Juneau Tax Assessments are NOT Appraisals!

One of my clients recently wrote to me, telling me that someone who was interested in his home left him a voice mail stating that the lenders, buyers and sellers in our area were “in a twit” over our new tax assessments, which just came out.  The person who left the message for him is a friend interested in his house, but wanting to make an offer considerably under asking price.  Below is an email I sent to him:

At my invitation, the CBJ assessor was a guest speaker at our monthly board luncheon yesterday.  As president of the local board, I schedule timely and relevant guest speakers to make the meetings more interesting.  I’ve spoken to several people about this and I would hardly describe anyone’s attitude as “in a twit”.

The previous assessor pretty much had the “raise it until they complain” attitude and that is part of what got us where we are.  In addition, Alaska is a non-disclosure state.  That means people are not obligated to tell the assessor’s office what they bought or sold a property for.  The only time anybody ever complains is when their taxes are too high.  There was a lively discussion about the non-disclosure part, as the last place Robin worked, when you sold a property, there was a form you had to fill out in order to record the sale, notifying the public of the purchase price.  Of course, that would never happen in Alaska.  People are too independent and privacy is fiercely guarded here.

From a lending standpoint, the tax assessment only affects property taxes.  When a buyer is pre-qualified for a purchase price, the payment amount must include the property taxes.  I would think lower taxes would be a good thing!

Somehow people in Juneau get the idea their tax assessment is an appraisal and it certainly isn’t.  The only things that affect a home’s assessed value are neighborhood, lot size, and square footage.  The structures are then depreciated for age.  While supposedly it should be near the value of  the property and in fact by statute is supposed to be within 6% of true market value as of January 1, it just doesn’t happen.  It hasn’t happened in the past, and it will take considerable manpower and a few years for the assessor’s office to completely get everything that’s wrong fixed.  They are years behind on neighborhood canvassing.

The neighborhood canvassing is to evaluate the maintenance and upgrades from the exterior.  For example, you could have two homes, same size, same age, side-by-side, built by the same builder.  When you come back 20 years later, one is a run-down shack and the other has a new roof, nice landscaping, upgraded windows, an addition – things like that.  Obviously they both have a different value now.  Since the assessor’s office is supposed to do neighborhood canvassing every five years, they would usually catch these things relatively quickly.  They did area 1 this year (Thane, Downtown, West Juneau) and it had been 12 years since a complete canvassing had been done.  Some went up, some went down.  Files at the permit center were checked,  and those additions were caught and added to the assessments.  The permit center and the assessor’s office do not currently have an efficient way of sharing information.  Sometimes the assessor’s office catches an addition that wasn’t permitted!

Mass appraisal is a completely different thing from fee appraisal.  Fee appraisal is specific to each property.  Mass appraisal is a completely different animal and does not define what a specific property is worth. The assessor doesn’t know what your house looks like on the inside, and it is NOT an appraisal!

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