At some level this blog is about real estate and the way in which it is valued. Mostly, perhaps almost exclusively, this analysis is done in an abstract manner. On Thanksgiving morning, however, the region’s most significant online news source published an article with an imbedded search engine on property valuations in the city of Springfield for 2015 and I felt obliged to peruse.
First I searched my home and my neighborhood. I was a bit surprised to see that my neighbors’ “commercial properties” were valued so much more highly than my own despite how similarly constructed and designed they are. Mine is the only “single family” home on the block, but I would have thought that my home’s value would be determined by its maximal use and not its value under its current usage. For property tax purposes my neighbors pay at double the rate I do, receive less in the way of services, and have this higher value attached to them.
All true, all boring. Then I noticed that the database was searchable by last name. I put in my last name and found that my family’s ancestral home in the Forest Park neighborhood was valued at $600 more than my home downtown. My mom’s house is less than half the size of my current home, sits on an unpaved Private Way (Danger!), uses a shallow well for water and has a septic tank. The upstairs is unheated (though there is a grate in the upstairs hall to allow heat to rise up to the second floor!) and was built as an afterthought. On the other hand the lot is double what mine is and it is surrounded by park and woodland.
While I realize that property tax values rarely correspond precisely to the price point of a given property, I’m sure these values are loosely illustrative of actual value. Which is exactly what leaves me dumbfounded. When I brought up the topic at Thanksgiving dinner my nephew said: “Of course, grandma’s house isn’t in the middle of a crime ridden neighborhood”. Keep in mind, he was in that crime ridden neighborhood at the time, and has been many times with his family, including the time his son dropped his brand new android phone on the side street where our guests park and it was recovered and returned to him by a total stranger. We’re all criminals here, we’re just not very good at seizing opportunity!
But I knew what he was saying: The mentality that the “city” part of the city is unsafe is what drives the lower valuation, and he is probably right. Still, a nearly 4,000 square foot French Second Empire Victorian sitting in a neighborhood with a Walkscore of 87, a two minute walk, just yesterday, from this:
Is worth less than an amateurishly built post war asbestos sided home in a neighborhood with a Walkscore of 13. A neighborhood that became so unlivable after a freak snowstorm one October that my mother and sister had to come and live with me in my neighborhood serviced by all underground utilities.
On the upside, those of us who for some reason still perceive great worth in living an urban life can get lots of bang for the buck in places like this. It’s a little bit like the turnip at Thanksgiving. You don’t have to fight for it, there’s no trouble going in for seconds and thirds, and everyone just sort of looks at you funny for eating it. I think they’re not sure whether to be thankful that someone’s eating it, or whether they’d ought to be a bit more wary of you because anyone who likes “that” is clearly not playing with a full deck.
(My mom is the one who loves turnip by the way, that ol’ lady is craaaaazy)