More King County Property Tax Appeal Q and A

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Earlier today, The Seattle Times hosted an online Q & A session with Barbara Alsheikh, a supervisor for the King County Tax Advisor’s office. (Bus stop chatter this morning leads me to believe that “online” was a smart format to use, considering this office doesn’t seem too popular with the common folk these days. Might “county tax assessor” qualify for a spot on television’s Dirtiest Jobs program?)

All in all, 47 questions were posted, roughly all different versions of the same questions:

  • Why did my taxes go up when sales prices are in the dump?
  • Why is my valuation higher than my neighbor’s?
  • How do I appeal the valuation?

At least this tells you, that you are not alone in your concerns. Heck, I’m right there with you.

Here are some of the Q & A highlights:

Q:  recently received my 2008 property assessment and the total value went up. Considering today’s economic state how do you explain that?

A: Assessment is always based on prior years’ sales. Each year the assessor’s staff must physically inspect around 100,000 residential homes, review sales in the area, examine permits for completion of remodeling and other work, then analyze all this data, create a mathematical model, apply the model, send out the cards and wait for the appeals. It takes a long, long time. The current housing market will be a factor in assessment beginning next year and for another year after that. But it’s not time to use 2008 data just yet.

Q: We recently received an updated appraisal for 2009 taxes that appears significantly higher than anything in this area has sold for. I am in the process of submitting an appeal and would appreciate guidance and tips to ensure a successful appeal.

A: Your first step is to verify that the assessor has data that is correct and relevant. Parcel data can be found in two places — on eRealProperty or within Parcel Viewer. Both applications are found online at www.kingcounty.gov under Online Services. If using Parcel Viewer, click on the lower left near the short scroll bar for Property Data. This is a somewhat more complete description of your parcel than that available on eRealProperty. If you data is correct, you can view sales data on the assessor’s Web site using the eSalesSearch link on the lower right of his home page. Keep in mind that this year’s Official Value Notice is developed from information about sales that closed during 2005, 2006 and 2007. The sales you see in your neighborhood this summer will be considered next year and the year after. If your data is wrong or if you need more discussion about your data, call the Assessor’s Public Information Office at 206-296-7300. Successful appeals usually involve correcting data that is not know to the assessor at the time value notices were printed. Good evidence includes photographs of structual issues (cracked foundations, walls, water damage), third-party bids or estimates with costs to cure damage, photographic evidence that parts of the home are not finished living area, maps of environmental problems like wetlands or streams, and recorded documents with information about substantial easements that may affect property value. You should submit as much information as you can before your deadline but keep in mind that you can submit additional information you discover later, as long as its received by the Board at least seven business days prior to your scheduled hearing.

Q: What is the date to submit appeals for the assessed value for this year? How do you find comparable evaluations?

A:  By state law, the appeal deadline is either (a) July 1 or (b) 60 days from the date on your Official Value Notice. For the great majority of taxpayers in King County, option (b) is the rule. There are many ways to find comparable sales. You may know of similar homes in your neighborhood that sold prior to Jan. 1 (the value date). You can use the Assessor’s Office eSalesSearch database, which will identify similar sales of properties in your area. Often, real-estate agents can provide comparable sales information. You can even look at Web sites like Zillow and Redfin, but be sure you select only homes that actually sold and be prepared to do the leg work to verify your information. My favorite option is to call our office at 206-296-5202 and ask for help. Our staff will begin research for you and send you comparable sales that you can review for your appeal.

Q: How does the assessor determine the grade quality of your house if they don’t go inside? Do lots of cracked plaster walls determine a particular grade or would the walls just be in bad condition, but the actual grade can stay high?

A: Grading of a residence is generally done at the time the home is built, and the grade will typically remain throughout the lifetime of the home. Grading is based on a number of factors, including the complexity of the architecture, the materials used, total living area, any special amenities (indoor spa, for example) and finishes used for the interior such as quality of cabinetry in the kitchen and bath, flooring, etc. Grading is subjective and determined by the appraiser when the home is first added to the tax roll. Presently, grades run from low average (6) to luxury (12) with some homes graded as mansions (13) and, rarely, exceptional (20+). There are some older residences with lower grades. But these types of homes cannot be replaced using current building standards. The homeowner would need to rebuild the home to meet current building codes. Condition describes how well the home has been maintained over its lifetime. Better mainenance infers a longer life for the home (just like it does for people!). The condition factor functions as a part of the depreciation schedule for the home. If you believe the interior of your home has structural issues that would affect its market value, you can call the assessor’s office directly for a characteristics review or file an appeal within 60 days of receiving a value change notice.

Q: Is is normal for property taxes to dramatically increase after the first year for a newly built home? What has changed between the initial and the following appraisals?

A:  This is a common question from new-home buyers. Sometimes your home wasn’t yet listed on the tax roll when you bought it. You may have been told by your agent or escrow officer to expect property taxes based only on vacant land values. When the assessor picks up the building for the next tax roll, you may see the total value triple (land is usually about 25 to 35 percent of total assessed value for new construction). For any new construction or new condo-conversion purchase, a good rule of thumb is to expect to pay 1 percent a year for property taxes. Depending on where you bought your home, it could be a bit more or less. If your property tax at closing is less than 1 percent of your purchase price, you need to understand that your taxes will increase the following year. The tax increase most likely will mean a higher mortgage payment, too.

For more tax-time jollies, the complete Seattle Times Q & A can be found here, as well as my previous posts, Why Your Property Tax Value Increases While Your Market  Value Declines and How to Appeal Your King County Property Tax Valuation.

  • Jason

    Be ready for additional increases in property taxes due to budget shortfalls. Solid recovery is unfortunately,… a ways away.

  • http://seattle.redfin.com/blog/author/katrina.munsell Katrina Munsell

    Yes, I agree with you , Jason–higher or lower, your property tax valuation doesn’t determine the amount of taxes you pay, it only determines how big your slice of the tax pie is. The bigger the pie, the bigger your piece…

  • AE Neiffer

    With the County facing a huge budget shortfall in this and future years, it is unlikely that the homeowner assessments will ever see a downward adjustment. Tax value and sales value have become disassociated.

    We know that after retirement (2 yrs) we will not be able to afford to live in King County. My family has been here since 1895.

  • RMB, LFP

    The county is automatically increasing home values by 10% while the market values have gone down 13%.

    ‘The property value is as determined by the County Assessor’ If that is true for this year, was it not true for last year? If so how can the value this year be 10% more than last year and, by the way 27.5% higher than 2007 when house values were at their peak????

    There should be legislation against increasing values for tax purposes during a down market and limiting the bubble-creating valuations in other times.