Assessed Property Value vs. Market Value of Silicon Valley Real Estate

What's A Home Worth?Some first time home buyers in the San Jose or Silicon Valley area get confused by the “assessed property value” of houses, condos, or townhouses: they mistakenly think that this number has some bearing on the real estate market value.  It doesn’t.  The assessed value is used only for determining the amount of property tax being paid.

Residential real estate in California is reassessed upon transfer of title, or change of ownership, in most cases (there are some exemptions). From there, the assessed value can only go up 2% per year at most (thanks to the passage of Proposition 13 in the 1970s).  When property values decline, as they have recently, owners of properties with higher than market value assessments can appeal and get a temporary rollback in valuation for the purposes of having property taxes lowered.  This is very very common (and even so, the assessed value is usually still off as it’s based loosely on the January values of that year – the values are often higher than market value for these petitioned properties).  The tax assessor’s office has a lot of latitude in determining the assessed values; it is nothing at all like an appraisal, which should use strict comparisons.

Let’s look at a few hypothetical examples, taking tract housing with the same square footage, layout etc:

1 – If a couple purchased a Cambrian Park house in 1960 to 1970 and paid $20,000 for that property, but today’s value is approximately $500,000, the property tax being paid will reflect the long term ownership and won’t be based on the current market value.  That couple might be paying $600 to $800 per year in property taxes with a corresponding “assessed value” of about $52,000. (more…)