Property Document Analysis, Part III: Property Assessments and Tax Payments

Property tax assessment and payment records are useful documents for understanding a property owner's financial situation and learning details of a particular property. Property Tax Assessment Records

Property tax assessment records are maintained by the County Assessor and are used to determine the value of a property for property tax purposes.

Property tax assessment records can be used to help understand a property owner's wealth in concert with an analysis of outstanding mortgage liabilities (see our previous blog posting on analyzing mortgage documents).

Tax assessments also provide details of a property, including: property usage, zoning restrictions, finished square footage, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and even details of the type of flooring installed.  In addition, it is not unusual for the assessment records to include a floor plan and pictures of the property.  All of this is informative, but here are two common examples of what can be learned from assessments:

  • First, an assessment that shows a property has recently undergone an expansion or renovation may indicate that the owner has funds at their disposal, but also could be an indication that the owner has spread themselves too thin financially.  A search for liens (including unpaid mechanic's liens), late tax payments, or increased mortgage debt could help determine which situation applies to the subject.
  • Secondly, a public figure residing in a home that is far larger and assessed far beyond that of the average home in area could be portrayed as living a life of excess and being out of touch with their constituents.

Property tax assessments can also be disputed.  The process and office that handles property tax assessment disputes varies by county, but the County Assessor can clarify where related records would be maintained.  Evidence that a public figure disputed their property assessment can make them vulnerable to arguments that they are attempting to avoid paying their fair share.

Property Tax Payment Records

Property tax payment records are usually maintained by the County Clerk or the County Treasurer and are becoming more readily available through County web sites.  Often times the property tax payment records will include a detailed description of the costs making up the total bill, the date payment is due, the date the payment was made and the amount paid.  If this information is not all available on one document then separate requests should be made for the property tax bills and the property tax payment records.

When examining property tax payment records, particular attention should be paid towards any added interest, fees or penalties.  The presence of these additional fees indicates that the property taxes were not paid on time, or not paid in full.  A history of late property tax payments by a potential investor could be a sign of money troubles or fiscal irresponsibility.  For political candidates, late payment or non-payment of property taxes can appear hypocritical in light of their responsibilities as stewards of public tax monies.  Also, since property taxes are often used to fund local public schools, police and fire departments, late or non-payment creates the appearance of shortchanging these vital local services.