

"What we try to do is make the one model that we determine for an area fit all the kinds of homes and properties that are located in it," he said. "What they have done is graphed all the solds that we have access to, then we run a regression with those solds to determine what were the contributors of value and how should they be measured. Then we apply that model to the unsolds to generate their evaluations."

For this reason, Nicholson said, some home assessments, particularly those in more spread out areas like Golden Valley, may not accurately represent their true property value due to errors or oversights in the computer model. He encouraged the Realtors present to print off assessment appeals forms, which he said can be used by anyone who suspects their house has not been assessed at the property's true value.

"Anybody who has bought property and closed escrow since Dec. 16 of last year, all through this year right up to Dec. 15 can appeal the value that'll impact their tax bill if that property has changed hands," Nicholson said.

"Any change in title as far as I'm concerned, whether it's a death, moving into a trust, an actual sale - I open that door and allow my staff then to look at that."

Though assessments have fallen, Nicholson noted that many property tax bills have risen thanks to an increase in the countywide property tax approved by the Board of Supervisors in August. But he added that taxes increased even more sharply for those people living outside the Kingman city limits due in no small part to secondary taxes such as fire districts, which he said tend to seek increases in leaner times and aren't beholden to the same statutory restraints as the county or school districts.

"Fire Districts in many areas in our county can make up between 36 and 49 percent of the tax bill, believe it or not. Equal to schools or more," he said. One Realtor present noted that her bill for the Yucca Fire District had increased nearly tenfold in a single year, and she asked how the public could fight against such increases.

Nicholson responded that the public must remain involved in the political process when it comes time to pass a budget. The problem, he said, is that people usually don't bother to show up for such meetings, though he noted the assessor's website lists the budgets and budget meeting times and locations for every such taxing entity in the county.

On the assessment side of things, Nicholson said there are still options for some lower-income families to keep their bills down. For example, he said, the assessor's office offers tax exemptions for qualifying widowed or fully-disabled persons, and even valuation freezes for those ages 65 years and older.

For more information, visit the assessor's website at http://www.co.mohave.az.us/ContentPage.aspx?id=111, or call (928) 753-0703.