Addresses around a new housing development in northeast Bettendorf don't exist, according to Google Maps, but that doesn't mean the homes aren't there.
Last week, representatives from Cedar Rapids-based Vanguard Appraisals and the Scott County Assessor's Office checked out a recently constructed $500,000-plus home in Knutsen Builder's Spencer Hollow subdivision, which connects to Forest Grove Park.
Since Jan. 1, 133 new homes have been built in Bettendorf, which remains one of the strongest housing markets in Iowa, said Allen Beck, a Quad-City-based reviewer for Vanguard, which has conducted mass appraisals in almost every county in Iowa.
Although thousands of property owners refused to let vetted Vanguard inspectors into their homes, the firm hired by Scott County last year to re-evaluate all residential real estate in Bettendorf is wrapping up its work.
Vanguard appraisers last canvassed the entire city in 2001-2002, and were asked to return because several homes in Bettendorf were selling for more than their assessed values.
The goal of the project, which began on Aug. 1, 2015, is to help correct any inequities between the county's assessments and the actual market value of homes.
"If we're within 5 percent of what it's sold for, that's a bullseye for us," said Beck, who assessed that home north of Forest Grove Road at $513,000 — $16,000, or 3 percent, less than the listed price.
Increasing property values
As of this past week, 625 homes had been sold so far this year in Bettendorf.
While sale prices of comparable homes on the same block might fluctuate, depending on demand and time of year, Scott County hopes this work will set fair property values in every neighborhood across the community.
"We're never going to out-guess buyers and sellers," said Ed Vieth, Scott County's chief deputy assessor. "We'd have to increase values in 2017 even if Vanguard wasn't doing this door-to-door thing."
He said million-dollar homes are now a "dime-a-dozen" in Bettendorf.
The county expected Vanguard to inspect the interior of at least 70 percent of the residential properties in Bettendorf, and determine new assessments within 18 months.
Vanguard appraisers made it inside 7,675 homes of the 13,130 residential dwellings in Bettendorf. They needed to estimate the values of 3,146 of those homes because owners never answered the door.
Meanwhile, 2,226 property owners — about 17 percent — refused to allow appraisers into their homes.
So, not including the refusals, Vanguard gained entry into a little more than 70 percent of the 10,821 remaining homes in the city.
Bob Ehler, president of Vanguard, said representatives stopped at every house at least three times to give the property owner a chance to respond: Once in the morning, once during afternoon hours and once in “off hours,” either in the early evening on a weekday or a Saturday morning.
If someone was not home or refused to let data collectors in, appraisers looked for signs of remodeling from the outside, including the quality of windows, doors or roofs.
Radio host blamed for slow start
The refusal rate in Bettendorf was “higher than most” of Vanguard's projects, company officials said.
Ehler and Vieth of Scott County partly blamed the high number of refusals on Jim Fisher, talk radio host for WOC-1420 AM, who addressed the issue on his show.
They said Fisher urged his listeners to ignore Vanguard's door-knocking employees soon after their project kicked off.
"This guy was telling everybody not to let us in, and some people were listening to him," Ehler said. "These things can be considered controversial by some people."
In response, Fisher said, he received a couple calls last year regarding the work, and recalled telling listeners they weren't required to open the door for appraisers.
"These people shouldn't be able to come in from out of town and make up a number," Fisher said. "It's irrational."
Ehler noted the refusals eventually curtailed over time.
Beck thinks the election cycle also hurt their efforts.
"I think everybody's on edge this year," he said.
New values expected in February
Vanguard plans to finish reviewing newly constructed homes and additions by early 2017, before handing over the results of the reevaluation work to Scott County.
While some naysayers argued the county should have been able to accurately assess homes by looking at public records, the veteran assessor of 30-plus years said he doesn’t have the resources to do so.
"We can barely keep up with new construction and permits," Vieth said.
As of last week, Scott County had issued 914 permits this year for home-improvement work, such as basement finishes and bathroom or kitchen remodels.
Ehler stressed the importance of gathering current information on properties and documenting the improvements that did not get appraised in the past.
Those who did work to their homes without pulling the necessary permits will not be penalized.
At the completion of the project, Vanguard will receive close to $1.2 million for the project. Vieth said the county will pay Vanguard with money it has set aside every year since the company's last assessment of Bettendorf's residential properties more than a decade ago.
In February, the assessor’s office will mail notices containing new assessment values to every property owner in Bettendorf.
If residents have questions or complaints, Vanguard representatives will meet with them.