Why You Need to Know All About Assessor Sites

Are you house hunting? Have you visited your local assessor site?

This post might be more dry than entertaining, but folks, it’s crazy important! If you don’t already know about assessor sites, listen up!

Back in the old days, before wide internet adoption, you had to go to your local courthouse for any public records relating to property and housing.

Not anymore! Today, obtaining sale history and tax information is easier than ever. The internet has made all public property records available with a quick search and click- all done on your local county assessor site.

On one hand, I love sleuthing around on my local assessor site. It has helped me learn my local real estate market on a much deeper level.

On the other hand, it is slightly unnerving how public certain “private” information has become. I’ve accidentally discovered all sorts of private information (for example, recent divorces, inherited property, or who has a mortgage and by what lender).

It’s made me wonder, should we be able to access so much personal information so easily? Maybe physically going into the courthouse for some information would create a barrier serving to protect safety and privacy.

Because, is a burglar going to physically go into the courthouse and ask for your property report (which commonly shows renderings of your home’s footprint, along with photos of your back yard)? Probably not…

It seems like a discussion-worthy topic so feel free to chime in with any stories or opinions in the comments below (Maybe this is a future post?).

Anyway, home sales have always been public record. I believe this is good because it provides transparency, and it also creates a starting point for valuing property.

I’ve found that county websites differ vastly county-to-county and state-by-state. Some websites let you see the whole property and sales record while others do not.

Here’s why this stuff is so important:

 The assessor site is where you will find the assessor’s property assessment value and information on property taxes.

You should be able to find your local county assessor website with a Google search but- here’s a quick tip-  any home on Zillow will have a section “Price and Tax History”. Scroll down to the bottom of this section and you will see a note “find assessor info on county website”. When you click the word “county website” it will usually link you to the home’s property record on the assessor site so you don’t need to do a full search. It’s quite handy and appreciated. See photo below.

If you’re buying a home, you should always know what your assessed value is since it is the base point for determining how much your property taxes will be. Where I live, property taxes are quite high. Other places they are very low. But we all have property taxes and over time, our tax bill adds up- sometimes to a lot.

First, let’s talk about the assessed value. The assessed value is the estimated market value that the county uses for tax purposes. It is not the same as the appraised value. (The appraised value is determined by a certified appraiser, usually for lending purposes.)

In my county, assessments are updated every few years. The tax assessor will come visit occasionally, but often they’re able to make assessments remotely. When your local assessment is completed, the county assessor will use that figure and apply your local tax rate and other variables to determine your property taxes.

Beware! If you bought a home for 400k but it was assessed at 150k and taxed at their rate on 150k, you will be in for a big surprise the following year. I can almost guarantee that the county assessor will be increasing your assessed value accordingly, and your next tax bill will be on a 400k property, not a 150k one. The increase in your tax bill could be quite shocking.

Plan ahead and make sure you can afford the increase. Don’t ever just trust that the taxes will stay the same because they don’t.

When viewing a property’s tax records, you can see the exact tax bill for the current year. If you’re lucky, you can also see the tax bill for years past too. This can give you insight into how stable the property tax bill will be moving forward. Because, people- it never stays the same! It almost always increases over time. Some places, the increase occurs every year and it can be substantial.

Some assessor sites offer a property report which shows you everything about the home, including the roof type, siding type, heating type, garage size, number of bathrooms, square footage, and occasionally, a footprint drawing of the home. You might even see photos. Other sites aren’t nearly as detailed. If your county is heavy with permits, you will also find that information on the assessor’s property report or record. Any permits that have been applied for/approved will be visible.

From your assessor site, you will also gain access to the local county GIS map (geographic information system). This map is really cool if you’re a dorky map-lover like me. It shows the entire county, organized in parcels. You can zoom in and out and see the aerial view of any property. The map will give you a clear idea of where the property lines lay and it will show you the proximity of a house to the road, trail, neighbor, etc. Looking at the GIS map is imperative if you’re buying remotely (which you probably shouldn’t do).

Some county maps allow you to hover over a parcel and see who the owner is and what the parcel’s assessed value is. Other county maps aren’t as detailed and you need to be much savvier with figuring out how to do a parcel search.

I suggest you regularly play around on your local assessor site until you know all the ins and outs and you know how to find all the information on a property. Knowing your neighbor property assessments and values is almost as important as knowing your comps. This is because location/neighborhood is the most important factor for comp analysis.

I could really go on a tangent here in regard to value, but I won’t. All that matters is that you understand the importance of getting to know everything about your neighborhood home values- what your neighbors paid and when, what the taxes are, how often people move, how big your lot is compared to theirs, how big your home is compared to theirs, if your home is comparable in build year and style, etc. If you have an oddball house for your neighborhood, that could be a red flag that you’d want to know ahead of time. Your assessor site offers you all of that insight and it’s amazing. Take advantage of it! Use it to make sure you don’t overpay. Or use it to help you find a really good deal!

Okay now, go ahead- do a search for your local county assessor website and check it out! It’s fascinating and invaluable information when buying or selling your home!

Tell me, have you checked out your own home or a potential home on the assessor site?

Do you love the accessibility of this information, or do you hate it?

Let’s discuss!

HouseRat Zero

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