County Homeowners Could Be Overpaying On Property Tax

Experts Recommend Requesting Assessment Review For Tax Savings By April 30

Bob Hickman is one of more than about 100,000 homeowners in San Diego County who could successfully get their property taxes reduced this year. That's because his Mira Mesa home is worth less on the market than the value determined by the county assessor.

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"My appraisal that I got in January of this year came in at [$520,000]," said Hickman.

The county's current assessment of the same home is $584,387.

The Hickman home's assessed value -- what the county says it's worth -- is about $60,000 more than the home's market value, which is the price Hickman could sell it for. That difference in value translates to about a $600 difference in his property tax bill.

California law is on Hickman's side. When Proposition 8 was passed in 1978, it stated that if a home's market value is less than its assessed value, then the assessed value should be reduced. (Read more)

"It seems like they could spend more time correctly assessing people's values cause there are a lot of people who aren't going to have the wherewithal to figure out how to appeal. And in that case, that's not right," said Hickman.

"You'd have to have an army of people if you're going to look at every parcel every year," said Ernie Dronenburg, County of San Diego Assessor/Recorder/Clerk.

10News wanted to know how many homeowners could be in the same situation as Hickman and possibly paying too much in taxes. In order to estimate how many homes in the county are currently assessed above market value, 10News and media partner U-T San Diego analyzed data from the assessor and zeroed in on owner-occupied homes sold or renovated since 2002 -- the early stage of the housing boom.

Of those 302,459 homes, 52 percent of them have had their assessed values reduced to market value, leaving 48 percent -- or 144,582 homes -- that could be eligible for property tax savings this year.

10News shared the findings with Dronenburg, who said, "I think it's a good glimpse ... it's just not the same way we look at things and I think ours is more precise."

Dronenburg explained that he and his staff proactively analyze homes that could be assessed above market value, and will reduce those values without any request from the homeowners. This year, he said they will take a closer look at 179,000 homes sold or renovated between 2001 and 2010. 10News asked if any of those homes could have been missed in previous years.

"We could have missed some of them," said Dronenburg. "I can't tell you how many, but statistically I think we're pretty good, but we're not perfect. But there are some of them that have changed and now are eligible that weren't eligible before."

Mark Goldman, a real estate professional and professor at The Corky McMillin Center for Real Estate at San Diego State University said certain homeowners should pay particular attention this year.

"I think people who bought homes in 2004 through about 2007 may very well be paying more than their fair share," said Goldman.

One way homeowners can protect themselves is to ask for an "assessment review." The application can be filled out online and it asks the assessor to lower a home's value to market value before property tax bills are mailed. The deadline to request the review is April 30. Homeowners will find out the results in July when the annual notices of values are mailed.

To complete the form, homeowners need to provide comparable sales information as close to Jan. 1, 2012, as possible and give an opinion of what the market value of the home was on Jan. 1, 2012.

When supplying comparable sales, staff at the assessor's office explained that short sales and foreclosures are not accurate comparisons unless they are the only comparisons.

"It's easy to get access to reliable information to indicate where the value of your house is," said Goldman.

To find the current assessed value of a home in San Diego County, click here to search the 2011 Secured Assessment Roll.

Goldman said that homeowners have several options to find comparable sales and determine market value: pay for an appraisal, ask a competent real estate agent for help, or go online.

"You can go to a website called Redfin.com, Trulia.com, or Zillow.com and they'll all offer automated estimates of the value of your home," he explained. "Is is always accurate? No, I would advise great caution."

Hickman said he will fill out an assessment review request for his home.

"It'd be nice if they'd fix it," said Hickman.

Recommended Steps For Homeowners

  • To get your home's assessed value, click here
  • Find your home's estimated market value by visiting websites such as Redfin.com , Trulia.com or Zillow.com
  • If the values are far apart, click here to apply for an assessment review
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