The Assessed Value Canard

J Philip Faranda May 9, 2009

Did you know my home’s assessed value is $30,000? Or that my last home was assessed at $25,100? Over in Congers I have a listing at $589,900 which is assessed at $177,800. In nearby Pleasantville I have a listing priced at $599,900 which is assessed for only $6600. I think the last year a home sold in Pleasantville for $6600 Eisenhower was president. I could be wrong; it could have been Truman.

All over Metropolitan New York, the taxing authorities have assessments on property that run the spectrum of crazy numbers, but the one thing they have in common is this: they aren’t really the estimated market value of the homes. Supposedly, there is a law that they should be, but the governments are focused on more important things, like what color to paint the lines in municipal parking lots and how to handle the fiends (you know who you are!) whose gutters and downspouts don’t conform to code.

I shouldn’t complain. Tax revenue is never wasted, right? They just spent who knows what in downtown Briarcliff on a gazebo and clock tower that says “Briarcliff Manor” because, as we all know, it is a public good to help all those disoriented people wandering downtown who don’t know where they are or what time it is. I mean, there are none, but there could be. And if there were, we can finally help. Ossining put in a new artificial turf field at the high school. How did we ever live without it?

Welcome To Briarcliff

Of course, if you think your home is valued at $700,000 or $450,000 and the assessment is $5200 or $96,350, you could always call the assessors office and they can share with you the mathematical formula they use to translate the assessed value, and more often than not, you’ll hang up the phone with a pit in your stomach once you hear the answer: You are over assessed. The fig leaf the assessor wears is a letter they send out one day a year. It’s buried in there somewhere.

In the spike of home values in the earlier part of the decade, assessed values remained frozen but the tax bills and the formulae used to translate the assessments to true market estmates rose incredibly. The assessors went on a feeding frenzy at that time, raising values in the back room, but keeping the numbers on the sign out from the same. It’s a funny thing about assessments; they have an easy time raising them in hot markets but they don’t bother to lower them in corrections. You have to ask. Politely. One day a year.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I think they know that if they published the true estimate and not the bogus assessed value of homes that the taxpayers would storm the Bastille. More people grieve their taxes now than 5 years ago, but if people truly knew how nuts it really is they’d be inundated on appeal day, and that one day a year they allow grievances would be stretched out to a month. Regardless, the towns and cities need to do the right thing and assess homes at true market estimates, and not those ridiculous factors. It would make government more transparent, it would ensure that people pay their fair share of taxes, and it would force more fiscal responsibility on those who allocate revenues to the public good.

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