Take one look at a map of the estimated values of Cedar Rapids' residential property, and you can see that the adage rings true — when it comes to patterns in the valuations of homes, it's all about location, location, location.
The Gazette analyzed the assessed property values from 2007 to 2014, with data provided by the city of Cedar Rapids Assessor's Office.
A glance at the map shows that lower-priced homes, all valued below $107,000, run from southwest to northeast through the city's core, creating almost an “X” as they cross the flow of the Cedar River.
As your view moves out from the core, you'll see a gradual increase in home values, ranging from $108,000 to $194,000.
And the city's highest-priced homes, with median values all ranging above $194,000, are grouped in clusters on the city's outskirts.
“Prices incrementally go up as you go farther away from the center of Cedar Rapids,” confirmed Claudette Roby, a Realtor with Skogman Realty.
The median neighborhood values were calculated by The Gazette from the data sets provided. They are an estimate value for the middle price of each neighborhood.
The assessor's office has designated 173 residential neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids. Each neighborhood is delineated by natural, man-made and economic boundaries and is made up of properties of similar style, age, size, condition and economics.
Vacant lots, which usually have low values, are included in the analysis, which can bring down the neighborhood's median value. Julie Carson, a residential appraiser with city assessor's office, pointed to an area in northeast Cedar Rapids — where there's a great deal of construction going on — whose median value goes up almost $100,000 when vacant lots are not taken into account.
She said that as more homes are built and come on line, those neighborhoods will increase in value.
What makes a home so pricey?
There are two main pockets of higher-priced homes on the edge of the city. Roby said one, those in Vernon Heights — near Bever Park, an area stretching from Mount Vernon Road, Forrest Drive, Grande Avenue and Linden Drive — has some of the oldest and priciest homes in the city.
“There the grand, old homes,” she said, pointing out most were built in the early 1900s. “They're stately, big homes with beautiful yards.”
Meanwhile, the median values of homes on the northeast side of town, to the north of the bend in the river, are some of the most expensive in the city. The lowest median value of a neighborhood in the area is $234,000, and several neighborhoods have median values above $400,000.
Steve Siefert, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Hedges, has sold several homes in this area of the city near Usher's Ridge Drive and Seminole Valley.
Siefert said the area is relatively new, built in the early 2000s — though developers did hold back from building in the area during the recession, he said.
“Developers were anxious to invest millions of dollars into these homes,” he said, and the area has since picked back up, with development of a new addition going on now.
“It's all about craftsmanship,” he said. “You can feel the pride of the craftsmanship in the features like tile showers, wet bars, the corridors, nice decks and quality tread work.”
However, there often are discrepancies between what people believe is the market value of a home and the assessed value of a home.
Roby said this is especially true with older homes, which she believes frequently are undervalued. It's easier to be more accurate on the assessed value on newer homes, she said, because there is more information.
“Assessors say they have these magic formulas,” Roby said. “But in my opinion, if the person is willing to adopt an older home and keep it in good condition, it's a value for the city.”
The assessed values of residential properties have remained relatively stable between 2007 and 2014, despite the recession, said Beth Weeks, chief deputy assessor for the city of Cedar Rapids.
The Gazette analysis shows that prices do fluctuate from year to year. But overall, the dips and rises don't appear to be dramatic.
“We did not see the dramatic decreases here in Cedar Rapids that was seen nationwide,” she said. “Our residential market has stayed fairly steady without large increases or decreases.”
City appraisers valued all of Cedar Rapids's homes at more than $6.2 billion in 2014. This was only a 0.75 percent increase from the 2013 values, which were assessed at $6.1 billion.
The city evaluates homes in a six-year cycle, meaning inspectors attempt to appraise all the city's houses once every six years.
With the exception of industrial- and agriculturally classed properties, the city uses mass appraisal and state standards to estimate the market value of a property for property-tax purposes. The distribution of property taxes, a major source of local government revenue, is governed by the assessor's estimates of property value.
Many factors go into the value of a home, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, how many stories a home is, and if there is a finished basement.
But there are external factors outside the homeowner's reach that go into the valuation as well, Weeks added. Factors that include declining schools, heavy traffic and lack of convenience to shopping can reflect the economic obsolescence of a neighborhood, which is described as the influences on value from outside the boundaries of the property.
Homeowners are able to petition the valuation of their property — generally homeowners prefer a lower valuation, which translates to lower property taxes, Weeks said. Unless they are trying to sell their home, in which case they prefer the value to be raised.
This year, the assessor saw 204 petitions — among the fewest in quite some time, Weeks said.
This is compared with 3,484 petitions in 2010 and 927 petitions in 2013.
“Your property tax is the most fair tax you pay,” Weeks said. “It all stays local.”
Did you know:
Julie Carson, a residential appraiser for the city of Cedar Rapids, said that two-story homes have actually gone done in value over the last five to six years because older residents in Cedar Rapids want single story, ranch-style homes.