John M. Lee

Real Estate – John M. Lee

Property tax issues

by John M. Lee


Normally in November, I write a column regarding real estate issues that appears on the

election ballot. But, guess what? There is no election this November.


As a practicing real estate broker and local columnist, I gauge the important issues and

questions the public have by my phone calls on various topics. This month, property

taxes is the recurring issue that has been weighing heavily on people’s minds.


Our first topic is how to reduce a property tax assessment. Because the property tax bill

just arrived in mail boxes, people are concerned about how much they must pay. If you

believe your property is being assessed too high, there is a procedure to file an

assessment appeal with the SF Assessment Appeals Board and present your case in a



The burden of proof is upon the homeowner, and he or she needs to present sales data

from the first quarter of the year that supports a lowering of the property

assessment. At the hearing, a representative from the assessor’s office will present

documents to justify what they believe is the true market value of the property and

the owner does the same. The hearing officer makes a decision and that becomes the

assessed value for the property’s tax assessment for the year.


If the property owner or the assessor’s office disagrees with the decision,

they can appeal to get a hearing before the Assessment Appeals Board.

I am happy to report that a majority of the property owners that I heard from found the

process to be fairly simple and nonthreatening.


The second topic with property taxes this year is that owners wonder what all the direct

charges and/or special assessments are on the property tax bill. There seems to be more

and more of them each year. There are charges such as SF BAY RS Parcel Tax,

DW Code Enf Fee, SF-Teacher Support fees and a bunch of others depending on

the type of property you own.


Most people are not aware of what the fees are for and especially how they became

special assessments. Some of the fees are a result of what voters approved

at the ballot box and some were approved by the SF Board of Supervisors. Others

were fees that were charged separately before and now became part of the property tax

bill for collection purposes.


What is interesting to me is that, after a while, we forget what the fees are for and why

we have to keep paying them. And it seems that the number of fees or taxes we have to

pay are increasing each year. That was the reason for most of the calls I received,

people saying, “Why am I paying for this and what is it?”


The easiest solution is to call the phone numbers listed next to the charges and ask.


The lesson learned here is that, if we vote for a tax increase or a bond measure,

somebody will have to pay for it down the road, and some are structured to

be collected along with the property tax bill. So, in the future, do not only read the

purpose of the measure being proposed, but also who will be paying for it!


John M. Lee is a broker with Pacific Union. For real estate questions, call (415) 447-6231.

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