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Rochester's hot housing market fuels rise in million-dollar homes

The Witmer House, a historic mansion on Mount Hope Avenue, is owned by the University of Rochester and used as the residence of the university president. The city's latest assessment upped its valuation to $2.3 million.
Max Schulte
The Witmer House, a historic mansion on Mount Hope Avenue, is owned by the University of Rochester and used as the residence of the University President. (photo by Max Schulte)

The number of Rochester homes valued at $1 million or more by city tax assessors jumped from four properties to 26 with the latest reassessment, records show.

And the city recorded its first $2 million valuation – the University of Rochester’s historic Witmer House, the residence of the UR president on Mt. Hope Avenue.

These numbers are preliminary. But the jump in seven-figure valuations reflects a years-long rise in home prices across the region.

The Greater Rochester Association of Realtors — covering Monroe, Wayne, Ontario, Yates, Livingston and Orleans counties — saw 54 houses sell for $1 million or more last year, almost five times as many as in 2018.

That is when City of Rochester assessor Mike Zazzara began seeing Rochester home prices begin to tick upward in a significant way, setting off several years of double-digit percentage increases that only started to plateau in the past year or so.

A property's assessed value is used when calculating real estate taxes. The Whitmer House is tax exempt, being university owned. Officials aren’t expecting UR to appeal the new assessment of $2.3 million — even with the $880,000 increase over its previous value, determined four years ago.

Reasons for the increase are varied, and include continually refined assessment tools and formulas, in addition to sales data showing comparable values.

“The thing is, it hasn't just been happening in the city,” deputy city assessor Enza Mineo said, remarking on the spike in home prices. “It's been happening all around this area.”

Mineo points to 2021 and 2022 as the two years that brought the biggest increases.

“I mean, it was ramping up to it, you got single-digit increases, but then those two years ... really popped everything,” she said. “It's still increasing. Not in the double digits, but we're still seeing the single-digit increases up to 5%."

Across Rochester, residential home reassessments averaged a 67% increase, with some homes more than doubling in value. The figures mark a new reality for the city's housing market.

It's not just the top end of the market that's seeing escalating prices — the trend is happening at all price points, officials said.

Michael O’Connor is president of the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors. He has heard from people complaining about their new assessed values, and recounted one recent conversation with a woman whose two-family residence was reassessed at nearly double its previous value.

That sounded reasonable, he said, given the market. But when he ran the numbers, he found the assessment was still lower than what the property could fetch on the market.

“I told her don’t complain about it, because it really should be higher,” he said.

He can point to multiple houses in Pittsford, Brighton, Webster, Perinton, and elsewhere, assessed for around $600,000 or $700,000, that sold for more than $1 million last year – some for as much as triple the assessed value.

What really matters is the tax rate. If values rise, the rate could fall and the resulting change in individual tax bills could be minimal. In years past some have even seen a decrease.

The city’s tax rate for next year won’t be known until after Mayor Malik Evans presents his budget proposal in May.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.