wtf? Hamilton County Auditor Land Patterns (another one for you, Cindi Andrews)

Last December Enquirer Opinion Editor Cindi Andrews asked me for more data related to the patterns I see in the Hamilton County Property Tax Records.  I told her I’d get back to her in a day or two (Sorry, Cindi – life got in the way) and I thought the easiest way to address these questions was through land values as they are far less complicated than assessing the buildings on the land.

This is a chart of the land values on East Fourth from beginning to end:

image (10)

I love numbers.  Unlike the rest of life, numbers are so unemotional, so clean of expectations, hopes and dreams.  Numbers aren’t right.  Numbers aren’t wrong.  Numbers are just numbers.

When I enter these figures on the Google doc spreadsheet, I never have any idea what I’m going to find.  Of course, I have suspicions.  Otherwise I wouldn’t waste my time.  But fairly frequently the data surprises me and that’s what makes this treasure hunt so much fun.

Here’s what surprised me with these numbers:

1.  Overall, the values of land on East Fourth are much more uniform than I expected them to be.  Trained as an historian, what we look for are the pieces that don’t fit, those bumps that tell you something is out of whack.  Most of these values fall between $5,000,000 and $6,000,000 an acre.  Close enough.  That means the appraisal system is working pretty well.

2.  1 East Fourth ($6,944,004) and 3 East Fourth ($3,263,463) fall outside those norms.  But both these properties are owned by Lindner/Great American and when averaged together, the value comes in about where it should be.  It’s also interesting to look at the value history tab.  It shows that the land value has gotten outside the norm in the past when the Board of Revision has interfered with the normal appraisal process.  During the next big county wide reappraisal after BOR intervention, the number goes back up to once again fall within the norm.  (Hooray.  System working.)

3.  18 East Fourth is fascinating.  My number could be off a little bit off because the Hamilton County Auditor is not required to supply acreage numbers for condominiums so I had to calculate the figure using CAGIS.  According to my findings residential owners of these units are paying on a land value nearly twice the other commercial properties on the street.  Right now that doesn’t matter too much as the building was granted a 10 year abatement on improvements.  But when that expires very shortly, these property owners might want to challenge the figure.  Why should residential with small lot size pay at so much higher rate than commercial and big residential lots?  Doesn’t make sense to me.

4.  The other property way above the norm is the little vacant lot owned by the Federal Reserve Bank at 156 E. Fourth ($7,441,875).  But this doesn’t really matter as properties owned by the federal government are exempt from property taxes.  (as are properties owned by churches – Christ Church Cathedral on up the street doesn’t pay taxes either)

5.  The real concerns with these values occur at the end of the street where the naked eye can easily detect values sliding down, down, down into a land of its own Alice in Wonderland logic.  With the exception of the Literary Club at 500 E. Fourth, all these properties are owned by Western & Southern.

400 E. Fourth  (W&S Headquarters)      $4,695,792 per acre

413 E. Fourth (Guilford School)             $3,119,810 per acre

500 E. Fourth (Literary Club)                $2,874,507 per acre

506#1 (Residence Inn at the Phelps)   $1,757,147 per acre

506 #2 (Residence Inn at the Phelps) $2,081,144 per acre

506 #3 (Residence Inn at the Phelps) $1,479,027 per acre

516 E. Fourth (550 Apartments)         $1,656,512 per acre

The numbers speak for themselves, don’t they?

3 thoughts on “wtf? Hamilton County Auditor Land Patterns (another one for you, Cindi Andrews)

  1. Cintiballer

    One would expect the values at 1 E 4th to be greater than those at 500 E 4th, given that 1 E 4th is essentially the center of the CBD. Maybe not to this extent, but there would be a variance. I am curious if you ran the numbers going the other way on 4th Street. I think you would find the same pattern as you move to the west, If those are included in the chart and the properties at the west end are well above those on the east end, then your point is further supported.

  2. Michael Verzola

    Do you have Excel for spreadsheets? If so, it would be fun to put these numbers into a spreadsheet I developed a long time ago. It will generate a statistical analysis, so when you say “something is within the norm,” you’ll be able to see it on the chart. It uses statistical analysis to show the average and then the upper and lower control limits based on the data. “Normal variability” is any data point that falls within the upper and lower control limits. Any data point that falls outside of it is called a “special cause”, which should be explained with closer inspection. There are other “rules”, too, one of which you kind of alluded to: when more than 5 data points in a row are below (or above) the average, you can say with confidence (statistical confidence, at least) that something is out of whack. The system is “out of control.”

    I like numbers, too.

    Hang in there, Kathy!



  3. throughthecatchfence

    I’m not saying that this is the case here because I am not currently familiar with the parcels in issue and really don’t have the time or inclination to research this now. Land values are always expressed in $/sq. ft. The location, footprint and relative size must be considered when establishing land value. For instance a corner parcel is usually more valuable per sq. ft. than a mid block parcel; a larger parcel is usually more valuable per sq. ft. than a smaller parcel; a regular shaped parcel is usually more valuable per sq. ft. than an irregularly shaped parcel. In addition, all of the various factors (and others e.g. terrain, slope, soil conditions etc.) must be considered in reference to one another. It is really more complex than a simple arithmetic formula.


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