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Understanding the Basics of Iowa Property Tax: Part 2

The County Assessor’s office really has only one job: to determine the fair market value of every property in the county. There are a few other administrative duties, but that one is a really big job. The purpose for and the methods used are very specifically detailed in Chapter 441 of Iowa State Code. So how do they determine fair market value?

If you have ever bought or sold real estate, you are probably familiar with an appraisal. A licensed appraiser will closely examine the subject property, taking photos and detailed notes. Then they find 3 or more similar properties that have recently sold, and using the sale prices of those, as well as making adjustments to make the sold homes as close as possible to the subject home, will determine what the fair market value should be. This comprehensive and detailed evaluation of a single property is known as a individual appraisal, or fee appraisal.

Doing individual appraisals with that much detail on every single property in the county would be an overwhelming task, so the County Assessor uses a method called mass appraisals. These appraisals use mathematical models based on market trends in a local area and the physical characteristics of the properties to estimate the value of groups of properties in a cost-effective and uniform manner.

Some of the physical characteristics that need to be known in mass appraisals are the age of the buildings and additions, physical size (square feet), amount of finished living area (square feet), bathrooms, fireplaces, and other features that affect value. These are the variables that the County Assessor keeps records on and is the reason why they want to do interior inspections. A homeowner is not required to allow an interior inspection, but without this knowledge, the assessor needs to make assumptions that may not be accurate, which effects the accuracy of the appraisal.

The Iowa Department of Revenue oversees each County Assessor’s office to determine the accuracy of the appraisals. The way they do that is by comparing the actual sale price of every property sold in the county during a calendar year to the assessed value given by the County Assessor. The median value of all the assessed values must be within 95% and 105% of the median sale price. If it isn’t, the County Assessor must report back to the State what steps they will take to get in compliance, and there could be fines as well as action taken by the State to correct the discrepancy.

Maintaining that level of accuracy using mass appraisal methods is quite an achievement. Since it is measured using median values, it is very possible and likely that there are individual properties that are under or over assessed. Next week I will explain the process that is in place if you believe the assessed value the County Assessor placed on your property is incorrect. Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter to get Part 3!

 

If you would like to watch an interview I conducted with a County Assessor about a year ago, you can use this link to access the video on my YouTube channel. It is very informative and I hope you enjoy it!

 

Norwalk IA Real Estate – Jon Niemeyer, Broker/Owner/REALTOR® at EXIT Realty North Star. I list and sell real estate in Central Iowa including Norwalk, Des Moines, West Des Moines, Cumming, Indianola, Carlisle, Waukee, Urbandale, Grimes, Clive, Johnston, Ankeny, Altoona, and Pleasant Hill in the Counties of Warren, Polk, Dallas, and Madison. Call Jon Niemeyer at 515-490-4675. 

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