Federal Land Management:
Land Acquisition Issues Related to Baca Ranch Appraisal
RCED-00-76, Mar 2, 2000
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Baca Ranch owner's appraisal, the Forest Service's appraisal review report, and the Forest Service's market study.
GAO noted that: (1) although the owner's appraisal of the Baca Ranch's value complied with federal appraisal standards, the appraised value is higher than supported solely by sales of comparable properties presented in the appraisal and in the Service's market study because it reflects a premium; (2) in arriving at a value, the owner's appraisal identified sales of 16 large ranch properties located in New Mexico and Colorado that it considered comparable to the Baca Ranch in one or more ways, such as location, topographical features, and usage; (3) on the basis of professional judgment, the owner's appraisers relied heavily on two higher-valued properties (with prices of $880 per acre and $1,395 per acre), which were considered most comparable in terms of location and usage, to estimate the Ranch's value of $101 million; (4) because the appraisers relied on high-valued properties to establish the Baca Ranch's value, that value reflects a premium over what it would be if it were computed on the basis of all 16 comparable sales, for example, using a weighted average of these sales results in a value that is $37 million less than the appraised value; (5) in reviewing the owner's appraisal, the Service's chief appraiser examined the data in the appraisal and in the Service's market study; (6) he told GAO that he had questions about the value in the owner's appraisal until he made a visual inspection of the property, which led him to agree that a premium value was warranted because of the property's unique size, beauty, and physical characteristics; (7) the Service's market study presents data on sales of 11 comparable properties (4 of which are also used in the owner's appraisal) that also support a range of lower values for the Baca Ranch--the high end of which was still $37 million less than the appraised value; (8) furthermore, GAO's independent certified appraiser similarly found that the appraised value was higher than supported by information in the appraisal, which showed that some of the low-valued properties had similar physical characteristics and were comparable to the Baca Ranch; (9) however, because he did not reappraise the property, he did not estimate what the Baca Ranch's value should be; and (10) on the basis of GAO's analysis of the comparable property sales data presented in the owner's appraisal and in the Service's market study, the government would be paying a premium for the Baca Ranch if the value in the owner's appraisal is used to establish its price.