Pitkin County commissioners, sitting as the Board of Equalization on Wednesday, approved the updated property valuations after more than 4,700 protests were filed in the spring.

The cumulative value of all Pitkin County properties reached $74 billion before the hearing process was conducted throughout the summer. This was up from $42 billion in 2022. After the hearings, the cumulative value is down to $72.4 billion (an average of $4 million per property), according to Aspen Journalism’s analysis of 2022 and 2023 valuations for Pitkin County’s 16,000 appraised properties. That is a 72% increase from 2020, the last time the assessor’s office appraised local property values.  

“What happened here was basically an increased demand for properties because the COVID people moved here as COVID refugees,” said Mick Ireland, one of the county’s hearing officers. “The second thing that’s going on is there’s been a pretty big increase in the number of billionaires in the world and what they call centi-millionaires, which are people with $100 million. … They buy property the way you and I might buy a stamp collection.”

Ireland also mentioned that short-term rentals were a factor in the increased property valuation seen across the county — and the valley as a whole — due to the potential rental income stream pushing up purchase prices, even for homes not offered as short-term rentals.

Ireland said at the Wednesday meeting that he has never seen such a high increase in  valuation in the 25 years he has been serving as a hearing officer. He said the county saw a spike in property valuation in 2007-09, but valuations went down after that. 

The appeal process

More than 4,700 protests were filed this year after the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office on May 1  mailed each property owner in the county a notice of appraised value, according to Lindy Masters, property transfers specialist at the assessor’s office. The value, intended to reflect the property’s estimated worth as of June 30, 2022, is based on nearby comparable sales that happened in the previous 18 months. 

Property owners who thought that the valuation was incorrect had until June 8 to submit an appeal to the assessor’s office. About 2,400 adjustments were made by June 30 at the assessor level, and nearly 1,600 owners who still disagreed with their valuation sought a hearing. Among those, 42% got a reduction in valuation after getting a hearing with an officer; 25% got a reduction through a “stipulation” with an appraiser; 17% saw their valuation unchanged; and 12%, or 191 owners, opted for an administrative denial that allowed them to skip the county hearing process and go directly to the state.

The appeal process officially ended Sept. 25. County commissioners met Oct. 11 to ratify the updated valuations, and those involved will be notified.

Ireland said the five hearing officers hired by the county held more than 900 hearings this past summer that resulted in a $687 million reduction for 654 appeals, or an average of $1 million per property. The 400 property valuations reduced through stipulation led to a total reduction of $618 million, or an average reduction of $1.5 million per property, according to county data and memo

The total initial assessed value of the 191 properties that received an administrative denial is more than $1.6 billion, or about $8.6 million per property.

“The higher per property value of the administrative denials probably reflects the resources of the owners, the complexities of their appeals and the limitations on the hearing officers’ ability to adjudicate larger issues like the trend rates applied to all Pitkin County properties,” according to a memo that Ireland drafted in advance of Wednesday’s hearing. 

The highest property valuation in the county currently belongs to the St. Regis, which was assessed at $155.6 million this year. The luxury Aspen lodging resort property appealed its valuation and received an “administrative denial” that allows its owners to go the state’s board of assessment appeals, file a complaint in Pitkin County District Court or agree to binding arbitration with a county hearing officer, so the property’s final valuation is still pending. The Aspen School District campus parcel off of Maroon Creek Road, with a valuation of $104.8 million, is the second highest, and The Little Nell hotel and commercial complex in Aspen is third, with a valuation of $92.8 million.

Where does your property’s valuation come from?

“Almost all the properties here are unique,” Ireland said. “It’s not like a subdivision of 500 lots of identical houses and yard sizes.”

The assessor sampled 366 sales that happened between Jan. 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022. Those were analyzed to establish a monthly increase rate by zone and property type. 

For single-family homes, or “residential,” Pitkin County is divided into five zones: Aspen, Snowmass Village/Brush Creek, Old Snowmass, Basalt and Crystal River. 

The monthly increase rate varies by zone, from 3.5% in the Crystal River Valley to 4.2% in Snowmass Village and Brush Creek. The percentages reflect the direction of home sale prices between Jan. 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022.

The assessor’s office uses the appropriate rate to time adjust the sale price of three or more comparable nearby properties that were sold within that 18-month period. Then they adjust the values based on each property’s size, location, view, quality and state of the construction to better assess the value of the property. 

Ireland said some information that can impact valuation — such as the quality of the view or the state of the foundation — isn’t in the property’s record with the county, which can lead to an incorrect valuation. 

“Appraisers are not Santa Claus. They can’t visit all of the 20,000 properties overnight, eat all of the cookies and then go back to work,” Ireland said at the Wednesday meeting. 

The hearings give those who file an appeal a chance to explain such factors and extenuating circumstances to the hearing officer.

“So, if they haven’t done any remodeling for 25 years, yeah, it affects the valuation,” Ireland said.” If the basement is cracked or if the neighbor has a right to use your driveway or your backyard — all those things adversely affect the value of your property, and the appraisers don’t get to visit every property.” 

Ireland said the hearing officers can change the value based on sales data, not on what the other neighbors’ assessments are. “You don’t know what went into that assessment,” Ireland said.

Single-family-home valuations doubled across the county

The county’s two highest residential valuations are $92 million for an Aspen home on Toby Lane and $91.1 million for a home in the West End. 

Although Aspen has the highest average valuation for single-family homes — at $13.7 million (a median of $11 million) after the county appeal hearings process — the city doesn’t have the highest appreciation increase with its 75%. Woody Creek and Snowmass Village lead the way with their 96% and 93% jump for residential properties, respectively, and an average of $8.5 million and $8 million (a median of $6.8 million and $6.5 million), respectively, in 2023. 

“A lot of times, Aspen [property valuation] goes way up, but downvalley or Brush Creek or Snowmass doesn’t move, but this time, they’ve kind of moved together,” Ireland said.

The average comparable sale price for single-family homes in the same 18-month period for Woody Creek was $15 million (adjusted to June 30, 2022), or a median sale price of $11 million (adjusted). Snowmass Village’s average sale price was $9 million (adjusted), or a median sale price of $7 million (adjusted), during this same time period for single-family homes.

Among the 4,700 protests filed, more than 1,100 concerned Snowmass Village properties and 2,800 were for Aspen properties.

The 142 properties of Brush Creek Village, a subdivision near the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82 that includes 118 single-family homes, represent the largest non-APCHA single-family-home subdivision in unincorporated Pitkin County. The subdivision saw its total value almost triple, jumping to an average valuation of $3.5 million from $1.5 million. The highest residential valuation reached $18.2 million in 2023  — up from $5.5 million in 2022 — and the lowest was $900,000 (after hearing) in 2023, up from $600,000 in 2022. Seventy Brush Creek Village owners filed a protest, 18 of which went to a hearing and got a total of $15 million in reduction, an average reduction of $830,000 per property.

“Brush Creek Village is a neighborhood in transition,” Ireland said at the Wednesday meeting. “You’re starting to get purchases in there by people who want to build an expensive luxury property. So, the demand for that land and the demand for an existing 1980s house is going up because people visualize that as something they can scrap and replace.” 

For reference, the average comparable sale price of 13 Brush Creek properties sold during the 18-month period was $6 million (time adjusted to June 30, 2022), or a median sale price of $5 million.

The Brush Creek Village subdivision saw its total valuation triple, jumping from an average valuation of $1.5 million to $4 million for the 118 single family homes located in the hillside neighborhood located near the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82. Credit: Laurine Lassalle/Aspen Journalism

Another subdivision with a notable appreciation rate was Wildcat Ranch near Snowmass Village, where the 17 single-family homes saw their average valuation increase 171% from 2022. 

Old Snowmass’ residential property values increased by 85% as they went from an average of about $1.5 million (or a median of $787,000) in 2022 to $2.9 million in 2023 (or a median of $1.5 million). Basalt’s residential property values went to an average of $2 million from $1.2 million.

On average, residential properties in the county (including single family homes, condos and duplex condos, but not properties categorized as “housing authority”) were worth $6 million in 2023, up from $3 million in 2022. 

Properties classified as “Ag/residential” had the highest average increase, at 117%, while those classified as “possessory” — a private property interest in a government-owned property or the right to the occupancy and use of that government-owned property, such as ski areas on USFS property  — saw their value decrease 24%.

Commercial properties (including properties classified as “commercial,” “commercial/residential”, “commercial/multi”, “commercial/housing”) were worth an average of $2.6 million in 2023, up from $2.1 million in 2022. Median values increased to $773,600 from $642,000. The three highest commercial valuations in the county are the Gorsuch Haus parcel at the base of Aspen Mountain with its entitlements for a luxury hotel ($66 million), Base Village in Snowmass Village ($53.7 million) and a commercial property in the Aspen downtown core ($50.5 million). The latter’s valuation is still pending as the owners made an appeal and received “administrative denial” to skip the hearing process and get to the state’s board.

Commercial property’s valuations are calculated differently. Specifically, they take into account the business’ net operating income to set up a capitalization rate, or “cap rate,” which is what the market thinks it will earn on a piece of property or how fast an investment will pay itself, instead of using the monthly residential rate of about 4%. 

Property valuations are still subject to change in the upcoming months, because some will head to the district court; go to the board of assessment appeals in Denver; or get a hearing with another officer. 

Aspen Journalism is supported by a grant from Pitkin County’s Healthy Community Fund, and is solely responsible for its editorial content.

Laurine Lassalle is Aspen Journalism’s data desk editor, where she works to catalogue and analyze local public data. She also heads our our “Tracking the Curve” project, documenting COVID-19 in Pitkin,...