Background on Assessments
I’m still crunching some numbers related to assessments and in the process, I’m trying to get more educated on assessments. As this seems to be a hot topic, I thought I’d highlight key aspects of assessments from the New York State Office of Real Property Services. Here they are (bold, italicized font are my highlights of the original text):
What Does an Assessor Do?
The assessor is obligated by New York State law to maintain assessments at a uniform percentage of market value each year. The assessor signs an oath to this effect when certifying the tentative assessment roll — the document containing each property assessment. The physical description (or inventory) and value estimate of every parcel is required to be kept current. In order to maintain a uniform roll, each year your assessor will need to analyze all of the properties in the municipality to determine which assessments need to be changed.
Where assessments need to be changed, in some cases, your assessor will be able to increase or decrease the assessments of a neighborhood or group of properties by applying real estate market trends to those properties. This is possible only when the assessments to be changed are at a uniform level other than the municipality’s stated level of assessment. In other cases, the assessor will need to conduct physical reinspections for reappraisals of properties. Every assessing unit should be keeping all assessments at a fair and uniform level every year.
The assessment roll shows assessments and appropriate exemptions. Every year the roll, with preliminary or tentative assessments, is made available for public inspection. After the Board of Assessment Review (BAR) has acted on assessment complaints and ordered any changes, the tentative assessment roll is made final.
What Kind of Property is Assessed?
All real property, commonly known as real estate, is assessed. Real property is defined as land and any permanent structures attached to it. Some examples of real property are houses, gas stations, office buildings, vacant land, motels, shopping centers, saleable natural resources (oil, gas, timber), farms, apartment buildings, factories, restaurants, and, in most instances, mobile homes.
How is Real Property Assessed?
Before assessing any parcel of property, the assessor estimates its market value. Market value is how much a property would sell for, in an open market, under normal conditions. To estimate market values, the assessor must be familiar with all aspects of the local real estate market.
A property’s value can be estimated in three different ways. First, property is compared to others similar to it that have sold recently, using only sales where the buyer and seller both acted without undue pressure. This method is called the market approach and is normally used to value residential, vacant, and farm properties.
The second way is to calculate the cost, using today’s labor and material prices, to replace the structure with a similar one. If the structure is not new, the assessor determines the depreciation since it was built. The resulting value is added to an estimate of the market value of the land. This method, called the cost approach, is used to value special purpose and utility properties.
The third way is to analyze how much income a property (like an apartment building, store, or factory) will produce if rented. Operating expenses, insurance, maintenance costs, financing terms, and how much money expected to be earned are considered. This method is called the income approach.
Properties in sub optimal uses generally may not be assessed at market value; they must be assessed at their current-use value.
Assessors with computers can estimate values more efficiently than by hand. Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) techniques are used to analyze sales and estimate values for many properties at once.
Once the assessor estimates the market value of a property, its assessment is calculated. New York State law provides that all property within a municipality be assessed at a uniform percent of market value. The level of assessment can be five percent, 20 percent, 50 percent, or any other fraction, up to 100 percent. Everyone pays his or her fair share of taxes as long as every property in a locality is assessed at the same percent of value.
For example, a house with a market value of $100,000 located in a town that assesses at 15 percent of value would have an assessment of $15,000. The assessment is multiplied by the tax rate for each taxing jurisdiction – city, town, village, school district, etc. – to determine the tax bills. (For further explanation of this process, see “How the Property Tax Works”.