Last week in the mail we received an envelope from the Pacific County assessor's office. Always mindful of probable increases, we were not prepared for an increase of close to 100 percent. Our house, purchased in late 2005 for $110,000, had been on the market for two years, and was assessed at $114,000. We evidently got the seller at a weak moment, inching out countless prospective buyers who didn't have a clue as to how or where to begin the re-hab process. We cannot begin to remember how many people in the past 14 months, upon finding out which house we bought, said they too had looked at it and could only shake their heads at the project's scope. (Some looked at us with pity in their eyes.)

Today I called the assessor's office, to ask some questions, and was put through to Lisa Olsen, the county's property appraiser. My first question was to substantiate an addition of $19,300 for "new construction." Olsen told me something called the Marshall Swift Program determined that the porch we took out a permit for, which we valued at about $4,500, was valued by this wifty difty program instead at $19,300. Mind you, that's for an unheated enclosed porch of 196 square feet with a concrete slab floor.

But, there's the issue with the condition of the walls, floor and entire back part of the house when we attached the new roof to the old house. As I pointed out to Olsen, there was a reason the house was for sale for two years ... She agreed, responding, "Yes, we had a lot of depreciation on it." Yes, and that was because of its condition. In 14 months we have done a lot to the house, but we have not yet reversed 125 years of deferred maintenance. The replacement of siding held on by paint with new No. 1 red cedar shingles and of windows that were falling out of their sills with rebuilt salvaged windows and the building of a cedar picket fence should not automatically trigger a 100 percent valuation increase, I say. Especially since the house does not currently have hot water, a kitchen, or a tub (or shower).

In spite of all this, the county assumed this house magically fit the criteria of other hot real estate properties, based on "current real estate values" and has valued us accordingly.

Interestingly, much of the damage we seek to correct in this old house is due to previous "weatherization" projects. According to an energy inspection done in late summer, the house was formerly weatherized in 1994, the date on the vinyl windows, which, to a one, are now out of plumb, due to issues around improper installation. Whoever installed these replaced only the sash, and did not address any damage or issues with the jambs or the framing, which ought to have been suspected in a house of this vintage. Blow-in insulation was applied without regard for wiring and lighting clearances. The painted shingle siding was wet on the inside of the felt paper, from excess condensation. The studs and framing members of the walls under these "premium" double insulated vinyl windows had turned to a substance resembling peat moss.

This isn't a sob story; no, rather it's a love story. We saw the potential in saving this old house, built in the 1880s and one of Ilwaco's oldest remaining houses. We are as qualified as anyone to re-hab this house and that is our intention, and to make it our home when completed.

But what in blue blazes is the county doing with the re-valuation on this house? When it was depreciated, wasn't there a reason? Wasn't it because the house was in poor condition? Well, it still is, but it's getting better by the week. But we aren't there yet! My husband, Kevin Palo, says if the county can find a buyer for it now, in it's current shape, for $200,000 to bring 'em on!

However, by real estate terms, even when "finished" this old girl is still only two bedrooms and one bath. The back part - about 480 sq. ft. new and old - is non-heated passive solar, the kitchen has no dishwasher, compactor or disposal. There are no bells and whistles beyond a skillfully and creatively re-habbed vintage home. In time we will replace all the remaining vinyl windows with replacement new or salvage wood sash 4/4 single hung windows that replicate the original windows. And, we are building and installing storm windows with special scissor hinges for these historically accurate and suitable windows.

So now we have to ask: What might this house be worth, when done? Will it be $200,000 then, as some program intuits it is now? Or will it be $275,000 or $350,000? Is the value based on a square foot model and number of baths and bedrooms? And just what does a Marshall Swift Program compute, anyway? Aren't sales figures based on what someone will pay? Sounds like a bunch of future tense to me. (As in I might live to be 100 and we might get the next lottery win at Okie's, oh goody.)

Can this highly touted new whiz-bang program parse for us the extra cost of flood insurance based on valuations that double or triple? Or the fact that no matter what a realtor might say with a twinkle in their eye, the fact is our homeowner's insurance is going to be higher because we have a vintage house? Too bad? Does it seems like we are being unfairly penalized for taking an old, formerly gracious home and attempting to restore it, to reclaim it for another century? I would think a community would appreciate this activity; we know the neighbors appreciate our efforts.

We aren't quibbling about what it might be worth when it is done. But come on: No hot water (check our water and PUD usages.) No tub (or shower). No kitchen. We can't even rent it to cover our tax bill. It isn't done.

What are they thinking?

Two more points: 1) Wahkiakum County just elected a new assessor based on unhappy situations like this. 2) California and Oregon have both passed populist and in the long term very bad legislation based on property tax reform.

Give us a break. Put the fairy wand away and get real about valuations based on volatile real estate market prices, if you want real people to live in Pacific County. And what's this business about saying how the assessed value of utilities has gone down? What about the cost of propane and natural gas?

What about other types of fuel to run vehicles and boilers? Come on. Has the county actually lowered the tax bill to houses in Aberdeen and Raymond, which are suffering huge property devaluations? Hot real estate market? Maybe, if you are playing it like a commodity. However, inflation by any other name is still inflation. We want some pragmatism here, not logarithms.

Thank you,

Becky Hart

Ilwaco and Svensen, Ore.

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