Each year, the city, county and state charge taxes on every parcel of real estate located within their borders. For many homeowners property taxes are the second largest expense of owning a home (after mortgage interest). They are calculated annually by applying a certain tax rate to the assessed value of the property.
Property taxes are used to finance local schools, police and other municipal infrastructure and other services. Spokane property taxes have been on the rise, even as property values are on the decline. In this tough economy, increasing property taxes mean more people are in jeopardy of losing their homes. As many as 60 percent of properties across the country are over assessed, according to the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit group that promotes lower taxes.
How your property taxes are determined
Property taxes in Spokane are calculated by taking the assessed value of a property and multiplying it by the levy rate for the "Tax Code Area" for that property as determined by the Spokane County government. Availble exemptions may be subtracted from your total bill.
Property taxes can be controversial, and especially now as the economy is down and as local governments seek to shore up falling tax revenues. Because of the resulting budget shortfalls, counties and towns are eager to collect every possible real estate tax dollar, so those taxes are rising.
How accurate are Spokane County property assessments?
Spokane property market values have declined about 15 percent over the past two years according to Spokane Association of Realtors statistics. The National Taxpayers Union estimates that up to 60 percent of properties are overassessed. If you believe your tax bill appears high, you might be right.
To challenge your bill, you should first get a copy of your property's assessment from the Spokane County Assessor's Office municipality's property assessor's office and check to make sure all the reported information about your property is correct.
Finding out how much the other homes in your neighborhood are worth
In order to determine if your home has been properly assessed, you should know the assessment of comparable homes in your neighborhood. You should check the assessments of five comparable homes that have sold in your neighborhood. You can find the information at Web sites such as www.HomeValuesInSpokane.com.
Another way to determine your home's value is by hiring an independent appraiser. Appraisals cost between $250 to $500 which might seem expensive but they are accurate and might save quite a bit in property taxes. Those hiring an independent appraiser should verify the appraiser is a member of the National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers, the Appraisal Institute, or the American Society of Appraisers. If you have recently financed your home or received a home equity loan, you might already have a professional appraisal on hand.Tips for Challenging an Inflated Property Assessment
Lowering your tax bill
Spokane homeowners may not dispute or challenge the tax rate applicable to their property. The only way to make an impact on tax rates is at the ballot box by rejecting property tax levies. However, Spokane property owners can contest an over valued assessment and by obtaining a lower, more accurate assessed value lessen their property tax burden. Only 2 to 3 percent of homeowners attempt an appeal, but about 20 to 40 percent of appeals were successful.
Contact the Assessor's Office to review your valuation any time you have a question regarding your property value. Property owners can often settle disagreements at this level without continuing the appeal process. However, you still need to preserve your appeal rights by timely filing your petition with the Board of Equalization.
Homeowners who believe their property has been assessed too high should make a formal appeal to the Spokane County Board of Equalization. The mission of Spokane County Board of Equalization to assure that all real and personal property is entered on the county's assessment role at "fair value." The goal is to provide impartial and economical adjudication of tax appeals brought by property owners which is consistent with legislatively established tax policies.
The only way to appeal an assessor's valuation of your property is by timely filing a complete appeal petition with the Spokane County Board of Equalization. There is no fee charged for filing an appeal. The appeal petition form must be used. A letter or phone call is not acceptable as a substitute for the petition form.
You may obtain comparable sales information from records at the Spokane County Assessor's Office or through the Spokane County Assessor's Website, from Spokane realtors, or title companies. Select sales that are "arms length transactions" of properties which sold closest to the assessment or appraisal date of your property. The best sales comparisons are sales of your property or sales of similar properties located in your area or neighborhood.
For each comparable sale you use, be sure to include the parcel or account number, the address of the property, the date of sale, and the sale price. Also include comparable characteristics of the property. Comparable characteristics to consider are: Land, Improvements, Other supporting evidence.
- Location (Sales in the same subdivision or neighborhood are the best evidence).
- Unit of Comparison (Lot size, acreage, square feet, front feet).
- Desirable features such as view or waterfront.
- Undesirable features.
- Water systems.
- Sewer/Septic systems.
- Type of construction (wood frame, brick, other).
- Square footage of total finished living area.
- Year built.
- Number of stories.
- Improvement type and grade.
- Building condition.
- Number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Basement (finished/unfinished).
Other supporting evidence
- Fee Appraisal.
- Real Estate Market Analysis (a letter from a Real Estate Agent is not sufficient).
- A map showing the location of your property and the comparable sales properties.
- Appraisals prepared by others.
- Documentation by others concerning problems.
- Written estimates of the cost to repair problems.
- Cost data.
- Income data.
The deadline for filing an appeal on Spokane Real Estate property values is July 1st of the assessment year or within 30 days of when the "Change of Value Notice" was mailed by the Spokane Assessor's Office, whichever date is later. If you mail your petition, it must be postmarked by midnight of the deadline. You may hand deliver the petition to the Board of Equalization and have it date stamped.
If you are appealing other assessor determinations, for example, denial of an application for current use or the removal of classification from property by the assessor, you also have 30 days from the date of the mailing of notification.
Check if property tax exemptions apply to your situation
Property tax exemptions can lower the assessed value of a residence. In Spokane County property tax exemptions are available for qualifying senior and disabled persons.
For property owners who are either 62 in the tax year or Disabled, a property tax exemption is available on your residence if the combined family income (including social security) is less then $35,000. The exemption benefit is determined on qualifying income within three brackets under this threshold-but all qualified applications are exempted from excess levies.
Click on the following link to see the DOR brochure on senior/disabled exemptions:
If your income is under $40,000, you may qualify for a tax "deferral". Click on the following link to see the DOR brochure on property tax deferrals for seniors/disabled tax payers:
Spokane real estate may also receive certain exemptions from property tax for improvements to eligible historic property or for new or rehabilitated structures having 4 or more dwelling units within a defined urban center. Check the Spokane County Assessor office for details on these exemptions.