OGDEN — Cyril Nopper figures his chances of successfully challenging the assessed valuation of his East Bench home — up a whopping 38.5 percent from last year — are slim to none.
"I've convinced myself there's nothing I can do," he said.
That doesn't mean he's not going to poke around, try to understand why, maybe even grumble a little bit. Indeed, after getting his valuation for 2018 last month, he launched his own inquiry, trying to figure out if he's an outlier or the norm, wanting to know what would account for such a jump.
"I'd just like to know how they do it," he said.
He's hardly the only homeowner who experienced a big jump in his or her valuation, a key factor in figuring property owners' tax bills, which, in Nopper's case, will go up an estimated $532 this year. Figures from the Weber County Assessor's Office show that the cumulative assessed valuation of homes in the county for 2018 reached a preliminary total of $19.77 billion, up 18 percent from $16.8 billion last year. That factors growth in the value of existing property and the value of new development and comes on top of more tempered growth from 2016 to 2017, 11 percent.
And it turns out that Nopper isn't the only one with questions, scratching his head, skeptical. As of mid-August, the assessor's office had received nearly 400 appeals from property owners suspicious their new property valuations may be excessive. The deadline to file a challenge is Sept. 17, 2018, while property tax bills — reflecting, essentially, the taxable value of homes as determined in the valuation process multiplied by the tax rates of the applicable taxing entities — come out in late October.
"Similar to other years, some of our customers are surprised by their value changes," Weber County Assessor John Ulibarri said in an email. "This year is exacerbated somewhat by the rapid increase of sale prices of homes in Weber County."
But while valuations across the county are up, generally more this year than last year due to the strong real estate market, filing an appeal with Ulibarri's hardly guarantees success. So don't think you'll automatically be able to push that value down if you file a challenge and dial back the size of your property tax bill. Though 70 percent of appeals result in some sort of value reduction, Ulibarri said, his office typically receives only 1,500 challenges per year, representing less than 2 percent of taxable parcels in Weber County.
In Nopper's case, his focus is more about getting a handle on why his valuation is up, understanding the $532 jump in taxes. Tapping online property tax records and the analytical skills he honed as a computer programmer and systems analyst, Nopper, now retired, reviewed the valuations of his neighbors' homes, trying to figure out if his case is unique or if he's part of a trend.
If his valuation and estimated property tax bill are up so sharply, he reasons, "why shouldn't I look into it, see what they have done to the rest of my neighbors?" Though a property's valuation is a key part of the equation in figuring property tax bills, Ulibarri emphasizes that his office does not set tax rates, the other key part of equation, nor does it collect taxes.
When Nopper got to researching, digging out the numbers, from publicly available data, was the easy part.
Seated at the kitchen table in his home, he proffered the results of his inquiry, compiled on a spread sheet and printed out on paper. While hardly a cross-section of Ogden or Weber County, the numbers, reflecting data for 23 homes clustered around his home, all of them above Harrison Boulevard, show consistent trends — higher valuations on each and every one, and bigger estimated property tax bills. His case wasn't out of the ordinary, though the increases he experienced were on the higher end of the scale:
- The 23 homes experienced valuation increases of between 16.3 percent and 39.3 percent, or an average of 24.4 percent.
- In dollar terms, the valuations jumped between $32,000 and $67,000, or an average of $43,261, from $177,478 to $220,739.
- Increases in estimated property tax bills on the homes ranged from 11.9 percent to 31.1 percent. That works out to an average jump of $356, or 18.5 percent, from $1,922 to $2,278.
Nopper talked to some of the neighbors, shared his results, mainly getting shoulder shrugs. "They're just going to grin and bear it," he said.
He's tried before, to no avail, to challenge his valuation, a process that requires property owners to variously analyze comparable home sales or get their own property appraisal completed, among other things. This go-round, he had a real estate agent friend to a quick evaluation of his home. It turns out that the new valuation from Ulibarri's office is within the range the agent came up with.
Understanding the rationale used in determining the increase, though, that's another matter. Valuations determined by Ulibarri's office and other county assessor's offices around the state are supposed to reflect market values. As demand increases and prices on the open market rise, assessed valuations, too, should go up and vice versa.
But the method used to arrive at the numbers can be brain-numbing, Nopper found. He tracked down a publication that's a guide in the process, "Standard on Mass Appraisal of Real Property," and reading just the table of contents left him — a numbers and data guy — reeling. "Well holy-moly, how does anyone figure that out?" he said.
Most notably, officials valuing properties compare them to other properties that have recently sold on the open market. That in itself, though, requires numerous adjustments to factor for differences — in size, building materials and much, much more. "It is definitely more complex than a single algorithm," Ulibarri said.
It all leaves Nopper still searching for answers. It's not that he's trying to get out of paying taxes, he just wants to know that the process is proper and fair.
"Clarity to me is more important than agreement," he said.