Almanac

News - February 25, 2009

County to review 40,000 residential properties for reassessment

by Sean Howell

With real estate prices taking a tumble along with the economy as a whole, San Mateo County has started to reassess the value of many residential properties in the county.

The assessed value of a property determines the amount of tax the state can collect on it.

Generally, the county reevaluates properties only when they change hands, or at the owner's request. But in light of the recent slide in home prices, the county will reassess all homes sold since Jan. 1, 2002, in time for the 2009-10 tax roll, said Deputy Assessor Angelina Hunter.

That means county assessors will be looking at over 40,000 residential properties to determine whether their market value has dropped. The county estimates that the assessed value of 15,000 to 20,000 of those properties will fall.

The county examined just over 1,000 residences for the 2007-08 tax roll, and reassessed just 616 of them. So far, it has reviewed nearly 9,000 properties for the 2008-09 tax roll, at the request of homeowners, and reassessed about 5,200.

"When we know the market has gotten worse, we need to be a little more proactive," Ms. Hunter said.

By law, a property's assessed value cannot exceed its market value.

She said she anticipates fewer assessment reductions in The Almanac's circulation area than in much of the rest of the county — with the exception of the Belle Haven neighborhood in Menlo Park, where home prices have plummeted.

Properties in Woodside, Atherton, Portola Valley and Menlo Park "seem to hold their value more," Ms. Hunter said.

Homeowners can still request a reassessment for the 2008-09 tax roll. The county has not yet set a deadline for such requests, though Ms. Hunter said it would likely be sometime in April.

And county officials have warned homeowners to be on the lookout for a scam that's making the rounds, with companies asking for a fee to help guide homeowners through the reassessment process. Requesting a reassessment is free and straightforward, and the form only takes a couple minutes to complete, according to Assessor Warren Slocum. It's available at tinyurl.com/atuhmx.

Properties are reassessed based on recent sales data from other homes in the neighborhood, according to Ms. Hunter — each home isn't examined individually. Though the county will review nearly 40 times as many homes as it did two years ago, the assessor's office has not increased its staff. The department will just try to be more efficient, Ms. Hunter said.

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