Summer is an important time of the year for San Luis Obispo County property owners.
That’s when the county Assessor’s Office sends out its annual property tax assessments, which determine how much you will pay in property taxes.
If you disagree with the value assigned to your home or business, there are steps you can take to contest it, because you could be paying too much.
Even if you’re not, it doesn’t hurt to check.
How assessments work
The San Luis Obispo County assessor establishes values for all properties in the county based on Jan. 1 values, meaning the assessment mailed to you in summer is based on the value determined at the beginning of the year.
If for some reason your home’s value has decreased since January or you believe the value of your home is inflated, you may be able to have your assessment lowered, which will then lower your taxes.
In SLO County, values are determined using a few factors.
The assessor looks at comparable properties, including properties in the same neighborhood with the same number of bedrooms and similar square footage, quality of construction and age. Properties with coastal views are also taken into consideration. Anything the market will recognize is accounted for.
How to read your assessment
The most important number to pay attention to is the “net taxable value,” located at the bottom right of the middle box on the form. Around 1% of that value will be the amount you have to pay in property taxes for the upcoming year.
Bordonaro recommends calculating 1.02% of the value, considering the tax rate of the value can raise slightly depending on which tax rate area you are in. There are 200 tax rate areas in the county, and 1.02 percent would be the highest potential rate.
In that box, the numbers above show how the net taxable value is calculated.
The “land value” is based on the “base year value,” which is the market value of a property in the year it changed ownership. Because of California’s Proposition 13, the base year value cannot increase by more than 2% per year.
The “improvements value” is an assessment of the physical structures on the land as of Jan. 1. This also cannot increase by more than 2% a year.
If there is a large amount of deferred maintenance inside the house the Assessor’s Office did not know of, the improvements value may be higher than it should be.
Also listed are exemptions, which can reduce the net taxable value. Some common exemptions include homeowner, veteran, religious and welfare.
The taxable value in the right column may not always be the same as the base year value in the left column. If the property has been recently damaged or there has been a decline in current market value, the taxable value may be reduced by the Assessor’s Office. However, it can never be higher than the base year value.
What you can do
If you think your assessment is too high, there are two steps you can take: You can file an informal complaint, or you can file an appeal.
“The clock starts ticking when they receive their notice,” Bordonaro said. “If they don’t like the value, there is a statute of limitations for how long they have to ask us to take another look or file an appeal. They shouldn’t throw them in a drawer or put them in a to-look-at-later file.”
The first option is to request a free, informal review online on the county’s website. That must be done by Dec. 31.
If you want a more formal process, you can file an appeal, which requires a $50 filing fee. The deadline to file an appeal is Sept. 15.
Bordonaro suggests that property owners who are concerned about their assessment call his office or file an informal review.
Will your assessment be lowered?
Bordonaro said most of the time, assessments stay the same after the review process, but occasionally they are lowered. This occurs when the inside of the property has been damaged unknown to the office or there is some other information about the property that affects its market value.
Bordonaro said he does not remember a time the assessment was raised after a review process in San Luis Obispo County.
“The most important thing people need to know is they should call us ahead of time — the sooner, the better,” Bordonaro said. “It can seem daunting, but we love to help people understand and provide them with the answers they are searching for.”