You'd think that there might be an end to it, eventually. But property taxes just keep going up for most of us. There are reasons behind this, and ways that we can avoid getting stung. Permit me to explain.
First off, some reasons. You might be aware of our federal government lowering taxes in the past years. Well, it's doing so, in part, by cutting back on funds for many states. This has led states to look for other ways to find the money they need for schools, roads, and other services. One reliable way of generating more revenues is via a property tax increase.
Another reason may be rising property values. If your tax bite is X% of your home's value and your home's value skyrockets, so will your taxes on it. (Fortunately, it's common for taxing authorities to adjust the tax bite downward to reflect property value increases, so that your taxes don't double when your home's assessed value does. They may seek a 5% increase, but they generally know that a 25% hike is going too far.)
A recent Associated Press article reviewed property tax increases and mentioned a couple that bought a $440,000 home in California, only to be flabbergasted by a $9,200 tax bill. This makes me scratch my head a bit, since property taxes shouldn't be a secret when you buy a house. Always look into what your tax hit will be and whether you can afford it. Figure on increases over time, and make sure you can handle them, too.
The article noted, "The national average annual property tax collection was $971 per person in 2002-2003, up 18 percent from $822 five years earlier, according to the latest figures available from the Tax Foundation, a research organization in Washington. The median home price nationwide rose to $170,000 in 2003 from $128,400 in 1998, according to the National Association of Realtors."
It added: "At least 48 states have tried to give homeowners relief from rising property taxes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The methods include tax freezes, restricting property taxes to a percentage of the home's market value, and caps on how much a home's assessed value can increase. Many states are considering expanding property tax relief."
While you wait for your local government to provide some relief, take some action yourself. Perhaps the best thing to do is evaluate your home's assessment value. It's extremely common to find errors. Your home might be listed as having a two-car garage when it has none. Or a swimming pool or an extra bathroom or extra square footage. Such errors result in your paying more than you should in taxes. The AP article quoted American Homeowners Association President Richard J. Roll saying: "Only 2% of homeowners have challenged their assessment, but many more should because about 70% of those who do receive a reduction."
Get great tips on buying and selling homes in our Home Center, which also features some special mortgage rates. Learn more about buying, selling, and maintaining a home by checking out these articles:
- Lower Your Property Taxes
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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.