With the local real-estate market improving, fewer Sacramento County residents are appealing their property tax assessments.
The county received almost 12,000 appeals when the market soured in 2009. It was the highest number of appeals in at least 14 years.
Last year, that figure dropped to 6,700, and based on the number of appeals received as of early this week, the total will likely be even lower this year.
The deadline to file an appeal is Nov. 30.
The county sent notices to some people saying the deadline is Nov. 30, 2013, but tried to fix the mistake by resending notices with the correct date.
The deadline for the first payment on property taxes is Dec. 10, even if an appeal is filed.
The office of the assessor sets the value of property for tax purposes. A house that is valued too high can end up costing a property owner hundreds of dollars in additional taxes each year.
In addition to the improving market, the decline in appeals is also due to the Assessor's Office, on its own initiative, lowering the values of more than 200,000 properties, said Shawn Echols, chief appraiser for the county. The office identified areas of the county where sales prices were significantly lower than assessed values for similar properties.
Such reductions are required under Proposition 8. Assessments are also governed by Proposition 13, which limits increases in value to 2 percent annually unless a house is sold.
Echols recommends that property owners ask the Assessor's Office to review an assessment before filing an appeal.
A review can save property owners a $30 filing fee and the office will go through the same process to review the assessment as it would with an appeal.
However, property owners might not get a chance to get a review before appeals are due this year.
If the owner is not satisfied with the office's review, he or she can ask for a determination of the Assessment Appeals Board. Appeals can take up to two years to complete.
Walter Andrews asked for a review recently after he had done some checking on the sale of homes in his Folsom subdivision.
His home was given an assessed value of $335,000. Because his subdivision is made up of a just few housing models, it was easy to compare the value of his home to others.
He found two homes that are the same model as his and had sold around the time of his assessment for $265,000 and $260,000.
Andrews presented the sales information to the Assessor's Office, which found a third comparable sale, and agreed to lower his assessment to $265,000, chief appraiser Echols said.
All reviews and appeals are based on comparable properties, he said. Property owners need to find sales of similar sized properties made around the time of the assessment.
Andrews, a retired Aerojet program director, praised the work of the Assessor's Office, calling officials there helpful, professional and efficient.
However, he said he still wonders about the methods of assessment. He said he has found great variation in values among the 35 homes in his subdivision just like his.
The values range from $221,000 to $341,000, he said.
Echols said his office is extremely thorough and proactive when it comes to accurate assessments. He said the most common reason for an inaccurate assessment is the office doesn't have the right information about a property – such as a house being listed as having four bedrooms instead of three.
The State Board of Equalization checks county offices periodically to make sure assessments are done correctly. The board's last review of the Sacramento County office was in August 2010 and found that "most properties and property types are assessed correctly."