Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Property assessment too high? - Sacramento Bee

Tens of thousands of Sacramento-area homeowners are headed into another annual tax cycle â€" the payment of property tax bills that help fuel government operations.

For those who believe their property assessments are too high, this is also the time of year you can try to do something about it. But the windows for applying for a reassessment in Placer, Yolo, El Dorado and Sacramento counties are about to close.

The following is a step-by-step guide on how to get the process started. All it takes is a little homework, some paperwork, patience and basic analysis.

First question: Is your home's assessed value in line with sales of comparable properties in your neighborhood? Or is it too high?

To find this out, look at the sales prices of homes with similar amenities, square footage, bedrooms, lot sizes, etc., in your neighborhood. Look for transactions as close as possible to Jan. 1, 2012, which is the date to which county assessors must tie their valuations. That means focusing mainly on sales that occurred from Oct. 1, 2011, through March 31, 2012.

Online resources are useful for this. Among them: Visit www.sacbee.com/homesales,which is searchable by size, prize, location and date of sales. Or check out www.redfin.com or www.zillow.com for listings of home sales by date in your neighborhood.

A tax refresher note: If your property's "net assessed value" is $250,000, your annual tax bill will be 1 percent of that amount, or $2,500. That's the number you'll use when making comparisons.

Here's how to get started:

El Dorado County

Residents who want to discuss their property tax assessments with the assessor's staff can call the office at (530) 621-5719.

To appeal, file forms with the county Assessment Appeals Board by Nov. 30.

For an application, call (530) 621-5654 or visit the county website's Board of Supervisors' page â€" www.co.el-dorado.ca.us/BOS â€" to download.

Cost to file is $30.

Placer County

Placer County assessor's officials mail notices of assessments each year in July. The county has an excellent site to help navigate the process.

Visit www.placer.ca.gov and choose "Assessor" from the drop-down Departments menu on the right-hand side of the page. On the Assessor's home page, go to "In the Spotlight" at the center of the page and click on "Reducing Your Assessed Value."

The graphic explains how Proposition 13 governs increased property assessments once they are lowered because of market conditions.

The deadline to ask for the free voluntary review of your assessed value is Dec. 31.

But keep in mind that the first installment of your property tax bill is delinquent after Dec. 10.

Most importantly, if you wish to appeal your assessment outright, you must submit the paperwork to the clerk of the Assessment Appeals Board no later than Sept. 17. The cost is $35.

So if you think you're going to need to file an appeal, don't wait for the review. You'll have to act within the coming weeks.

Questions? Call the county assessor's office at (530) 889-4300.

Sacramento County

Property tax bills will be mailed to homeowners in Sacramento County in October.

If you don't want to wait until October to see your 2012-13 assessment â€" the assessment used to calculate the next property tax payment â€" go to www.assessor.saccounty.net and choose parcel viewer.

Enter your street number and name and look for the "net assessed value" listed below your address and parcel number.

If you don't believe the net assessed value is a good reflection of sales of comparable homes in your neighborhood at the start of this year, you can ask the county for an informal review of your assessment. It's free.

Call (916) 875-0700 or visit www.assessor.saccounty.net and print out the Request for Assessor Review form linked on that page, fill it out and either mail or fax it to the county.

The assessor, in response, can examine a specific property closely, zeroing in on a specific street or house or area. The assessor's staff may adjust the appraisal or decline to do so.

The process for establishing residential valuations is not foolproof. The assessor uses "mass appraisal techniques" that account for home sizes and other attributes in neighborhoods.

In either case, if you're not happy with the outcome of the informal review, you should go next to the Sacramento County Assessment Appeals Board at www.sccob.saccounty.net.

Choose the Assessment Appeals Board link to see all the forms and steps you'll need. The cost to file is $30.

For this you'll want supporting information. Go back to the online resources mentioned above to provide specifics to use with your application.

The filing period for appeals closes at 5 p.m. on Nov. 30 for the current tax year. Most people wait until November to file their claims. By then, assessor's workers are swamped. So it's a good idea to get ahead of the pack.

Yolo County

Yolo County links to homeowners' current assessed values (for 2012-13) on the home page.

Visit www.yolocounty.org and on the right-hand side of the page and click on Prop. Tax/Parcel #. Be sure you have your parcel number handy. It's listed on any past or current property tax bill.

To discuss the current assessment with a member of the assessor's staff, call (530) 666-8135. For an informal review, visit the Yolo County assessor's "Forms" page at bit.ly/RW4OVW. The form you'll want is near the bottom of the page, labeled Residential/Agricultural Informal Review.

Still want to proceed to a formal appeal? Return to www.yolocounty.org and choose Assessment Appeals under the Hot Topics menu.

You must file the application no later than Nov. 30. The filing fee is $45 per appeal.

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Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073.

• Read more articles by Loretta Kalb

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