How to Read a Property Tax Card
Every parcel of real estate in the State of New Hampshire has an assessor’s record. Commonly, we would know that record as a ‘Property Card’, ‘Assessor’s Card’, or a ‘Tax Card’. Before the Internet changed everyone’s life, you could go to the Assessing Office in any municipality and see the actual card for any property. The paper was a heavy card stock and the card itself may be 40 years old. There would be notes on it in pencil and pen. There would be corrections and ‘scratch-outs’. There might even be a photo of the property, but that would be unlikely. Better than that, the assessing clerk would hand you the card and be available to answer any questions.
Today, most of the cards are accessed through the Internet and you may not even know where the Assessing Office is located in your municipality. So, while the assessing clerk is still working in the same office, we offer these general considerations to help you make sense of the dizzying array of details and codes on your Property Tax Card –to keep things brief, we will call these ‘PTC’s’ as we go along.
Most people review PTC’s as a first step in determining if their property is being taxed fairly. There are several problem areas where you may find errors on your PTC: property type, land size, age of improvements, location/assessing neighborhood, land use code, and the size of the improvements. It is usually best to get a copy of the PTC to review; the best place for that review is where you keep your records on your property, so that you can verify the data in an unhurried fashion.
In general, you will find that most of the information on PTC’s is accurate and timely. You will also find that the PTC’s are arranged by grouping like-kinds of information. Most cards present owner and parcel information at the top along with some kind of assessment conclusion. Then, in succeeding parts, the property will be more fully described, the land will be valued, and the depreciated replacement cost of the improvements will be calculated.
You will notice as you review your PTC that there is no information given on sales of comparable properties that would assist in valuing your property. For commercial property and income-producing residential property, you will notice that there is no leasing or expense information that would be used to value the property. The PTC records the facts about the property and information necessary to develop a value by what assessor’s call the cost approach; the various approaches to value are beyond the scope of this article, but we will treat them in another article. To put your mind at ease, though, the assessor are supposed to consider comparable sales and income/expense information in addition to the cost approach when assessing your property.
Almost all municipalities in NH provide access to PTC’s on-line. In NH, there is no single approved PTC format or type. Depending on your municipality, you will find PTC formats from Vision Appraisal, Avitar, Patriot, and Vision through a GIS source called CAIGIS. A few municipalities use a special format through a source known as ‘qpublic’. You will get very little information from an Avitar PTC unless you are a subscriber to their service; in those municipalities, it may be better to call the Assessing Office and request a copy by e-mail or fax, or a visit may give the best results.
Compare your assessment to your tax bill to see if the amounts are the same. You can usually compare previous assessments if you have the tax bill for that year. The municipality can provide copies of tax bills if you ask. Most municipalities do not levy ‘Other Assessments’ such as they might in other states. If you see that block on your PTC, it will almost always be blank.
The PTC will also list ownership and property location information such as: topography/ utilities/ street-road/ location, name and purchase price, property address and APN, exemptions (these are not listed due to privacy and must be verified with the municipality), neighborhood, and property use/land use code and characteristics. Look at each block and consider what is filled into the block. Ask yourself if the information given seems reasonable. The codes written in many of the blocks are not state-developed; for that reason, there are too many codes for too many municipalities to list here. If you have code questions that are not addressed here, call your Assessing Office and they will be glad to help.
The PTC will give details of the land portion of the real estate. The elements considered are usually: Current Use, size, factors applied, and frontage. The Current Use status of the property is especially important if the property had been in Current Use, but is no longer. Verify all these details based on your own records. The Assessing Office will likely need to supply the meaning of the ‘factors applied’ as it may vary by municipality. Bring all errors and discrepancies to the attention of the Assessing Office.
There will be a section for building permit and construction details. It may be loaded with notes and entries or it may be blank. Again, verify all these details based on your own records. The Assessing Office may need to supply meaning to some of the codes and abbreviations, but most will be readily understood if the work was done in your period of ownership. Bring all errors and discrepancies to the attention of the Assessing Office.
Building and out-building info is an often-times lengthy section depending on the improvements on the land. Make sure that the areas given are accurate based on your records. This is the place where the first valuation information will come in for the improvements. What is given is the cost to build the improvement new and depreciation will be dealt with in a later section.
Some PTC’s may include a sketch and picture. These are almost always accurate. It would be an uncommon thing to find an error here, but it does happen.
Cost and market valuation is the section in which the assessor considers the condition of the improvements. The purpose is to develop a depreciation factor for the improvements in order to assess the value of the improvements in the condition that they are in today. The depreciation factor is applied to the replacement cost to develop a depreciated replacement cost.
That value is then added to the land value to create an overall assessed value, which should give a reasonable approximation of fair market value. In considering the assessed value, a useful question to ask is whether you would pay the assessed value to buy this property. Correcting errors or discrepancies in the assessed value caused by more than errors and omissions in the PTC is beyond the scope of this article and will be addressed later.
Each municipality calculates an equalization ratio, which does not appear on the PTC. The equalization ratio is beyond the scope of this article and we will write more about it later.
In short, you can review the facts contained in your PTC if you take the time to prepare and are willing to ask questions. Fixing any errors or discrepancies that you find is a topic for a different article.
Allobar Strategies provides professional assistance in evaluating the fairness of property tax assessments. If you would like assistance with an evaluation of your property tax, please visit Allobar Strategies or call (603) 333-2211.
By: Paul J. Alfano, Esq., CEO to Allobar Strategies.