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.