Category Archives: wtf? Hamilton County Board of Revision

wtf? Fran Barrett beat Cincyopolis, fair and square

Yesterday morning I put on a little eyeliner with one of the most professional dresses hanging in my closet and wandered up to the Board of Revision on Court St.  Last March I’d filed a complaint on the valuation of parcel 084-0003-0142-00, the 25 unit luxury apartment building owned by Western & Southern on E. Fourth.  The Hamilton County Auditor showed a value of $2,527,080 and I asked for a revision to $6,500,000.

It didn’t take long for the three person board representing Hamilton County Auditor, Dusty Rhodes, County Commissioner, Greg Hartmann, and Hamilton County Treasurer, Robert A. Goering to turn me down flat, ruling to leave the value unchanged.

Now when I say “Fran Barrett beat Cincyopolis, fair and square” in all honesty I’m exercising a significant dollop of poetic licence.  Because Mr. Barrett didn’t fight.  He didn’t have to. After the conclusion of Western & Southern’s successful reduction on another one of their properties on Glenway Ave, I heard the Board chair ask him if he intended to stay for “whatever this next one is.”

Not a good sign.

One of the most consistently talented lawyers I’ve ever seen in action, Fran Barrett knew I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning before we even entered the room.  I thought I could sway the Board with common sense.  But he knew that this hearing was a legal proceeding with the burden of proof on the complainant.  The Board is restricted to consideration of very specific forms of evidence:  expensive professional appraisals that include comparable sales, highest and best usage, and income models.  Apples with apples kind of stuff. They had to turn me down, even though I had worked very, very hard on all my sad little charts and spreadsheets.

So it was really a very generous gesture on Mr. Barrett’s part, one of the most powerful men in Cincinnati, to stay quietly seated, looking down at the desk top without ever saying a word.  Eagle Realty even sent a small contingent of other suit-and-tie experts to sit in on the hearing.  I would have been so disappointed if they hadn’t taken me seriously enough to even put on any semblance of a show.

I did succeed in eliciting at least one animated response from Fran Barrett during the proceedings.  It was when I mentioned that the $6,500,000 I had requested was based on information from a Western & Southern employee as to the value used on the company’s internal books.  “You have to tell me who told you that,” he repeated more than once in a tone of voice that clearly had no patience for amateur sleuthing or amateur anything else.  The Board chair eventually had to step in and clarify that it wasn’t necessary for me to surrender the information as it was quite clear by that time that there was no danger of a ruling in my favor.

The good news about my twenty minutes of attention from the Board of Revision is that every single person who attended the hearing treated my concerns with respect and tried their best in the time allotted to explain the limitations of the valuation system and how these decisions are made.  Susan Silver, Chief Administrator of the Auditor’s Department, even asked Terry Munz, an experienced veteran who heads valuations, to sit in and take notes.

Unfortunately, though the information they shared was extremely helpful, nothing they said did anything to change my mind that there is a systemic undervaluation of commercial real estate in the Central Business District, including this building.  Once the value on a property is successfully lowered, unless there is an arms-length sale, there is no mechanism within the system to reconsider that valuation outside regular triennial and sexennial appraisals.  This is primarily a batch-function subcontracted to outside professionals that involves every property in Hamilton County and precludes in-depth analysis of single properties.  The reality is that it will be decades before the market conditions that attract so many out-of-state investors to our real estate market are reflected in any meaningful way in the Auditor’s valuations.  And even if I could somehow find the money to pay for professional appraisals and the services of top-notch legal representation, I wouldn’t bet against Fran Barrett, would you?  If by some miracle the Board adjusted the value upwards, he would have to take the decision to the Court of Appeals where a value would most likely be determined in a closed-door session with a magistrate.

Am I discouraged?  A little. Having identified what I consider to be a serious problem, I was hoping citizens could take a more active role in drawing attention to undervalued properties. Alas, that is not to be.

But there was at least one consolation prize.  After everything was over the team from Western & Southern  lingered in the reception area to chat with Cincyopolis, all of them faithful readers of my blog. One of them remembered a post where I had apparently called Mr. Barrett “boring” – and I sheepishly admitted that I might possibly have used such an adjective. For the first time ever, even though we’ve both attended a wide variety of hearings together, that was the one and only time I’ve actually seen Fran Barrett smile.

wtf? 9/23/2015: Today We Ask the Board of Revision to Go on Record

IMG_2356

I started the wtf? series to highlight Hamilton County property valuations that didn’t make any sense to me..  Readers found my examples interesting, but eventually people wanted a more thorough statistical analysis for purposes of comparison.  “Have you looked at properties in Price Hill?” a journalist asked.  “Can you provide a complete list of parcels so we can judge for ourselves?” someone else suggested.

But I’m not a professional anything.  I’m just an amateur working alone – and easily overwhelmed by the amount of data included in the Auditor’s records.  I have no idea how to put together a valid study to accurately reflect the trends in property valuations across the city.  While there seem to be systemic under-valuations on many of Cincinnati’s most expensive buildings, I don’t have the expertise to manipulate the Auditor’s files even though they gave me complete access to their database.

So I decided to ask Hamilton County’s recognized experts to at least go on record and explain their valuation on a single building: the building that sparked my curiosity about the logic behind their numbers.  Last winter I filed a citizen’s complaint on Western & Southern’s 25 unit luxury apartments at 516 E. Fourth St. where the BOR lowered the value from $4,489,000 to $2,800,000 in 2003. In spite of the short supply of apartments in the City Center, the most successful condo project ever completed in the CBD directly across the street (2006-2007) and the highly successful Residence Inn at the Phelps (2011) on the other side of the property, the value of 516 E. Fourth is now less than the Board of Revision assessment in 2003: $2,527,080 – and the land value has been almost cut in half.

Here’s the per square foot value of my building, Park Place at Lytle across the street at 400 Pike St. compared to the per square foot value at 516 E. Fourth:

image (24)

My hearing is this morning at 9:15 am.  I can’t wait to hear what the experts have to say.

Wish me luck.

WTF? Hamilton County Auditor (a post I never wrote about Beechcrest Lane)

It’s been a while since I did a wtf? post on the irregularities on property valuations on the Hamilton County Auditor’s site.  Don’t worry, Citizens.  I have not given up.  And I have not changed my mind. I’m trying to figure out how to do a better job of statistical analysis on a broader sampling, move the focus from anecdotal to systemic.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share one of the countless ideas I haven’t written about, but continue to track out of the corner of my eye.  6 to 9 months ago I noticed 2 of the most stunningly gorgeous historic homes in East Walnut Hills, both on the same street, both up for sale, and both valued by the Auditor at significantly less than their asking prices.

10beechcrest

This is 10 Beech Crest Lane, built in 1880 with 5 bedrooms and 5 1/2 baths on a little over 3/4 of an acre.  Here’s the description on Sibcy Cline:

Magnificent+impeccably restored/Beautiful woodwork & staircases/Elegant craftsmanship/$1M+ in recent upgrades & renovations/Heated kitchen & MBA floors/MBR + dressing area, coffee bar, spiral staircase to loft+observatory*

It was purchased for $994,000 in 2004 and is currently valued for $954,640 – even after over $1,000,000 of improvements – and is currently on the market for  $2,500,000.

9beechcrest

This is 9 Beech Crest Lane in East Walnut Hills, built in 1917. 5 bedrooms, 6 1/2 baths on over 2 acres.  It was purchased in 2007 for $2,425,000, came before the Board of Revision in 2011, and is currently valued at $1,750,000 – now on the market for $2,495,000.

Both of these homes are clearly undervalued, especially the home at 10 Beech Crest at less than a million.  Same street – there’s a comparable sale at over at $2.4 million and the value never is adjusted upwards.  Even if there were no building permits taken out for the $1M renovation, that’s a pretty shoddy appraisal.

But I never wrote about either of these properties.  Why?  They’ve been for sale for over 6 months and neither one has sold yet.  I don’t want to live in these houses, do you?  I like my 1700 sf condominium downtown where all the action is.  Our image of a successful life isn’t about giant houses any more with big garages and heating bills to match.  The market for these high-end mansions has always been limited.  It’s not going to get any easier and I wouldn’t trade my home for either one.

4 Reasons I Disagree with Dusty’s Valuation of 9300 Shawnee Run

Reason #1:  inappropriate designation of Agricultural Use according to existing state law Much of Dusty’s Facebook discussion about the valuation of John Barrett’s home on Shawnee Run centered on the state law that allows farmland to be taxed at a lower rate than residential.  This summarization comes from the Ohio State Tax page:

For property tax purposes, farmland devoted exclusively to commercial agriculture may be valued according to its current use rather than at its “highest and best” potential use. This provision of Ohio law is known as the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) program. By permitting values to be set well below true market values, the CAUV normally results in a substantially lower tax bill for working farmers. To qualify for the CAUV, land must meet one of the following requirements during the three years preceding an application for the CAUV: Ten or more acres must be devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use; or If under ten acres are devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use, the farm must produce an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500. Applications for CAUV must be filed with the county auditor.

Here’s the most recent aerial view taken from the Hamilton County Auditor’s site:

image Over half of the 18.905 acre property would have to be devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use or the farm must produce an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500.  It is the county auditor who is responsible for determination of appropriate Current Agricultural designation, not the state.

Reason #2: Inaccurate Descriptions of Property Improvements

My major concern about the valuation of this property lies in the discrepency between the description of the property on the Auditor’s site and what I can see with my own eyes and have heard from people who have visited John Barrett’s home.  There are 3 cards on this parcel.

Card 1 describes the original 15 room house built in 1939: image

According to the residential description the house includes, 7 bedrooms, 6 fireplaces, 6 baths, one half bath, no garage capacity (contrary to current photo of home) and is 2 story, 6551 square feet.

Card 2: outbuildings

image

This is the picture of card 2 that describes the outbuildings, exclusive of the poolhouse.  Written description of the card itemizes a garage frame of 1460 square feet, an open porch frame of 144 square feet, a shed frame of 240 square feet, frame stable of 924 square feet built in 1939, and a utility shed of 169 square feet built in 1965. Here is the screenshot from Google maps that seems to best portray the range of buildings included on this card:

image

Does this look like a 924 square foot frame stable to you?  What is it?

Card 3, the pool house This is the picture of the pool house from the Auditor’s site: image

The description of this building is of 1 story height, 4 total rooms, 1 bedroom, 2503 square feet, basement, garage capacity of 2 cars, 4 full bathrooms and central air. Improvements page also shows an elevator – which seems mighty strange since the description of this building is one story.  A building permit was issued on October 29, 2009 that states it was a new addition to an existing accessory poolhouse with unfinished basement, 2-car garage, and rear porch.  This is the only building permit on record for this address. This is the screen shot of the same building from Google Maps:

image

Though there is only one building permit on record for this address, the one for the pool house, the Auditor’s Value History page shows an entry for new construction – full value on 9/27/2011 (over $200,000).  The final inspection was done on the poolhouse building permit on 12/9/2009.  What kind of new construction was done on the home that the Auditor acknowledges but didn’t need a building permit? The total value of all these improvements, the original house, the updated 4 bathroom, 2 car garage poolhouse, and extensive outbuildings is $826,280.  $826,280 in – according to the Auditor’s records – very good condition.

John Barrett’s a classy guy. I know this from living in his business neighborhood where everything about the Western & Southern properties is always first class. His improvements have obviously been in this same category.

Reason #3: Land Value is lower than the rest of the neighborhood

Regardless of CAUV designation, the value of the land prior to the reduction for the agricultural designation should be pretty straight forward. 9300 Shawnee Run shows 18.905 acres values at $1,755,880 or $92,879 per acre.

The land at 9420 Shawnee Run (owned by Shawnee Run Farms LLC, established by John Barrett) shows 69.981 acres at $4,026,230 or $57,533 an acre before the timber reduction.

Neighboring properties have higher valuations:

9375 Shawnee Run sits on 7.573 acres valued at $861,790 or $113,797 an acre.

9435 Shawnee Run sits on 5.605 acres valued at $812,520 or $144,963 an acre.

Why is there such a wide variation on land value on properties on the same street in the same block?

Reason #4: Comparable properties on the market currently

There aren’t a lot of properties for sale in this part of Shawnee Run at the present time, but there is one nearby home currently listed that might be helpful in establishing some kind of benchmark. 9005 Shawnee Run with 4,652 finished square feet, 11 rooms, 5 bedrooms, 6 baths, 2 half baths, 3 fireplaces, a pool, on 5.467 acres is on the market for $3,695,000.  Not a perfect comparison by any means, this house is new construction finished just a couple years ago, but is on a lot a third the size of Mr. Barrett’s with none of the outbuildings and the house itself is significantly smaller.

This is a premier Indian Hill property befitting one of the most sucessful business leaders in Cincinnati. It is the privacy afforded by the size of the parcel that makes this property particularly unique. Estates of this type usually sell in a range of $3,000,000-$6,000,000. The Barrett property is certainly in the top tier of homes in the entire city.

The 2014 update of the appraisal the value of the property remained unchanged. Of course the value of this property was lowered by the Board of Revision in 2001 around the same time the Western & Southern commercial properties were challenged. Value at that time was $2,145,900. Value requested, $1,471,400. Value awarded: $1,475,000 (all prior to major improvements).

4 Reasons I Disagree with Dusty's Valuation of 9300 Shawnee Run

Reason #1:  inappropriate designation of Agricultural Use according to existing state law Much of Dusty’s Facebook discussion about the valuation of John Barrett’s home on Shawnee Run centered on the state law that allows farmland to be taxed at a lower rate than residential.  This summarization comes from the Ohio State Tax page:

For property tax purposes, farmland devoted exclusively to commercial agriculture may be valued according to its current use rather than at its “highest and best” potential use. This provision of Ohio law is known as the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) program. By permitting values to be set well below true market values, the CAUV normally results in a substantially lower tax bill for working farmers. To qualify for the CAUV, land must meet one of the following requirements during the three years preceding an application for the CAUV: Ten or more acres must be devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use; or If under ten acres are devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use, the farm must produce an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500. Applications for CAUV must be filed with the county auditor.

Here’s the most recent aerial view taken from the Hamilton County Auditor’s site:

image Over half of the 18.905 acre property would have to be devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use or the farm must produce an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500.  It is the county auditor who is responsible for determination of appropriate Current Agricultural designation, not the state.

Reason #2: Inaccurate Descriptions of Property Improvements

My major concern about the valuation of this property lies in the discrepency between the description of the property on the Auditor’s site and what I can see with my own eyes and have heard from people who have visited John Barrett’s home.  There are 3 cards on this parcel.

Card 1 describes the original 15 room house built in 1939: image

According to the residential description the house includes, 7 bedrooms, 6 fireplaces, 6 baths, one half bath, no garage capacity (contrary to current photo of home) and is 2 story, 6551 square feet.

Card 2: outbuildings

image

This is the picture of card 2 that describes the outbuildings, exclusive of the poolhouse.  Written description of the card itemizes a garage frame of 1460 square feet, an open porch frame of 144 square feet, a shed frame of 240 square feet, frame stable of 924 square feet built in 1939, and a utility shed of 169 square feet built in 1965. Here is the screenshot from Google maps that seems to best portray the range of buildings included on this card:

image

Does this look like a 924 square foot frame stable to you?  What is it?

Card 3, the pool house This is the picture of the pool house from the Auditor’s site: image

The description of this building is of 1 story height, 4 total rooms, 1 bedroom, 2503 square feet, basement, garage capacity of 2 cars, 4 full bathrooms and central air. Improvements page also shows an elevator – which seems mighty strange since the description of this building is one story.  A building permit was issued on October 29, 2009 that states it was a new addition to an existing accessory poolhouse with unfinished basement, 2-car garage, and rear porch.  This is the only building permit on record for this address. This is the screen shot of the same building from Google Maps:

image

Though there is only one building permit on record for this address, the one for the pool house, the Auditor’s Value History page shows an entry for new construction – full value on 9/27/2011 (over $200,000).  The final inspection was done on the poolhouse building permit on 12/9/2009.  What kind of new construction was done on the home that the Auditor acknowledges but didn’t need a building permit? The total value of all these improvements, the original house, the updated 4 bathroom, 2 car garage poolhouse, and extensive outbuildings is $826,280.  $826,280 in – according to the Auditor’s records – very good condition.

John Barrett’s a classy guy. I know this from living in his business neighborhood where everything about the Western & Southern properties is always first class. His improvements have obviously been in this same category.

Reason #3: Land Value is lower than the rest of the neighborhood

Regardless of CAUV designation, the value of the land prior to the reduction for the agricultural designation should be pretty straight forward. 9300 Shawnee Run shows 18.905 acres values at $1,755,880 or $92,879 per acre.

The land at 9420 Shawnee Run (owned by Shawnee Run Farms LLC, established by John Barrett) shows 69.981 acres at $4,026,230 or $57,533 an acre before the timber reduction.

Neighboring properties have higher valuations:

9375 Shawnee Run sits on 7.573 acres valued at $861,790 or $113,797 an acre.

9435 Shawnee Run sits on 5.605 acres valued at $812,520 or $144,963 an acre.

Why is there such a wide variation on land value on properties on the same street in the same block?

Reason #4: Comparable properties on the market currently

There aren’t a lot of properties for sale in this part of Shawnee Run at the present time, but there is one nearby home currently listed that might be helpful in establishing some kind of benchmark. 9005 Shawnee Run with 4,652 finished square feet, 11 rooms, 5 bedrooms, 6 baths, 2 half baths, 3 fireplaces, a pool, on 5.467 acres is on the market for $3,695,000.  Not a perfect comparison by any means, this house is new construction finished just a couple years ago, but is on a lot a third the size of Mr. Barrett’s with none of the outbuildings and the house itself is significantly smaller.

This is a premier Indian Hill property befitting one of the most sucessful business leaders in Cincinnati. It is the privacy afforded by the size of the parcel that makes this property particularly unique. Estates of this type usually sell in a range of $3,000,000-$6,000,000. The Barrett property is certainly in the top tier of homes in the entire city.

The 2014 update of the appraisal the value of the property remained unchanged. Of course the value of this property was lowered by the Board of Revision in 2001 around the same time the Western & Southern commercial properties were challenged. Value at that time was $2,145,900. Value requested, $1,471,400. Value awarded: $1,475,000 (all prior to major improvements).

4 Reasons I Disagree with Dusty about the Valuation on 9300 Shawnee Run

Reason #1:  inappropriate designation of Agricultural Use according to existing state law Much of Dusty’s Facebook discussion about the valuation of John Barrett’s home on Shawnee Run centered on the state law that allows farmland to be taxed at a lower rate than residential.  This summarization comes from the Ohio State Tax page:

For property tax purposes, farmland devoted exclusively to commercial agriculture may be valued according to its current use rather than at its “highest and best” potential use. This provision of Ohio law is known as the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) program. By permitting values to be set well below true market values, the CAUV normally results in a substantially lower tax bill for working farmers. To qualify for the CAUV, land must meet one of the following requirements during the three years preceding an application for the CAUV: Ten or more acres must be devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use; or If under ten acres are devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use, the farm must produce an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500. Applications for CAUV must be filed with the county auditor.

Here’s the most recent aerial view taken from the Hamilton County Auditor’s site:

image Over half of the 18.905 acre property would have to be devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use or the farm must produce an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500.  It is the county auditor who is responsible for determination of appropriate Current Agricultural designation, not the state.

Reason #2: Inaccurate Descriptions of Property Improvements

My major concern about the valuation of this property lies in the discrepency between the description of the property on the Auditor’s site and what I can see with my own eyes and have heard from people who have visited John Barrett’s home.  There are 3 cards on this parcel.

Card 1 describes the original 15 room house built in 1939: image

According to the residential description the house includes, 7 bedrooms, 6 fireplaces, 6 baths, one half bath, no garage capacity (contrary to current photo of home) and is 2 story, 6551 square feet.

Card 2: outbuildings

image

This is the picture of card 2 that describes the outbuildings, exclusive of the poolhouse.  Written description of the card itemizes a garage frame of 1460 square feet, an open porch frame of 144 square feet, a shed frame of 240 square feet, frame stable of 924 square feet built in 1939, and a utility shed of 169 square feet built in 1965. Here is the screenshot from Google maps that seems to best portray the range of buildings included on this card:

image

Does this look like a 924 square foot frame stable to you?  What is it?

Card 3, the pool house This is the picture of the pool house from the Auditor’s site: image

The description of this building is of 1 story height, 4 total rooms, 1 bedroom, 2503 square feet, basement, garage capacity of 2 cars, 4 full bathrooms and central air. Improvements page also shows an elevator – which seems mighty strange since the description of this building is one story.  A building permit was issued on October 29, 2009 that states it was a new addition to an existing accessory poolhouse with unfinished basement, 2-car garage, and rear porch.  This is the only building permit on record for this address. This is the screen shot of the same building from Google Maps:

image

Though there is only one building permit on record for this address, the one for the pool house, the Auditor’s Value History page shows an entry for new construction – full value on 9/27/2011 (over $200,000).  The final inspection was done on the poolhouse building permit on 12/9/2009.  What kind of new construction was done on the home that the Auditor acknowledges but didn’t need a building permit? The total value of all these improvements, the original house, the updated 4 bathroom, 2 car garage poolhouse, and extensive outbuildings is $826,280.  $826,280 in – according to the Auditor’s records – very good condition.

John Barrett’s a classy guy. I know this from living in his business neighborhood where everything about the Western & Southern properties is always first class. His improvements have obviously been in this same category.

Reason #3: Land Value is lower than the rest of the neighborhood

Regardless of CAUV designation, the value of the land prior to the reduction for the agricultural designation should be pretty straight forward. 9300 Shawnee Run shows 18.905 acres values at $1,755,880 or $92,879 per acre.

The land at 9420 Shawnee Run (owned by Shawnee Run Farms LLC, established by John Barrett) shows 69.981 acres at $4,026,230 or $57,533 an acre before the timber reduction.

Neighboring properties have higher valuations:

9375 Shawnee Run sits on 7.573 acres valued at $861,790 or $113,797 an acre.

9435 Shawnee Run sits on 5.605 acres valued at $812,520 or $144,963 an acre.

Why is there such a wide variation on land value on properties on the same street in the same block?

Reason #4: Comparable properties on the market currently

There aren’t a lot of properties for sale in this part of Shawnee Run at the present time, but there is one nearby home currently listed that might be helpful in establishing some kind of benchmark. 9005 Shawnee Run with 4,652 finished square feet, 11 rooms, 5 bedrooms, 6 baths, 2 half baths, 3 fireplaces, a pool, on 5.467 acres is on the market for $3,695,000.  Not a perfect comparison by any means, this house is new construction finished just a couple years ago, but is on a lot a third the size of Mr. Barrett’s with none of the outbuildings and the house itself is significantly smaller.

This is a premier Indian Hill property befitting one of the most sucessful business leaders in Cincinnati. It is the privacy afforded by the size of the parcel that makes this property particularly unique. Estates of this type usually sell in a range of $3,000,000-$6,000,000. The Barrett property is certainly in the top tier of homes in the entire city.

The 2014 update of the appraisal the value of the property remained unchanged. Of course the value of this property was lowered by the Board of Revision in 2001 around the same time the Western & Southern commercial properties were challenged. Value at that time was $2,145,900. Value requested, $1,471,400. Value awarded: $1,475,000 (all prior to major improvements).

wtf? Hamilton County Auditor (2 Grandin Riverview Hyde Park)

wtf? was originally designed as a series of posts dedicated to holding a spotlight on the mysterious and un-explainable decisions of the Hamilton County Board of Revision – but it turns out that the entire valuation process is mysterious and un-explainable.  wtf? is now about any and all things property-tax-related that make no sense whatsoever.

Last week wtf? featured John F. Barrett’s house at 9300 Shawnee Run.  For a lot of people that was their first introduction to cincyopolis and a few readers thought I was being unfair in singling out Mr. Barrett.  Even though my biggest problem with the Auditor’s number was the total and absolute exclusion of any value at all for the second (guest) mansion on the parcel clearly identifiable from the Auditor’s own aerial photos, that apparently didn’t bother them and instead they focused on his legal right to use farm and timber classifications to lower his tax obligations under state law. Since I certainly don’t want to imply that Mr. Barrett is unique in his puzzling treatment by the Auditor’s office, lets go back to a part of town where farming is not a factor.

2 grandin riverviewThe owner of this home is Robert H. Castellini.  After the property was transferred into his name on December 1, 2008, the original house was demolished and replaced by a custom built home that takes full advantage of the beautiful views after which the street is named.  According to the Auditor’s report, the lot is 2.6152 acres.

6 years after the property was purchased, the land value is listed as $758,050.  Improvements are listed as $0.  Total value for tax purposes is therefore $758,050.

Since that seemed like an awfully long time for a construction project, I drove over to the neighborhood tucked behind Summitt Country Day School just to make sure everything was OK. Sure enough, the home is finished and drop dead gorgeous with quality materials that are obviously top-of-the-line and according to their neighbors the house has been occupied for quite some time.

The only other house on the street (owned by the Margaret Lafley Trust) is valued for more than $2.3 million.  But even this house experienced a mysterious drop of more than $400,000 after Mr. Castellini bought into the neighborhood.  It’s weird.   The owner never filed a complaint with the Board of Revision to get the valuation lowered.  It just happened.  Boom.  A 17% drop for no good reason.  This is not uncommon on properties that adjoin parcels receiving treatment that is hard to explain.

I had a house built once.  And I don’t remember getting any multi-year property tax break after the certificate of occupancy was filed.

More (accurate) photos of 9300 Shawnee Run (Indian Hill)

Astute readers (as all readers of Cincyopolis are) found a more accurate representation of the property at 9300 Shawnee Run in Indian, home of John Barrett.  For some strange reason – yet another mystery – this photo does not appear on my computer when I complete a search for this property.  In the interests of fair and accurate reporting, I am including all photos I found.  Interesting though that all these match property improvements that involved building permits:  the picture of the house is really a picture of the frame on the garage doors that was replaced.  Pool house was also an upgrade.

more accurate

Before and after pool house renovation

poolpool house

People with big lots might also want to note that in 2009 the Auditor’s office started taking regular aerial photos of this property for comparison purposes.

Screenshot 2014-12-01 11.07.02

wtf? Hamilton County Auditor (9300 Shawnee Run, Indian Hill)

barrett

wtf? was originally designed as a series of posts dedicated to holding a spotlight on the mysterious and un-explainable decisions of the Hamilton County Board of Revision – but it turns out that the entire valuation process is mysterious and un-explainable.  wtf? is now about any and all things property-tax-related that make no sense whatsoever.

According to the Hamilton County Auditor’s records, this is the official image of John F. Barrett’s house in Indian Hill.  That’s right.  John F. Barrett, CEO and head honcho of one of the founding families of Western & Southern, a company with 4.8 billion in annual sales.

This picture does not match-up with the statistics in the listing that describe it as a 6,551 square foot,15-room home built in 1939 with 7 bedrooms, 6 fireplaces, 6 full baths, and one half bath sitting on a little less than 19 acres of prime land in the middle of Greater Cincinnati’s swankiest neighborhood. Nor does it match-up with the opinion of professional appraisers that value Mr. Barrett’s estate at $1,235,010. (Note: It would be worth over $2.6 million if not for the fact that it is valued on a CAUV basis:  Current Agricultural Use Value, a classification reserved for grain or general farms.)

The owner did challenge the valuation with the Board of Revision in 2001 when the appraised value was $2,145,900, asking for a reduction to $1,471,400.  However the Board took a stern stance and only brought it down to $1,475,000 –  almost a quarter of a million dollars MORE than it’s property-tax generating value to Hamilton County ever since it turned into a farming operation.

Yet the mysteries do not stop here.  Take a look at the “Value History” tab and there’s an entry dated 9/27/2011 that indicates “new construction full value” of $826,280 in improvements to the property.  This matches up with a little gossip I picked up from a classy friend of mine who moves in Indian Hill social circles.  You know how some people have guest houses?  Apparently Mr. Barrett has a guest mansion, complete with a garage that houses not just one, but two fully restored antique Rolls Royces in mint condition.

Maybe a peak at Google Maps will clarify some of these issues:

Screenshot 2014-12-01 07.36.06

If you pull this up on your own screen, you can clearly see the long driveway that connects two mansions and continues on to the pool house.  There is no other street or separate parcel in the vicinity that could account for the complete absence of the guest mansion for property tax purposes.   If crops are being grown here, Mr. Barrett was not out on his tractor when this satellite photo was taken.

Please also note the 70 acres of undeveloped property next door at 9420 Shawnee Run owned by Shawnee Farms LLC.  According to the Ohio Secretary of State business search, Shawnee Farms LLC is owned by John F. Barrett.  This property is also classified on a CAUV basis as a non-commercial timber operation, bringing the land value from over $4,000,000 to $371,000 for property tax purposes.

This is as wrong as anything I’ve ever seen in my life according to commonly accepted cultural values my parents taught me.  It isn’t a little off, a small oversight or difference of opinion, but outright deception.  Public officials we elect to act as fiduciaries for our community have to be complicit in this level of special treatment for the wealthiest among us. I don’t know what else to say – except wtf?  That our society has come to this level of confusion about what’s important in life and our responsibility to each other makes me want to cry.

Postscript from Facebook post:

  • A. Maris Bernard Hmmmm … Who actually is on the board of revisions? Friends of John?
  • Kathy Holwadel Representatives of Dusty Rhodes, Chris Monzel, and Robert Goering serve on the Board. But this goes beyond the Board of Revision. They are not responsible for classifying this property as farmland. This is an appraisal issue. That’s even scarier.
    More accurate photo of property found by a reader on the County Auditor’s site:
    more accurate

wtf? Board of Revision (2629 Ashland Ave. Walnut Hills)

  2629 Ashland

wtf? is a series of posts dedicated to holding a spotlight on the mysterious and un-explainable decisions of the Hamilton County Board of Revision

Based on a tip from an astute reader, today we venture outside the city center to Ashland Avenue in Walnut Hills.  While analysis has previously focused on expensive commercial properties, it turns out the Board has also made puzzling decisions regarding modest residential properties as well.

The 9 room, 2,163 square foot house with two full baths at 2629 Ashland was valued at $52,180 during the last reappraisal in 2011.  Held by the same owner since 1990, in 2013 it was sold to a church-owned development company for $2,000 who sold it to a renter for the same amount they paid.  On August 15, 2013 a complaint was filed with the Board of Revision, asking for a reduction in value to the sale amount, which was granted   When I asked Susan Silver, chief of administration for the Hamilton County Auditor, for a recording of the hearing, she explained there had never been one.

“This matter was an “expedited hearing” meaning the complainant received a letter from the Board of Revision, after our staff appraiser reviewed the complaint and information available to him about the property, indicating the Auditor’s Real Estate Department agreed with the complainant that the subject property’s “sale price best represents the fair market value for the parcel and will recommend this to the Board of Revision on the hearing date.”  In “expedited” cases, the complainant need not come in unless he/she wishes to do so. . . .On the particular case/parcel you have asked about, the complainant does not seem to have appeared (based on the record) and no questions or concerns were raised.  The $2000 proposed value was approved by the Board.”

Is that fair to the next door neighbors at 2627 Ashland whose house is valued for $54,780, $7,370 of which is for the land (as opposed to a $500 land value on 2629 Ashland).  Or the owners of the condos in the old public school across the street that sold for $134,000 – $197,000?.

The problem that brought attention to the valuation issue is the current less-than-stellar owner.  On an otherwise quiet street of nice families, this house has become an eyesore with a lot of unexplained comings and goings in the middle of the night that appear to be drug-related.  When the Board of Revision reduced the property tax liability to almost nothing, they made sure this house was so ridiculously affordable that the one bad apple on the street will probably stay there forever, ruining the neighborhood for the hard working families who are paying their fair share of taxes.