Recent property owners get tax break

Small percent of homeowners see property values rebound

Not many people look forward to hearing from the Santa Clara County Assessor's Office.

But close to 2,700 Palo Alto homeowners should receive a notice mailed Friday (June 24) letting them know that their property taxes have been reduced. That's up from 2,310 last year.

That's the good news.

The bad? Their properties are worth less than they paid for them.

In Palo Alto, those homes are assessed at about $14 million less than last year, according to a report released by the Office of the County Assessor Thursday.

But, according to David Ginsborg, deputy to the assessor, those reductions are only one component in the total assessment roll. After that roll is finalized on July 1, "then we'll know whether or not the total roll grew and to what extent it will impact Palo Alto," he said.

Three-quarters of Palo Alto properties will experience an increase in assessed value of .753 percent, meaning their market value is in excess of their purchase price, he added.

Countywide, 27 percent of single-family homes and 49 percent of condominiums were assessed below their purchase price, "primarily due to the collapse of the residential real estate market," the news release noted.

Some properties whose values were reduced last year actually were reassessed higher this year. In Palo Alto, 871 property owners had parcels with "partial restoration." What that means, Ginsborg explained, is if someone bought a house for $1 million, but the value sank to $800,000, the assessed value would then be reduced by $200,000. If the next year the house value rose to $900,000, the tax base would rise, but still not to that original $1 million.

In general, lower-priced properties declined less. But higher end properties, such as in Los Altos Hills, took big hits: Taxes on 471 properties were lowered, with $1.4 billion in reduced assessed value.

Reduced property taxes for some properties does not necessarily mean less money for local schools, since the net assessment for the entire district could still rise. Twenty-one percent more properties within the Palo Alto Unified School District had assessed value reductions this year, the report said.

The county assessor automatically lowered the assessments when they fell below the purchase price; the assessor will also raise them back up as the market changes, according to the news release. In some cases, when those property values are raised, the new assessment will be more than the 2 percent allowed under Proposition 13.

Property owners who disagree with the new assessment -- and believe they are entitled to a reduced assessment -- can request an informal review via the assessor's website; requests will be reviewed between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15. Formal Application for Changed Assessment appeals must be submitted between July 2 and Sept. 15.

— Carol Blitzer

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