What are property tax assessments?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 31, 2011

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“Assessments” are meant to assign a value to property for tax purposes. Assessments are an estimate of what the tax assessor thinks a given property is worth. The value placed on the property directly determines what portion of the local property tax levy will be billed to the property owner.

How are assessments used to determine property tax rates?

Once determined, the value of assessments are multiplied by the going property tax rates (called millage in many places) to determine how much the property owner will pay. A large number of states base their assessments on either full or fair market value, or some fraction thereof. The “assessment date” in most places refers to the date on which ownership of property is determined, usually three months before property tax statements are sent out. It’s important, when selling property, to make sure to keep an eye on assessment dates and see who will pay current assessments.

Are assessments conducted locally?

The responsibility for assessments generally falls to a local official, either appointed or elected. In most places, this is done through the county government. In many states, state assessment agencies have the responsibility of valuing public utilities, mineral properties, farmland, and railroads, since these types of appraisals can be highly complicated. Unit assessments also usually follow municipal boundaries delineating counties, cities, towns, or villages.

Most county tax offices now have basic data on property available online. Online listings can reveal a property owner’s name, address location, assessment value, and recent sales information.

Can assessments be updated or appealed?

The collection of assessments happens once a year, and notices are usually sent in the fall, but some states wait until late January. Depending on the state rules, new assessments of property value (called revaluations) may happen regularly, at least once every five years in some states. In fact, if the local county fails to do a revaluation, they are at risk of losing their share of the property taxes collected by the state. If the assessed value increases, most states require the local assessor’s office to send a “Notice of Increased Assessment.”

Debates often occur over whether or not market value assessments are really “fair.” Because of the complications involved, appeals of assessments are not uncommon. In many counties, the same body that sets up assessment rules also acts as a “board of review.” It is important, in challenging assessments, to act quickly after receiving the notice.

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