ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
If the person knocking at your front door has a big tape measure, a clipboard and a friendly smile, it may just be your turn for a re-inspection visit from the Marion County Appraiser’s Office.
Every six years or so, Marion County homeowners will be visited by a data collector who is updating the county records on their property.
Dianna Carter, Marion County appraiser, said her office is charged with the responsibility of making sure data are correct for each property in the county.
To complete this monumental task, the entire county is set up on a re-inspection schedule to ensure data are updated regularly.
Carter said 17 percent of the homes and businesses in the county are reinspected each year.
“This year we reinspected the city of Hillsboro, and we are working in Durham and a couple of townships,” she said.
The reinspection process involves going door to door, talking with homeowners, checking measurements and looking for changes to the property.
“Overall we have a good reception,” Carter said. “We tell them who we are and what we are doing.”
If the owner is home, he or she is asked to verify the accuracy of the information about the home and to update changes that have been made to the property.
If the owner is not home, a questionnaire is left for the owner to complete.
The county no longer appraises the contents of homes, and Carter said she is not interested in the home’s interior unless the homeowner wants to show her something related to the condition of the home.
She said sometimes homeowners will ask her in to look at a cracked basement wall or other structural problem they feel may impact the value of the home.
Changes to property, such as new construction or demolition, also trigger a reinspection.
Carter’s office is apprised of changes to property through copies of building permits.
“And we often see things while we are out checking other things,” she said.
When homeowners make a property improvement, they are asked to report the cost of that improvement.
To determine how the particular improvement affects the value of the property, Carter considers not only the cost of the improvement but how that improvement will affect the sale price of the home.
From market data, she can tell how a particular change is valued in the marketplace, and she develops an index for valuing various home improvements.
She said certain changes to a property, such as adding square footage or a garage, could possibly raise the property value. She said appraisals in Kansas are done as of Jan. 1 of each year.
“Whatever you have on Jan. 1, you will be taxed for that tax year,” she said. “If someone builds something in the summer, we will come out in the summer or fall. It will go on the tax roll for Jan. 1 of the next year.”
The appraiser’s office also gets involved when a property sells. Whenever a sale occurs, the sale information is checked against the records on file in the appraiser’s office to ensure it is valid.
“We collect all the data on each sale that occurs in the county,” she said.
Because the county appraisal system is market based, sales data are a key component in determining the valuation of property. Sales information goes into Carter’s database. She then analyzes the market data and develops models for valuing property throughout the county.
“From that we are able to produce the comparable sheet,” she said.
A comparable sheet is produced for every home in the county, comparing it to four or five properties in the neighborhood that are similar and have recently sold. It is through this comparison that the value of the home is determined.
Although no two homes are identical, that isn’t a deterrent in the valuation process.
“With square footage, age and location, homes can still be compared even though they are not exactly the same,” Carter said.
The information on the comparable sheet is available to homeowners who request it, she said.
The comparable sheets are produced every year, said Carter, and even though your home is not re-inspected each year, it is reappraised each year.
She said it is a common misunderstanding that the value of a home changes only when there is a reinspection. But because the county uses a market-based appraisal system, the value of a property may change whenever the market changes.
“Even if you don’t do anything to your house, the value could change based on what the market is doing,” Carter said.
She said the entire appraisal system revolves around the data, and correct data are critical.
“If we have incorrect information on a property, it is not good for the valuation process. It is important to know as much as possible about the property. It helps the whole tax base.”
The goal of the appraiser’s office is for appraised values and sales prices to track closely, and statistics are kept to monitor the variance. Carter’s office does well on the whole, with the sales ratio study at 98.4 percent for residential property.
But even with a variance of less than 2 percent on the whole, there will still be differences between the appraised prices and sales prices of individual properties.
Carter often hears from people who have just bought homes and are surprised to find out the appraised value of the home is greater than the price they paid.
“It just depends on what the market is doing,” she said. “We are supposed to be within 10 percent of market value.”
Homeowners who want to check the value of their property or another property in the county may do so through “Parcel Search” on the county’s Web site at marion.kansasgov.com.
“With the new Web site, anyone can look at the particular information on their parcel,” said Carter.
The information is also available through the annual Appraisal Guide published by the Free Press. It is available at the newspaper office and at sponsoring businesses.
Although property values generally go up, Carter said she has seen a leveling off of values in 2003.
Even so, there are still homeowners who feel the appraised value of their home is too high.
“If you don’t agree with the value, you need to use the appeal process,” Carter said.
“There are two appeal times. The informal is in spring, when we send out notices, and you have 30 days to appeal.”
She said the other appeal option is “payment under protest,” which is done when the taxes are paid.
Although both methods result in the same process in the appraiser’s office, Carter says the informal process “is much better for everyone involved” because the matter can be resolved before the taxes become due.
When a homeowner appeals a valuation, an appointment is set for the homeowner to come to Carter’s office to discuss the valuation.
“We show them what we have and try to verify it,” she said.
They try to uncover any inaccuracies in the data that might have contributed to an inaccurate valuation, Carter said. If an error is found, the data will be adjusted and a new valuation determined.
Sometimes, homeowners are just upset about the amount of tax they have to pay. But the appraiser’s office deals only with value, not taxes.
“When you appeal, it needs to be because you think the value of your home is incorrect,” she said.
Carter encourages homeowners who have a concern about their appraisal to contact her office.
“We want the value to be correct,” she said.
Statistics show it’s worth it to appeal. Carter said 70 percent of the appeals result in an adjustment.
“Even if people just have a question, we welcome them,” she said. “We want to have that kind of relationship with the taxpayer.”