Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How I got screwed on my Santa Clara Property Tax

Being a new homeowner, there are many things that I missed or did not understand that is now biting me in the ass. 

I recently received my property tax bill from the County of Santa Clara Tax Collector's office.  Amazingly, during this recession, the value of my property increased over $50,000.  During the same period, I was going through a refinance and had an independent appraiser review my house to the tune of a $125K decline in property value.  I would have understood if the property value remained consistent and/or declined marginally, but for the property value to raise the maximum allowable rate (2%) just seems absurd.  Now how can this be?

My morning was spent talking to both the Assessor's office as well as the Tax Collector's office.  They claimed that a preliminary property value was sent to me in June (which I never received) and I had only from June 1 through September 15 to file my claim.  This is different county-by-county, as one of my friend said their deadline in Santa Rosa is October 15.  The lady actually said, "many of those postcards are misplaced so homeowners often don't receive them." Since it's already October, it's too late.  The representative that talked to me over the phone summed up my short experience with the government, "you live and learn, there's nothing you can do now."  Great.  I asked for further help and was transferred to The County of Santa Clara Assessor's office.  The lady there couldn't wait to get me off the phone.  Apparently when it's not in their interest, they would rather drop dead than help.  But I digress. 

My only conclusion is that the Assessors that The County of Santa Clara employ do not have the incentive to give the true market value of one's home.  Instead, especially with the bankrupt California Government, they have a great incentive to resist cost cuts and try to milk as much money as they possibly can from hard working homeowners -- one of their major source of tax revenue.

Trying to argue with The County of Santa Clara is like trying to argue with the banker in the game of Monopoly -- I get the sinking feeling that I won't win.

This is what I learned to prevent the same problem in the future:
  1. In theory the county assessors should be assessing the value of your home in the beginning of the year, but very few of them actually do their job and/or even visit your property. They are inclined to try to charge you the maximum property value increase 2%.
  2. You should receive a postcard with the proposed value of your home by mail in June.  Make sure you have an updated mailing address. If you did not receive it, make sure to call your local assessor's office and do not take no for an answer.  Most answering the phone do not know their right from left hand, if they tell you to wait until October, don't.  What I learned is by that time it's already too late to file an appeal.
  3. You have from July - September 15 to officially file for a decline in value appeal (Proposition 8).  Make sure to file an official reassessment request with your documentation (ideally an independent appraiser report).  Do not bother calling the individual assessor that is assigned to your lot, cause they will not return your call.  They want you to wait too long so you can't file the claim. 
It may seem like everyone is working against you, and you are right, they are.  You have to watch out for yourself because the government will not do that for you.  

Here is some information that will come in handy for those of you who live in Santa Clara County, Ca.

Office of the Tax Collector
Tax payments, Missing tax bills, Tax rates 408.808.7900

Office of the Assessor
Value of real estate 408.299.5300
Homeowner's & Veteran's Exemption 408.299.6460
Value of business/personal property 408.299.5400

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