Refinancing Has No Effect Upon Property Taxes

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do your property taxes go up in California when you refinance your property

This is one of those urban legends. People are concerned that because the house is appraised by the lender, the assessor is somehow going to find out that their property is worth more and send their tax bill soaring.

However, thanks to Proposition 13 in California, the formula for property taxes has little to do with what the home is really worth. The formula is based upon the purchase price plus two percent per year, compounded. If you can document that your home is worth less than this amount, contact your county assessor's office. But if it's worth more, they cannot increase it beyond this number.

Indeed, certain family transfers can preserve this lower tax basis. Mom and dad deed it to the kids, and the kids keep paying taxes on it based upon a purchase price of perhaps $60,000 (Plus thirty-odd years of compounding at two percent, so maybe $115,000) when comparable homes may be selling for $600,000.

There are two major exceptions. First, a sale. If you sell it to someone else, then repurchase, you don't get the old tax basis back. Second, improvements. If you take out a building permit, the assessor will add the current value of your improvements to your tax bill. This can, in situations like the previous paragraph, result in a tax bill that literally doubles if you add a room. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons for the growth of the unlicensed contractor industry, because licensed ones have to make certain the permits are in order, and homeowners are trying to sneak one over on the county. This is why a very large proportion of properties in MLS have the notation that "this addition may not have been permitted." They know good and well that the addition wasn't permitted, and quite likely isn't to code, either. If it's built to code, subsequent owners can get forgiveness as innocent beneficiaries who bought the house like that, and so the purchase price included the value of that room (and occasionally, the state finds it worth its while to go after the previous owner for back taxes and possible penalties, and I believe that the incidence of this will likely increase dramatically in the next couple of years). If it's not built to code, however (an offense unlicensed contractors often commit), the subsequent owner can be looking at a large mandatory repair bill, or perhaps even demolishing the addition they paid for if the county inspector deems it unsound. You want to be very careful about properties with the "addition may not have been permitted" disclosure.

Other states, by and large, still follow the assessment model California used to follow, pre-Proposition 13. They have county records of the property characteristics, and evaluate the home based upon those characteristics, whence comes your assessment, and hence, your property tax bill. This still encourages unlicensed contractors and working without required permits, with effects much the same as the previous paragraph, which is definitely not good, but in this case subsequent owners have nothing but incentive to keep improvements off the county books, where in California, subsequent owners have motivation to want improvements updated into county records. I am not aware of any state which follows a model whereby refinancing will alter your tax bill.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on November 30, 2007 7:00 AM.

Condo Assessments was the previous entry in this blog.

Making Prepayment Penalties Illegal is the next entry in this blog.

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