What does a Property Assessor do?
A property assessor is a person who calculates the value of various properties. Those calculations are then used to determine how much the owner must pay in property taxes to the local government. It also serves as a loose guideline for the amount of insurance needed on the property. A property assessor’s job description is similar to that of an appraiser or an insurance adjuster. The difference is that these other positions are with private employers, and an assessor works directly for the local government.
The term “property assessment” is often used interchangeably with the term “real estate appraisal”. A real estate appraisal is an estimate of the property’s value based on real estate market fluctuations. It is meant to estimate how much the property may be sold for on the open market, which is different than the property’s actual value. In fact, it is often significantly more than a property assessment of the same site.
A government property assessment combines the estimated cost of the property, and its buildings, with the estimated value of the surrounding properties to come up with a fair property value. Even though a property assessment does take into account some aspects of the market value, it is often ten to fifteen percent lower than a real estate appraisal.
As a local government official, the assessor is either appointed or elected for his or her term. During the term, the assessor will use onsite visits, statistics, and computer-generated tools to determine each property's value. While on-site visits do happen often, the property assessor does not necessarily enter any of the buildings on the property. He will rely on detailed notes taken about the property, and its distinguishing characteristics. Still, property assessment is not an exact science, and the property owner is generally entitled to an appeal, where he can present more detailed evidence that contradicts the previous assessment.
There are some things the property assessor is not responsible for determining. The assessor does not decide what a property owner’s tax bill will be, nor does he collect those taxes. The property assessment is used to calculate the owner’s tax bill, but the property assessor has nothing to do with the calculation of taxes. The assessor also does not decide the rules by which the property is assessed, or establish property tax laws. Those regulations are usually already in place by the time the assessor takes office, as determined by the local legislature.
Every year we get a report from our county assessors office. In our state, we live in a county where the capital city is and this is the most populated county in the state.
My husband keeps saying he wants to move to a different county because our property taxes are much higher living in this county.
This year when we received our report, we actually protested it because the value of our property went down, but our taxes increased.
During this process, we received a call from the Polk county property assessor asking us several questions about our dwelling and property.
It can be quite frustrating because you don't want your house to go down in value, and you don't want to keep paying higher taxes.
There were many people in our neighborhood who did the same thing. We were able to get some changes made, but it wasn't as much as we hoped for.
@Izzy78 - At least in my county, they have a website detailing what needs to be done in an appeal and what forms you need to fill out. I live in a pretty populated area, though, so it probably isn't that way in a lot of places.
If you don't have access to online information, I think what you would probably have to do is go to your local courthouse or wherever the assessor's office is and ask about the formulas that are used to calculate property value.
When your property is actually assessed, you will be able to see the criteria that were used and how you matched up. If you see a problem there, that's when you can appeal.
I have never done it, so I don't know what the appeal actually entails. I'm not sure who makes the final ruling.
Does every county only have one property assessor, or is there a property assessor who is elected, and that person has a team of individuals who split the responsibility? It might not be too hard for one person to do it in some places, but in big cities, it would be extremely hard to regularly visit all the properties.
Is there any way to figure out what you should be expecting from your property tax bill? How do you know if you have been fairly assessed, and how do you go through the appeals process if you do think there is some kind of an issue?
@jmc88 - I have never been told about an assessor coming, so it would be hard to plan for it unless you had some type of inside source (which would probably be illegal somehow). Even then, I'm not sure exactly how things are calculated and whether you could really do anything. They don't check inside, so it would have to be outside things.
I'm sure you could potentially remove bushes and landscaping or something like that, but that would be a permanent change that would lower the value when you actually wanted to sell the house. I think a lot of it just comes down to comparing your house to surrounding houses.
@Bhutan - That is a good point. I never really thought about how all the foreclosures would affect local property taxes. I'm sure in Florida it is especially important when you start looking at some of the higher end neighborhoods where taxes could be a very significant amount.
Is there any way to know when your house is going to be assessed? It seems like if you did, you could do things that would temporarily lower its value so that you could pay fewer taxes.
A friend of mine works as property assessor and he likes the work a lot. He gets to travel, he makes good money and he does work that he can believe in.
He got the job right out of college. He had a degree in business and had had an internship at a real estate company. He got a chance and ran with it and now he has a budding career.
@Bhutan- You know you can also appeal an assessment. My father in law did that because he felt that his tax bill was extraordinarily high. His problem was that his business property was included in a municipality that had much higher taxes because it was recently incorporated and had a higher millage rate.
This was a mistake because the property lines fell into a different town and it was misclassified. He won the appeal which proves that the process does work and the tax property assessors are reasonable.
I know that the property tax assessor here in Broward and Miami Dade counties were being criticized a few years ago because the properties were being appraised on their old market value and not the new value that accounts for all of the new foreclosures.
Both counties changed the assessment criteria and people saw a huge reduction in their property taxes. I think that this is fair because if your house is worth half of what it used to be worth, then the property taxes should reflect that. Usually the foreclosures were never used to determine the property value of a property but when such a huge percentage of homes on the market were distressed short sales and foreclosures they really had to change their assessment methods because they have to be in line with the changing times.
I realize that local governments are not going to collect as much tax revenue, but they really have to do what is fair.
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