We ended our recent report concerning the 2011 assessments by noting that while you can choose to believe that the Assessor's valuation of your house is invalid, you still must your pay your property taxes based on that analysis. Of course, as has been pointed out by several readers, that is not strictly true. If you really think your property assessment is off base, you can choose to appeal. It's a course of action open to all; but it's undertaken each year by only a select, aggrieved few.
We decided to look into the appeals process for our area of town to see how things have been trending. Unfortunately, the Assessor's Office does not maintain records that show the percentage of appeals that are successful for any particular Assessment Area. What is available, however, is an aggregate total for each year of how many appeals have been filed. For the Madison Park/Madrona/Leschi Assessment Area (14), there was a big spike in appeals for the 2010 assessments (the valuations which were used to determine our property taxes this year):
The number of appeals almost quadrupled between 2009 and 2010, dropping back this year to a more manageable level (though still about 50% higher than for 2009). The Assessor was not surprised by the sudden uptick for 2010, apparently. It's what can be expected in those years when physical inspections occur in a particular Assessment Area, as happened for our part of town in 2010. These physical inspections, as we have noted, result in varying increases or decreases in assessed valuation between properties (in other words, no standard increase or decrease is applied to most properties in the area). Physical inspections and the resulting adjustments to value must, by law, occur at least every six years. And when that happens, many more property owners object to the results than is the case in a non-inspection year.
So many 2010 appeals were made from Area 14, in fact, that it's apparently the case that the King County Board of Equalization, which adjudicates these matters, is still working on finishing them up. After that's done, the Board can move on to appeals of the 2011 assessments. The deadline to file appeals of the 2011 assessments has passed; so with just 45 appeals in the docket, the 2011 workload for the Board will be much abbreviated from the previous year's level.
It's worth noting at this point that the 2010 assessments, which were issued in late summer last year, provided property owners with an assessed value as of January 1, 2010. So in 2011, property owners are paying taxes based on a home valuation which is well over a year old. In rapidly declining real estate markets, the Assessor will necessarily be behind the curve in assessing values downward. But that never-quite-up-to-date situation is equally true in rapidly increasing markets.
By the way, if you're interested in knowing how the physical-inspection process works, the Assessor's Office has a video on YouTube showing a property assessor in action:
There were a couple of other issues that came up as a result of the posting we did on the assessment process. One of these is the fact that when it comes to condos, the standard area assessment adjustment (the factor used for most properties in an Assessment Area in non-inspection years) does not apply. Condos are considered part of the Commercial Property assessment report, according to King County Chief Appraiser Dennis Pulsipher, and the adjustments are not broken out by Assessment Area. So anyone trying to reconcile the 2011 Area 14 standard area adjustment (-5.08%) to their condo-value decrease for this year is going to find it does not track.
Finally, those interested in knowing just where all those property-tax revenues are going this year might be interested this little chart, courtesy of the King County Assessor:
In early 2012 we will be reporting both on the tax rate for the year and on whether the Madison Park/Madrona/Leschi Assessment Area is paying a greater or lesser proportion of the County's total tax burden than was true in 2011.