Understanding Your Assessment
When are Assessments Done?
Assessments can be done at any time of the year for many reasons. Let’s say there was a change in your property, such as improvements made or buildings torn down, that would prompt a change in your assessment.
If that assessment occurs before March 1, it will be reflected in your tax bill for that year. However, if it occurs after March 1, the assessment change will not take effect until the following taxable year.
If the equalization rate drops below 100% in a village, town or city, an area wide re-assessment can occur. All properties will then be re-assessed to reach an equalization rate of 100%. This may happen every year or every few years.
What Factors are Considered During the Assessment?
There are three main factors that an assessor takes into consideration before making an assessment. These are called approaches. Market Approach, Cost Approach or Income Approach.
When the assessor decides which approach is the best for the property, that approach is used. Generally if it is a residential property the Market Approach (Retail Market Value) is used. The assessor will take into consideration recent sales of properties in the same assessing unit similar to the property being assessed. Assessing units follow municipal boundaries - county, city, town, or village. It is a combination of those sales and other property assessments of similar size and year that can determine an assessment.
Most decisions must be made from either from the road in front of your residence or from the assessors' office through satellite photographs. Rarely do assessors come inside your residence or walk your property.
Who Determines the Assessment?
Assessments are determined by the assessor, a local government official who independently estimates the value of real property within a city, town or village's boundaries. An assessor can be appointed or elected. In most cases the assessor is appointed by your local municipality board.
What Qualifications and Training Do Assessors Have?
An assessor’s qualifications and training vary by town. Assessors must obtain basic certification by New York State within three years of taking office. Basic Certification requires successful completion of orientation, three assessment administration course components and five appraisal components, including farm appraisal for certain agricultural communities.
Did you know? Assessors in Nassau County, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers are not required to obtain a basic certification. This should concern property owners in these areas.
Each year, appointed assessors must complete an average of 12 hours of continuing education. In addition, certified assessors and county directors must complete an approved ethics course one year prior to or one year after re-appointment or re-election to office. More information on a "basic certification."
Who Oversees Assessors?
Currently, no organizations or individuals oversee or audit assessors’ actions, but several organizations were created to train and educate assessors:
- NYSAA - The New York State Assessors Association. Incorporated on February 14, 1940, has a 12-member Executive Board to oversee operations.
- IAO - In 1958 the NYSAA Executive Board established the Institute of Assessing Officers (IAO) to handle all the education for the NYSAA such as appraisal courses and seminars.
- IAAO - The International Association of Assessing Officers, formed in 1934, has 7,000+ members interested in the administration of the property tax.
- ORPTS - The Office of Real Property Tax Services is a division of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to oversee the local assessment administration and work directly with county and municipal officials. It certifies and trains local assessors in determining assessments.
- County Assessors - Their primary job is to assist the local town and village assessors in each county. See the complete job description
Assessments vs. Taxes
- Assessments are not taxes. They are determined by your municipality’s assessor.
- Your property taxes are determined by your local school boards and municipalities.
- Taxes and assessments can move in opposite directions. While your assessment may go up, your taxes could go down or vice versa.
This example illustrates how.
Are Assessments Always Fair?
Now that we have established what assessments are and how they are determined, the next question is – are they fair? The answer is not always.
What Contributes to an Unfair Assessment?
Several things can contribute to an unfair assessment:
- As we have noted, some assessors are not required to receive any training.
- The current system is so complicated even assessors make mistakes. All decisions are based on the assessors’ interpretations of instructions in the Assessors' Manual.
- Most decisions are made from either from the road in front of your residence or from the assessors' office through satellite photographs. Rarely do assessors come inside your residence or walk your property.
- History has shown that when regulations do not work, government often adds more regulations in attempt to fix the problems. This has been the case with the Real Property Tax System. An example of this is the number of different classification codes in which properties are assessed. With more codes, more opportunity exists for inequities.
The New York State Real Property Tax Services for Delaware County lists nine main land classifications. In other areas, there may be 10, which includes classifications for different types of waterfront. Each of these 10 classifications is given a numerical code. The numerical codes are listed in parentheses after each classification. The numerical codes are then broken down into categories, divisions and subdivisions. There are 258 categories, divisions and subdivisions for Delaware County. Other counties may have even more.
Another example of the complexity of the current Real Property Tax System is the many categories for residential, more than 17, including ranch, raised ranch, split level, cape cod, colonial, old style, manufactured and others. Residential buildings are then decided on the number of floors in the building. From here they are categorized even further as to year built, year remodeled, number of kitchens, the quality of the kitchen, the quality of the building, number of baths, bath quality, bedrooms, other rooms, fireplaces etc. If that weren’t enough, the buildings are then categorized as wood, brick, aluminum or vinyl siding, composition, concrete, stucco, stone or synthetic material.
The complexity continues even for land. Land is determined in several ways. A few of these are Primary, Secondary, Undeveloped, Residual, Tillable, Pasture, Woodland and Wasteland. Some are then broken down by soil ratings.
Condos are also assessed differently than residential properties, meaning that some condo owners pay a fraction of what a single homeowner would pay for property that is valued the same - all because of how the law requires assessments to be calculated.
Your Assessments Can Be Reduced if You Qualify for Exemptions
Are You Taking Advantage of Exemptions?
Most people are familiar with the STAR, Enhanced STAR, Veterans, Cold War Veterans, Disabled and Agricultural exemptions. However, there are more than 527 ways that exemptions can be obtained by people, villages or towns. Always ask your assessor if you qualify for any exemptions and review the complete list here. Exemption applications must be filed with your local assessor’s office.