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Even after the Marshall Fire, property values for burned homes still went up in Boulder County

While property values went up, 61% of homeowners who appealed their property valuations in Boulder County had the value lowered.

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — Even after the Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Boulder County in 2021, property values for burned lots increased. That means even people who lost everything actually gained value on the land they own and will now have to pay more in taxes. 

The fire burned 1,084 homes and caused more than half a billion dollars in residential property damages.

Of the 140,000 properties in Boulder County, the median increase was 35%. The homes burned by the fire were not immune.

"It’s unique. These are very unique properties," Boulder County Assessor Cynthia Braddock said. "These are not like the rest of the county."

Braddock first tallied up the damages shortly after the fire. Nearly two years later, she’s tasked with calculating how much a burned lot, a half-built home, and a new house are worth.

"The Marshall Fire properties were exceptional and harder to work because the state law says when you lose your home in a natural disaster, the land stays on as residential. So, it’s not vacant land and I can’t compare it to vacant land to establish the value," Braddock said. 

That means Braddock and her team must still value the land through the same algorithm the rest of the state uses for residential property. From there they take value away if a house hasn’t started construction or is only partially built. 

But while they usually use the number of bedrooms or bathrooms to value a home, that’s all changed now.

"What we were looking at is this lot is this many square feet, it’s got this kind of view, it’s located in this neighborhood, compared to this one that might be smaller," Braddock said. "It might not have the same view or be next to a busy street."

The tactics are similar to evaluating vacant land, but burned homes are not placed in the same category. Those are residential plots without a home. That has implications when it comes to tax rates. 

"Residential land this year is at 6.765% of the market value. Vacant land is 27.4%. A much higher rate. So, your taxes are higher on vacant land," Braddock said. 

But it’s complicated and there can be mistakes. 

Of the nearly 1,100 properties destroyed in the fire, 363 owners appealed their initial property valuation. On Tuesday, 61% of them will find out their appeal was successful, and their property value was lowered. 

Braddock said her office looked at appeals and lowered the value if they missed something. 

"It is an imperfect process, and that’s why we have these future levels of appeal for property owners," she said. 

While assigning values to burned homes like right now with the Marshall Fire is certainly unusual, it’s not unheard of. In fact, the assessor in Boulder County got advice from other counties that have dealt with this before. They worked with the county assessors in Larimer and El Paso Counties who also had to value hundreds of properties lost in the Cameron Peak Fire and the Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs.

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