Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Homes with unpermitted upgrades hit with property tax bills

Homes with unpermitted upgrades hit with property tax bills

BY COURTENAY EDELHART, Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com Monday, Mar 21 2011 05:42 PM

If you have an unpermitted addition or significant improvement to your home, take heed. The county may be coming for you.

Since the real estate bubble burst, the Kern County Assessor's Office has been periodically reviewing home values, in most cases resulting in the reduction of property taxes. Pretty much anyone who bought a house at the top of the market in 2006 received a property tax decrease.
But that ongoing review has also turned up a few homeowners who were paying too little because the county was unaware of improvements to properties that increased their value.
Kern County Assessor Jim Fitch estimated about 50 such homes have been uncovered in the last couple of years, and owners of those homes are receiving revised tax bills.
Gail Oblinger, 73, is one of them. She bought her 1950s-era house in 1988. In the 1960s, a previous owner added on a bedroom and bathroom that increased its value, but the county only learned of the improvement recently. Oblinger had already paid her 2010 taxes, but was billed another $476, reflecting a difference of $40,477 in assessed value.

Oblinger immediately called the county to complain, and was grateful officials in the Assessor's office agreed to work with her to lower her extra 2010 payment. But she still thinks the extra bill isn't fair.

"What good does it do to get reduced valuation because home prices in the area have gone down if they can just turn around and charge you again for something that wasn't even your fault?" she said.

The extra room and bathroom were already there when Oblinger bought the house, she said, and she's had a legal permit for any improvements she's done.

"They're not just doing this to me. They're doing it to others, too. My neighbor is having the same issue," Oblinger said. "This is an older neighborhood, mostly retirees. We can't afford this."
Fitch said he's sympathetic, but the county simply can't allow homeowners to continue paying a rate that doesn't reflect the true value of their property.

"The fact of the matter is if they were to sell that house, they would get more for it because of the additions," he said. "We can't just ignore this."

In the past, the county valued property based on the acquisition price or new construction, but the extraordinary real estate market made additional reviews necessary, Fitch said.
As part of that review, the county is using computers to compare characteristics of structures to its own records, and note any discrepancies. Appraisal staff review all the automated work and make adjustments as needed, Fitch said.

If you don't agree with your home's assessed value, you can appeal it. A review board will take into consideration comparable sales of similar sized homes in making a determination. For more information, call the Assessor's Office at 868-3485.


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