The Function of a CA County Assessors Office

The Role of the County Assessors Office

The Role of the County Assessors Office

The CA County Assessor’s Job

As we all know, property taxes in California are determined by the value of our property. Every county Tax Assessor has to identify and calculate the value of many different types of taxable property in all 58 counties in California, as well as deal with property tax appeal challenges, as they come into the Assessor’s office.

The Assessor has always been independently elected in California, and is supposed to be completely objective, working for the people (i.e., voters) in each Assessor’s county – to be able to avoid political or financial influence from any governing county body; to avoid coercion from any city, school or district to accelerate the number of county tax assessments in order to generate more property tax revenue.

Principle Tax Assessor Responsibilities

The Assessor is charged with making sure property owners in California are taxed at the appropriate rates; ensuring that county public services are receiving the funding they need to continue functioning. Tax Assessors have to locate real property, land, various taxable structures via maps, which reveal every known land parcel, along with an “assessment roll”, which details improvements on property as well as ownership. It’s worth noting that household furnishings, livestock for the most part, and business inventory are no longer considered “taxable property”.

Four critical duties Tax Assessors must address are:

1. Locating taxable property

2. Identifying the owners of all taxable real estate

3. Determining the assessed value of all taxable property

4. Publishing yearly assessment rolls, plus supplemental reporting

Locating Taxable Real Estate

The Assessor must locate real property, land, various taxable structures via maps, which reveal every known land parcel, along with an “assessment roll”, which details improvements on property as well as ownership. It’s worth noting that household furnishings, livestock for the most part, and business inventory are no longer considered “taxable property”.

Property Assessment:

Since 1978, California’s property tax system (under state constitution Article-13a), is typically referred to as Proposition 13; with an Amendment in 1986 adding Proposition 58 to the process which provided a parent-to-child exclusion, and allowed beneficiaries to buyout property shares inherited by co-Beneficiaries… abruptly replaced and somewhat altered in Feb of 2021 by Proposition 19; although still providing homeowners and beneficiaries with property tax relief from property tax transfer benefits avoiding property tax reassessment with the right to transfer  and keep parents property taxes when inheriting a home, and  thus inheriting parents’ property taxes with the help of a parent-child transfer, and parent-to-child exclusion from current, or “fair market value” tax property rates.

Proposition 13 evaluates real estate at the 1975 “fair market value”, including factoring in heirs inheriting parents property taxes; with yearly increases curtailed at a 2% or the inflation rate, as measured by the CA Consumer Price Index – or whichever is less.

Real property is reappraised by the Assessor for tax purposes only when there is a change in ownership; new construction on property has been completed; new construction has not been finished as of the “lien date” (Jan 1); or market value has dropped below Proposition 13 factored value on the lien date.

Reappraising Real Property in California

When any taxable property is reappraised due to change of ownership a Tax Appraiser will examine sales of similar properties. Or if the property happens to generate revenue, the Appraiser will execute “an income approach”. If the real property in question is original and unique the Appraiser could potentially use the amount of money, or budget, the property owner spent on construction – or perhaps research industry-wide studies on similar construction, and use those costs instead to base the appraisal on.

As soon as that property has been evaluated, the property owner will be contacted and notified of the new property reassessment, or evaluation, and will be given the opportunity to review and discuss with the Assessor. If the property owner happens to disagrees with the reassessment, the property owner can always apply for a property tax appeal or “revised assessment” with the local Board of Assessment Appeals.  Or enlist the help of a property tax appeal firm.

Property like boats or airplanes are assessed every year based on up-to-date Blue Book information distilled from market sales. Trade equipment is also assessed every year, using a formula based on original cost and age of the equipment.

If none of these items apply, the assessed value of a property can be increased by no more than 2% per year. Sale price of a property is considered be its’ market value unless the Assessor can prove convincingly that market value is not accurately reflected by the sale price. The Assessor is also expected to revise the sales price of a property to prove any value that can be attributable to items that are exchanged in a sale, not for cash; perhaps such as barter.

In many respects, Proposition 13 changed the rules in California – as explained by the County of Napa.org website, which tells us:

Prior to the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the Assessor reappraised all properties on a four-year cycle, with entire neighborhoods receiving increases in value based on recent sales in that area. Under Proposition 13, values are established at a base year, either as of March 1, 1975, or as of a change of ownership or new construction.

Proposition 13 requires an annual inflationary adjustment, not to exceed 2%. A property with a 1975 base-year value of $100,000 has a cumulative adjustment over the past 43 years of 211%, resulting in a current factored base year value of $211,000. Thus the function of the assessor has gone from doing mass appraisal impacting many properties to an individual appraisal of properties that have changed hands or had new construction.

Ownership records are maintained from documents obtained from the County Recorder. Assessor maps are updated as parcels are subdivided or their boundaries adjusted. Building permits are reviewed for accessible new construction and appraisers make discoveries in the field.

County Assessors Offices, Auditors, Auditor-Controllers, Clerks of the Board & Tax Collectors can found in all 58 counties across  the State of California: Here ~ on the BOE Website

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