Home Values Sink Property Taxes


Foreclosures and stagnant home sales continue to plague homeowners across the United States. And, if that's not enough, the future looks gloomy with property values expected to decline by $1.46 trillion this year.

Here's some more bad news: Home prices in 20 metropolitan areas registered a record annual decline, according to Case-Shiller Home Price Index. But, at least there’s good news for some home owners looking to hold on to their houses in this down market: Property taxes may decline. In Orange County, more than 100,000 home owners will see their property taxes decrease as a result of falling home values. In New York, home owners are expected to get a $400 rebate this year.

"The impact is just starting to be felt," says George Klimes a realtor for the Washington, D.C metro area. "If the values have stagnated or gone down, then that may have an effect on property taxes."

Across the map, the news is mixed. While home owners in Chelan County, Washington might have to prepare for increased property taxes, some in the Los Angeles area may be granted relief. From Silicon Valley to Lee County, Fla. shrinking property value has brought into question property taxes.

In a year of high oil prices, which are pumping up gas costs now and will hit home heating bills in a few months, property taxes are one of the few hopes for many seeking some economic relief. A decline in property taxes can put hundreds or even thousands of dollars into the hands of homeowners.

Considered the least fair tax by the public, according to the Tax Foundation, a tax research organization based in Washington, D.C., levies on homes are determined by individual tax assessors for local governments. Depending on where you live, assessments may vary. For instance, in New York City, taxes are assessed once a year, while in North Carolina’s Wake County property taxes are reviewed every eight years. Each locality can have a different formula to determine the taxes on your home between reviews.

To contest the assessments, homeowners need to review their assessment and follow the guidelines that are typically included. There's no common federal address to write for this type of information, so you need to work within your local rules.

Just remember, "the burden of proof" is on the homeowner, says Larry Burks, president of Property Assessment. What exactly does that entail? A look at property values in your neighborhood are a must. But they must be comparable. In other words, comparing a 900 square feet house to a 1200 square feet house with a pool is not the answer. Look for similarities along the lines of square footage, bedrooms, lot size, etc. You’re going to want to take a look at any changes to your home or your neighborhood that affect the value of your property, too. A good place to start is a realtor. Remember: "The tax assessment is for tax purposes and it’s a mass appraisal," says Burks.

Don’t expect immediate action. Not all homeowners will see lowered rates due to foreclosures or slowing sales. Some assessors don’t consider current market conditions because they can be volatile. And "just because someone can’t pay their mortgage, doesn’t mean the property value has declined," says Mike Slattery, senior vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York.

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