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Thread: Using higher property taxes as a disincentive to becoming an absentee landlord

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    Cyburbian
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    Using higher property taxes as a disincentive to becoming an absentee landlord

    To me, the problem of absentee landlords is seemingly easy to overcome since simple changes to the tax structure, i.e. higher local property taxes, would alter the R.O.I. calculations of investors sufficiently. Am I missing something? Why aren't more communities demanding a shift in the tax burden to non-resident property owners?
    Last edited by Pragmatic Idealist; 24 May 2011 at 6:37 PM.

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    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    As a resident who rents in a state that has a tiered taxing structure based on number of homes owned, let me just point out the most obvious thing.

    Landlords do not pay property taxes. Renters do. A higher tax bracket for out-of-town landlords wouldn't do anything except raise rents.

    Edit: I'm assuming since you live in Southern Cali that there is sufficient housing demands. In Hawaii, there is a far greater demand for housing than a supply. Every time the county/state decides they need more money to operate - they propose raising taxes for mainland-based land owners or for properties in which the landlord does not reside. Let me just say how extremely irritating it is to see your rent go up because someone decided taxing absentee landlords was a solution. This kind of structure just increases taxes for those who are already squeezed in the market.

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    As a resident who rents in a state that has a tiered taxing structure based on number of homes owned, let me just point out the most obvious thing.

    Landlords do not pay property taxes. Renters do. A higher tax bracket for out-of-town landlords wouldn't do anything except raise rents.
    I was thinking more along the lines of imposing higher property taxes across the board and using that revenue to: reduce taxes that affect residents; provide residents with more services; and/or, give residents tax rebates.

    Residents have the option of buying homes or renting them from local landlords.

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    To me, the problem of absentee landlords is seemingly easy to overcome since simple changes to the tax structure, i.e. higher local property taxes, would alter the R.O.I. calculations of investors sufficiently. Am I missing something? Why aren't more communities demanding a shift in the tax burden to non-resident property owners?
    Something to consider: thanks to the Great Recession, there's a massive increase in reluctant landlords; those who had to move, but couldn't sell their houses. Most reluctant landlords aren't in it to make a profit, but rather just pay the mortgage. I'm among them, with a house I still own in the Cleveland area. The rent I collect every month is less than the mortgage, taxes, insurance and maintenance I have to pay.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian
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    I just read your edit, Terra Sapient. I'm proposing something that is revenue-neutral and that doesn't fill an existing gap in government budgets.

    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Something to consider: thanks to the Great Recession, there's a massive increase in reluctant landlords; those who had to move, but couldn't sell their houses. Most reluctant landlords aren't in it to make a profit, but rather just pay the mortgage. I'm among them, with a house I still own in the Cleveland area. The rent I collect is less than the mortgage, taxes, insurance and maintenance I have to pay.
    Perhaps, using a certified property-management firm could be subsidized by the new revenues collected.
    Last edited by mendelman; 25 May 2011 at 8:31 AM.

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    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Haha! Clearly, I'm annoyed about the rent situation here since I interpreted your post to be about taxing absentee landlords when, after rereading it, I now see you didn't mention that specifically. Oops a grouchy!

    Dan makes a good point though, and I'm not sure I understand why you would want to discourage community investment from potential landowners who do not live in your area. I understand that absentee landlords can be a major problem when you have a vacant property that you want redeveloped - but I'd venture to say that any mechanism that discourages these type of property owners would also discourage investment from the folks you want buying property in your area. There is a very thin line here that would need to be traversed delicately and I am not convinced this system would work everywhere.

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Perhaps, using a certified property-management firm could be subsidized by the new revenues collected.
    That's what I do already. 10% of the rent goes to the management firm. It's standard operating procedure.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian
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    Two issues for consideration:

    1. disincentivizing absentee landlords may impact the amount of rental housing stock.. that would, to my mind, be a bad thing

    2. financing provides part of the answer. Absentee landlords don't qualify under GSE and FHA programs, for example, whilst landlords who buy multiple units in the same building, live in one and rent the others, do. This means more adverse mortgage terms and higher downpayment requirements for absentee landlords. Under new regs in China, for instance, absentee landlords are outright ineligible for mortgages in some cities and required to post more than 50% downpayments in others.

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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    One problem you could also run into is that many states do not allow different tax treatments to the same types of property. In Arizona I looked into this for vacant commercial property in a downtown but it was unconstitutional. Even if it was constitutional the rate would have to be extremely high and could punish those that were actively trying to fill their building but were having trouble finding the right tenant.

    If such a scheme is in place it has to be administered and enforced which costs money so you would have to raise taxes to offset the cost. Does the tax apply on day one? So if the landlord leases the building 15 days after the last tenant vacates does that mean that they owe 1/2 of the tax for the month? What if the house is for sale but the owners had to leave for work reasons...or if the owner has passed away. How would the city know its vacant? If the market is truly depressed then property owners might lower the rental rates to just above the tax which would adversely affect the property values and the neighborhood.

    Just creating the policy that addresses all of these issues would become problematic as are the unintended consequences.
    "You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it,..." -Bane

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    Cyburbian
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    As others have touched on, not everyone needs to be a homeowner. The housing collapse clearly reminded us that homeowning is a privilege, not a right.

    Why punish landlords by making them pay higher taxes when they do provide a benefit - housing for people who can't, for some reason, buy their own house.

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I would push the enforcement end. Absentee landlords are only a bad thing when they don't maintain the property or get buy in from the tenants.

    Strong property maintenance codes and enforcement can fix these issues without making prospective buyers not want to invest in your community.
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  12. #12
    When we bought a new place four years ago, we kept our old place and rent it out. The City of Boston has a homeowner exemption, about $2000, which we apply to the taxes on our new place.

    Isn't a city stronger when there is a healthy market for small scale rental properties? One shouldnt try to make it impossible for people to own a couple of units and rent them.

    Furthermore, we rent to a couple who just graduated from college, a demographic that the city is trying to encourage to stay in the city. They coudldnt afford to buy a place yet, they are quite upfront that they are only renting while they pay off their student loans and save up a down payment. Why would you want to discourage them?

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    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post
    I would push the enforcement end. Absentee landlords are only a bad thing when they don't maintain the property or get buy in from the tenants.

    Strong property maintenance codes and enforcement can fix these issues without making prospective buyers not want to invest in your community.
    That was going to be my suggestion as well.

    If cities just had the staff, and more importantly the will, to enforce the ordinances that many probably already have on the books regarding residential rental properties, the properties would be better maintained in general and contribute to the overall structure of the community.

    I don't think I understand why a city would want to shift the property tax burden disproportionately onto their non-resident landlords. These people are still stakeholders in the communities that they have invested in and if they are smart they realize that proper maintenance of their properties will help ensure that they have good tenants, will have a positive impact on the property values of the neighborhood overall, and will likely increase their bottom line when it comes time to sell down the road.
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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post
    I would push the enforcement end. Absentee landlords are only a bad thing when they don't maintain the property or get buy in from the tenants.

    Strong property maintenance codes and enforcement can fix these issues without making prospective buyers not want to invest in your community.
    I'll echo Hink's [edit]and WSU's[/edit] position. The problem is more often minimal or no property maintenance, but I understand that strong and consistent enforcement can be a political hot potato. But raising property taxes across the board is going to be an order of magnitude more politically problematic.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Your approach is aimed at the owners of small properties - a downtown storefront, single family house in a residential neighborhood, or small apartment building. Having worked in college towns, believe me, I know the problems that some absentee landlords cause. But there are problems in your approach. What about the large company that owns a 50-unit apartment building or retirement community with onsite management? What about the small guy who forms an LLC and rents a local mailbox? Is an "absentee landowner one who lives in the neighboring community, one more distant but within the same county/metro, or another state? Besides these cases, there are issues of equity. Why is one owner treated differently than another simply because of where they live? Why are all "absentee" owners punished because of the practices of only a few? Don't some local owners also fail to maintain their properties?
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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    The city I interned for a few years ago has a pretty effective way at dealing with rental housing and absentee landlords.

    1. Rental properties are taxed at a higher millage rate than an owner-occupied property.
    2. Comprehensive property maintenance ordinances.
    3. Enforcement of the maintenance ordinances.
    4. A free rental registration database that is linked with code enforcement. If a person owns a rental property he has to register the property with the city annually. If the landlord lives more than 60 miles away they have to nominate a person or rental company to be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the property.
    5. The rental registration database is updated with code violations and photos every week and a summons sent to the landlord/property manager. If the city has to step in and clear trash away or mow the lawn, etc. a bill is generated and sent to the landlord.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post
    I would push the enforcement end. Absentee landlords are only a bad thing when they don't maintain the property or get buy in from the tenants.

    Strong property maintenance codes and enforcement can fix these issues without making prospective buyers not want to invest in your community.
    Quote Originally posted by WSU MUP Student View post
    That was going to be my suggestion as well.

    If cities just had the staff, and more importantly the will, to enforce the ordinances that many probably already have on the books regarding residential rental properties, the properties would be better maintained in general and contribute to the overall structure of the community.

    I don't think I understand why a city would want to shift the property tax burden disproportionately onto their non-resident landlords. These people are still stakeholders in the communities that they have invested in and if they are smart they realize that proper maintenance of their properties will help ensure that they have good tenants, will have a positive impact on the property values of the neighborhood overall, and will likely increase their bottom line when it comes time to sell down the road.
    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    I'll echo Hink's [edit]and WSU's[/edit] position. The problem is more often minimal or no property maintenance, but I understand that strong and consistent enforcement can be a political hot potato. But raising property taxes across the board is going to be an order of magnitude more politically problematic.
    Bingo!!! Raising taxes to discourage absentee landlords, especially raising taxes across the board, is rather like cutting off your nose to spite your face. You don't just drive out absentee landlords, but also resident homeowners and renters alike.

    As Brocktoon noted, many states have constitutions that require types of properties to be taxed at the same rate. New York gets around that by giving a rebate to state residents on their primary residence and an additional rebate program for seniors.

    Good landlords need to be encouraged not run out of town. I live next door to a rental house with 2 apartments that you would never know was a rental. It's plain but well maintained (vinyl sided, gutters in good repair, recent roof, aluminum storms/screens, etc). In the 8 years I've lived here, there's only been one truly bad tenant living there, and most have been excellent neighbors. Personally, I don't think I'd care much for the landlord to be living next door to me (he's a snob), but I really wish he owned more rentals in Jamestown.

  18. #18
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kjelsadek View post
    The city I interned for a few years ago has a pretty effective way at dealing with rental housing and absentee landlords.

    1. Rental properties are taxed at a higher millage rate than an owner-occupied property.
    2. Comprehensive property maintenance ordinances.
    3. Enforcement of the maintenance ordinances.
    4. A free rental registration database that is linked with code enforcement. If a person owns a rental property he has to register the property with the city annually. If the landlord lives more than 60 miles away they have to nominate a person or rental company to be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the property.
    5. The rental registration database is updated with code violations and photos every week and a summons sent to the landlord/property manager. If the city has to step in and clear trash away or mow the lawn, etc. a bill is generated and sent to the landlord.
    I proposed something similar in a former city (a college town), except for the tax part, but got summarily shot down by the real estate folks who felt it would stiffle home sales (at inflated prices to landlords).

    The one difference between the version you have and the one I proposed was a reward for good landlords. The initial registration was $50 and included an initial property inspection (we were also trying to address HQS/substandard housing). If a property had no more than one violation in a year, and it was corrected before resulting in a citation, then the registration was automatically renewed without charge. If a property had a citation, or had between 1 and 3 violations in a year, then they had to repay the registration fee to renew. If there was more than three violations or more than one violation that resulted in a citation, or had at least one citation in consecutive years, they paid the registration fee plus a penalty.

    What was interesting in my town is that our worst-offending landlords were actually wealthy locals.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    What was interesting in my town is that our worst-offending landlords were actually wealthy locals.
    Just like Martha Reeves in Detroit. Except, not only was she an awful land(slum)lord, she was also a member of the City Council...
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  20. #20
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Well, I agree with the sentiment that the real issue is enforcement for landlords. I think using taxes lays yet another layer on an issue that already has a mechanism for addressing the core problem (code and zoning enforcement). The problem in my neck of the woods is with slumlords renting poorly maintained and even sub-standard housing and not investing anything in property improvements. So, it seems to me that there are already laws in place to discourage this kind of behavior, only that enforcement is spotty. Codes exist for this very reason - to ensure people have a safe, healthy place to live, regardless of whether they own or rent. Zoning makes sure that the activities on that property are compatible with the City's desired uses (we also have problems with properties that were single family with an accessory unit being chopped up into many small apartments, for example - not allowed by area zoning)

    I work in a lower income area and so I am acutely aware of how raising property taxes on these folks would be a huge blow. Even if you provide a rebate or tax incentive, the owners in the area still need to shell out the money during the year before "getting it back" in some form later on. One third of this area's residents are below the poverty line, so this is a very real concern for many. Plus, as Brocktoon noted, it may not even be constitutional here. Its even harder for a municipality to take ownership of a property delinquent on back taxes than in other places I have lived. Property owners have a lot of rights here.

    The worst problems for us are in the low income areas where you have unscrupulous landlords renting to sketchy people on a cash-only, month-to-month basis. Zoning and code enforcement folks haven't typically liked to tool around this neighborhood and there have been problems with meth cookers, prostitution and fencers (people storing stolen goods) in recent months. Our local neighborhood association's response, which began about two years ago, has been to mobilize residents and engage more with local law enforcement (who are invited to and attend monthly NA meetings). Now folks call in sketchy happenings and sub-standard rentals and the CIty sends someone out pretty promptly. They have condemned probably a dozen properties in this area in the last year and a half and made a number of arrests.
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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Well, I agree with the sentiment that the real issue is enforcement for landlords. I think using taxes lays yet another layer on an issue that already has a mechanism for addressing the core problem (code and zoning enforcement). The problem in my neck of the woods is with slumlords renting poorly maintained and even sub-standard housing and not investing anything in property improvements. So, it seems to me that there are already laws in place to discourage this kind of behavior, only that enforcement is spotty. Codes exist for this very reason - to ensure people have a safe, healthy place to live, regardless of whether they own or rent. Zoning makes sure that the activities on that property are compatible with the City's desired uses (we also have problems with properties that were single family with an accessory unit being chopped up into many small apartments, for example - not allowed by area zoning)

    I work in a lower income area and so I am acutely aware of how raising property taxes on these folks would be a huge blow. Even if you provide a rebate or tax incentive, the owners in the area still need to shell out the money during the year before "getting it back" in some form later on. One third of this area's residents are below the poverty line, so this is a very real concern for many. Plus, as Brocktoon noted, it may not even be constitutional here. Its even harder for a municipality to take ownership of a property delinquent on back taxes than in other places I have lived. Property owners have a lot of rights here.

    The worst problems for us are in the low income areas where you have unscrupulous landlords renting to sketchy people on a cash-only, month-to-month basis. Zoning and code enforcement folks haven't typically liked to tool around this neighborhood and there have been problems with meth cookers, prostitution and fencers (people storing stolen goods) in recent months. Our local neighborhood association's response, which began about two years ago, has been to mobilize residents and engage more with local law enforcement (who are invited to and attend monthly NA meetings). Now folks call in sketchy happenings and sub-standard rentals and the CIty sends someone out pretty promptly. They have condemned probably a dozen properties in this area in the last year and a half and made a number of arrests.
    I think you have pretty well summed up the problems and many of the reasons for them in most cites and in many towns across the entire country.

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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Many cities around here have a resident discount on property taxes- as high as 30% in some communities that have used it to try to accomplish this goal. I think it works a bit, but would generally say its not enough money to make a big difference.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    It sounds to me that the OP is just looking for something to mitigate the unexpected circumstances that prop 13 and subsequent propositions have caused in California (since the OP is from Southern California).

    The problem lies with the fact that property taxes for existing owners actually decrease in real terms for most properties every year because of prop 13. In the older areas of California (basically anywhere but the Central Valley and Inland Empire), there are hundreds of thousands of absentee landlords, because the state has made owning property long-term to be a very, very cheap way to store wealth. This has also distorted the rent/own equation so that there's a ridiculously large premium on owning a home, because housing turnover is so low.

    I've got a friend of mine who rents a house in Marin County for $2200 a month, so that he can send his kids to the public schools there. The house would easily sell for a million or more, but it's not really anything special - just under 2000 square feet, a cookie cutter 60's suburban ranch home. The property tax base on the property is $45,000, because it's been owned by the same owner for 30+ years, so property taxes on the house are just over $500 a year. The owner easily covers his holding costs (property taxes, insurance, upkeep, etc) with the rent from my friend, and he's sitting on an asset that has generally appreciated faster than stock market returns. The owner's even taken out multiple $250K+ home equity lines at times.

    For comparison, if this house were to sell for say, $1 million, the annual property tax paid on it would be about $15,000, for the exact same house. All of the individual players here are making the right choice - the owner is making money primarily off of the appreciation of the property, capital which can be accessed at any time through home equity loans, and the renter is renting in a neighborhood that he could not afford to buy in. The owner can hold the property indefinitely and pass it on to his son at the same property tax base ($45,000) - selling it would mean a large chunk of capital gains tax, so he's better off just borrowing against it, unless there's some kind of catastrophic drop in property values.

    This type of thing plays out all over the expensive areas of California, with some slightly different incentives creeping in in places like LA and SF proper, where the long-time owners have a very strong incentive to simply hold onto a property until the property can be upzoned. Basically, they use the property as a store of value, just like the Marin owner, but the hope is that eventually they can have the property upzoned to a higher height limit or density, effectively doubling, tripling, quadrupling, etc their property's value overnight. In many of these cases, the property owner finds that it's simply better to keep the property vacant for a few years while attempting to do this, so that the property can be delivered empty and ready for demolition immediately after an upzone (this is especially the case in cities like SF or Santa Monica, where rent control and tenant protections would massively deflate the value of a property compared to delivering it vacant). This effect would be mitigated by a massive upzone of the entire city at once, but as long as we're going to do one-by-one approvals of increased density, this incentive just gets bigger and bigger with each passing year.

    Wow, long post. Long story short, I think that the OP's problem could be best answered in California by simply getting rid of prop 13 and the subsequent related props. Adding additional rules on top isn't likely to make anything better. Repeal wouldn't necessarily fix all of these problems quickly, but it would be a start. We don't need higher property taxes for absentee landlords, but it would certainly help to not have lower property taxes for absentee landlords, as is often the case now.
    Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right, but three lefts do.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CJC View post
    I've got a friend of mine who rents a house in Marin County for $2200 a month, so that he can send his kids to the public schools there. The house would easily sell for a million or more, but it's not really anything special - just under 2000 square feet, a cookie cutter 60's suburban ranch home. The property tax base on the property is $45,000, because it's been owned by the same owner for 30+ years, so property taxes on the house are just over $500 a year. The owner easily covers his holding costs (property taxes, insurance, upkeep, etc) with the rent from my friend, and he's sitting on an asset that has generally appreciated faster than stock market returns. The owner's even taken out multiple $250K+ home equity lines at times.

    For comparison, if this house were to sell for say, $1 million, the annual property tax paid on it would be about $15,000, for the exact same house.
    Do you mean that California never reassesses properties until they sell? Around here, the assessment would get adjusted every year to (more or less) track the property's value. The taxes still wouldn't necessarily go up all that much because of Proposition 2 1/2 but they would go up some as the assessment increased.

  25. #25
    Quote Originally posted by Masswich View post
    Do you mean that California never reassesses properties until they sell? Around here, the assessment would get adjusted every year to (more or less) track the property's value. The taxes still wouldn't necessarily go up all that much because of Proposition 2 1/2 but they would go up some as the assessment increased.
    Since California passed Proposition 13 in 1978, property assessments may not rise by more than 2% a year and the total property tax burden cannot be more than 1% of assess value. The base amount is reset only when a property is resold.

    My mother's house in the Bay Area is assessed at about $75,000, though houses on her block sell for about $650,000, down from $800,000 at the height of the boom. 1450 square feet on a 5,000 foot lot with access to light rail and hundreds of thousands of Silicon Valley jobs. Its a total warp of the market.

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