N.H. Puts a Price on Panoramas
Monday, November 14, 2005
PLAINFIELD, N.H. -- The view from Brad Wilder's hillside house is a 270-degree panorama of New England high country: the rugged peak of Mount Ascutney, the reddening leaves and white-painted houses of the Connecticut River valley and -- on some lucky fall days -- migratory geese cruising by at eye level.
His vista is stunning. But you can't say it's priceless.
Wilder's view has actually been valued right down to the dollar: According to the town of Plainfield, it is worth $237,265. In 2003, town officials deemed it a bonus feature of his home, like a third bathroom or marble countertops, and ordered him to pay about $4,700 in property taxes for it.
Which left Wilder with a lot of questions.
Chief among them: How do you value a view?
That is the strange conundrum that is captivating New Hampshire at the moment, as town officials have embarked on an controversial quest to quantify -- and then tax -- the beauty of their residents' vistas.
Now, landowners with high-value views are livid about their tax bills, and they have started pressing officials to explain just how, exactly, they managed to distill the ineffable majesty of nature into dollar values.
Turns out, it is not a totally exact science.
"It's more of an 'I know it when I see it' kind of thing," said Thomas Holmes, the assessor for the town of Conway, N.H.
The problem in New Hampshire is not simply that "view factors" are being used in property appraisal -- that is by no means unique to the Granite State. In most places, experts say, if a property's view is good enough to make a buyer pay something extra for it, an assessor will try to estimate that something extra and include it in the property's assessed value.
In the Washington area, for instance, an Annapolis home with a view of the Severn River might be worth 15 percent more than a similar house with a view of a cul-de-sac.
But New Hampshire is different, because the state's views have become so sky-high valuable, and so fast. Statewide, one assessor said the maximum value added because of a view has jumped from a maximum of around $20,000 about 10 years ago to $200,000 or more now.