“How much will my property taxes be?”

“How much are my property taxes going to be?”

This is a question we constantly get from our real estate clients. It’s a reasonable question – property taxes are a factor in the operating cost of any property.

To get the answer, I attended a forum featuring the newly-elected Sarasota County Property Appraiser,Bill Furst. I came away encouraged, but not because I now have a crystal ball to tell you (and I) what our taxes will be next year. I was encouraged because Mr. Furst promised that his staff will appraise to market value, and that when they are in error, they want to remedy it.  Refreshing to hear (and the man has already been elected)!

Contrast that with the practices of the previous PA, according to people who worked for him: that they would be assigned neighborhoods to appraise and be told in advance what property value they needed to arrive at. Hmm. It was nice to hear that while nothing is perfect, the intention at least is to get valid data and then deal with it – not skew the data to avoid dealing with it.

So … how much ARE my taxes going to be?

Well, property taxes are determined in two phases. First, you appraise the value of the property. That is a process of discovering facts.  Second, the Board of County Commissioners determines the millage rate, or tax rate, that will apply to that property value. This is a practical problem (how much money will the County need to operate, and where will we get that money, i.e., how much do we need to collect?) but it is also a political process (how do I sell this millage rate to the taxpayers AND keep my job at the next election?).

For that reason, there is no way to know what property taxes will be next year. You might as well ask what the weather will be on a given day next year. You CAN know what the current taxes are. You CAN know what the factors involved will be … these days, you can actually call the Property Appraiser’s office and have a civil, open discussion about anything you need to know!

Here’s an example: You want to buy a house for $500,000. Since property values have been falling, and the last County property appraisal is now a year old*, the appraised value for tax purposes is higher – let’s say, $700,000. The current owner is paying taxes based on that assessment. You’d like to know if the appraised value will be adjusted after the sale so that your taxes will be based on the current market value (as defined by the actual sale price in your purchase), and therefore lower. Sounds reasonable to me.

It sounds reasonable to Bill Furst, too, the new property appraiser. The property value as determined by his office should catch up to reality, as those new sales begin to be used in the calculations. And if in your particular case it does not, why you can appear before the Valuation Adjustment  Board and get a fair hearing. And remember what Furst said: If we’re wrong, we want to fix it. Strange talk for a government  employee, but it’s a good sort of strange.

Happy 2009!

* Property taxes due in November of a given year are based on the appraised value as of January 1 of that same year. The PA’s office spends January – June coming up with that appraised value; TRIM (Truth In Millage) notices come out in August. The next year, it starts all over again.

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