In Santa Clara County (San Jose, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Campbell etc.), you must go through the county tax assessor’s office to address these errors. Here’s what you need to do:
- First, find your APN or assessor’s parcel number and keep it handy, as you will need it (also paper & pen). You will find it on your property tax bill. You can also find your APN online via the Santa Clara County website.
- Phone the Real Property & Appraiser Department (408) 299-5300. Someone there will ask you for your APN so that the correct appraiser can be contacted – I was surprised to learn that there are several dozen appraisers on staff!
- From there, you’ll need to talk with your assigned appraiser and see what needs to be done. He or she may need some documentation, may ask you some questions – just call and find out.
Why are the public records on real property sometimes wrong?
Lots of things can cause the problem with incorrect public property records. Here are a few potential reasons why the records could be incomplete, inaccurate, or missing altogether.
- Original data entry error (a typo) – when everything is correct except one item, such as the number of bedrooms, it could well be that the wrong number was submitted on a form or a mistaken key hit at entry. (I think this happened to my own house, where we have 4 bedrooms but the records said 3.)
- Addition or expansion to the house – sometimes these are not done with permits & finals (and won’t show up on the county records for that reason). Other times, the work was permitted and finaled, but the paperwork lost at the county or city level. This is not so uncommon (and the cause of not a few upsets). It is imperative that home owners keep all of this paperwork themselves and not rely on any other office to keep perfectly accurate records.
- Lack of concern about some details, such as the actual lot size. While an entire tract may have 6000 square foot lots listed on the public records, it’s possible (probable) that the parcels aren’t really all the exact same size. Homes built on “pie shaped” lots or on the inside of cul-de-sacs may well have much larger areas but for whatever reason, the entire subdivision reads as if they all have the same lot. I have a couple of times sold homes with lots said to be 6000 SF when in fact they were closer to 11,000. In selling, that can help you to get more money for your home! In buying, if you purchase a property with a larger lot but is sold with numbers reflecting the smaller one, it could be money in the bank.
Some folks will tell you not to worry about correcting the public records (and in some cases, it’s not easy to do). But real estate consumers are savvy and have access to the official data on your lot and house quite easily now. If you say your home is a certain size or has particular features but the public records don’t reflect it, that puts a question in the potential buyer’s mind: what’s wrong? Why don’t these line up? Best to do what you can to get the reality of your property in line with the public records so it won’t be either a problem or a rush to fix it later.
Once in awhile, someone will tell me that they do not want to correct the county’s official public records for fear that it would trigger a reassessment of the home’s value and increase the taxes. I am not allowed to give tax (or legal) advice, but if this is worrying you, call up the tax assessor’s office and see what they have to say. You might be pleasantly surprised.
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