On June 25, the Santa Clara County Assessor mailed 474,828 assessment notification letters, providing property owners the opportunity to review their property’s taxable value before the 2010-11 property tax bill is mailed in September. “While the purpose of the proactive assessment notice has not changed in more than 30 years, nearly every other aspect is different this year. We have made the notice easier to read, customized to individual taxpayer circumstances, including a modified layout of the notice to enhance taxpayer privacy,” said Assessor Larry Stone.
The Assessor also announced the launch of an on-line, interactive tool to provide comparable market data to more than 110,000 homeowners receiving a temporary reduction or change to their 2010 assessment. In the past, detailed comparable market information was not readily available, requiring a trip to the Assessor’s Office to meet with an appraiser. Consistent with Proposition 8 passed by California voters in November 1978, when the market value of properties falls below the previously established assessed value as of January 1 (lien date), the Assessor is required to temporarily reduce the assessed value to reflect the lower market value. Similarly, when the real estate market rebounds, the Assessor is required to partially or fully “restore” the assessed value for properties that were previously reduced. The level of restoration depends upon market factors as of January 1, 2010.
The new on-line tool allows property owners to review the comparable properties used to arrive at the market value of their property. “This is a significant benefit. We are one of only a few counties in California to offer this service,” said Stone. “For years, we have been proactive in reducing assessments during periods of declining property values. This year, we reduced the assessed values of 118,000 properties - without a single request from the property owners. We are one of only twelve California counties that notify all taxpayers of their assessed value several months before the tax bill is mailed. By providing this information on-line, property owners can better understand the basis of their assessed value, and have less need to contact our office to request an informal review or file an assessment appeal,” said Stone.
Many property owners will receive a PIN number in combination with their parcel number, enabling them to access relevant market data any time of the day or night. The PIN number, included in the notification, is available only to the property owner. Sales prices of two or three similar residential properties, sold between July 2009 and March 2010 are provided. Foreclosures and other properties not transferred between a willing buyer to a willing seller on the open market are not included. Essential characteristics of the comparable properties such as the square footage of the home (garage not included), number of bedrooms and bathrooms and the distance from the inquiring taxpayer’s property are displayed.
The new tool utilizes new assessment technology implemented and managed by the Assessor’s staff. The technology’s underlying methodology relies primarily upon similar properties, such as tract homes and condominiums, where a sufficient number of recent transactions of comparable properties is available. The privacy of comparable properties is protected by excluding the specific address. Instead, the tool displays the street name and distance from the homeowner’s property. Attached is a sample display of the information available. Though the vast majority of this year’s reductions are based on the new technology, approximately 10,000 additional assessment reductions are based on other appraisal methodology.
The additional online comparable information is not available to all property owners. Property owners who have resided in their property for many years and whose assessed value is far below the market value, are not eligible for temporary reductions,” Stone said. Individual appraisals are necessary to assess commercial and other unique properties including custom homes.