Your Assessor may be (over)Taxing you on Bad Data

In the past two weeks, I have appraised houses where the County Assessor’s information was incorrect. The two houses were in completely different Counties but were both built in the mid 1990s.

Things were booming around here at that time and I assume most of the mis-information is a result of builders reporting the wrong information to the County while building, and Assessor Offices being too short-handed to properly follow-up.

Either way, the information is wrong. And that wrong information can lead to incorrect property valuation which then usually leads to the wrong tax amount charged to the homeowner (among other ills).

Why Bad Assessor Data can be a Bad Problem…

Here’s one property where I found a glaring error…

After measuring the property, I found:

  • ‘Above Grade’ Square Footage (livable space that’s not in a basement) of 1,649 sq ft  and
  • Basement Square Footage of 593 sq ft.
  • Add the two together for a total of 2,242 square feet.

The County Assessor had:

  • Above Grade Square Footage of 1,693 and
  • 592 Basement Square Feet
  • which totals 2,285 square feet, but…
  • The assessor showed an erroneous total of 2,685 square feet in their records.

That’s 400 square feet larger than the actual sum of the above grade square feet and the basement!

The number is just plain wrong and if you are being taxed on 400 extra square feet, your taxes are too high!

To make matters worse – it appears every house of the same model as this property in that neighborhood has the same incorrect information in these official public records.

Unfortunately, this is not unusual.

I expect that County Assessors have incorrect information on at least 10% of the homes in every County.  I have seen this crop-up in a lot in homes with vaulted ceilings and homes built during boom times.

But here’s the real kicker:

… These are the same records from which most Real Estate Agents get their data, instead of actually measuring the house, when deciding how much to sell your house for or how much to counsel you to offer on a home.

What Can You Do in Your Home?

Assessor data for your home is free and can be pulled from your County’s website (in most States).

Compare the Assessor’s data with a sketch from a recent appraisal of your home if you’ve got it. If not, when you have a few minutes, grab a measuring tape and measure the outside of your house. I round to the nearest 1/2 foot because no one builds a house with a wall that is 22 feet 2-1/2 inches. The goal is to be very close; not perfect. For homes over 1,200 square feet (not counting the basement), if you are within 100 square feet of the county assessor, consider it good.

…and if you’re worried about how the same bad information can hurt your chances of getting a loan, you should be! We’ll be posting more about that soon.

To learn more about factors that affect the value of your home, buy REOT’s Ebook “Buying The Recession-Proof House.”

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