How fair are property taxes?

Karen Smith (above) is going through foreclosure on her grandmother’s Bridgeport home because of their failure to pay property taxes. As part of the foreclosure, the city had an appraisal of the property done. It said the house is worth $35,000. But for property taxes, the house is assessed at $121,590. So why the difference? Is the property over-assessed? Or is the assessment too low?

Both may be the case.  Property tax revaluations only happen every five years in Connecticut, and the assessment on Smith’s house is based on 2007 values, before the housing crash. And the appraisal is based on comparable properties nearby, all of which are foreclosure sales.

In June, Governor Malloy vetoed a bill that would have allowed five cities and towns to postpone their property tax revaluations.  You can hear our discussion of that, Karen Smith’s story, and the overall fairness of property tax assessments here:

Smith said her neighbors’ properties were over-assessed, too, and we wanted to see if that was true. So we plotted more than 40,000 properties on a map that had sold in recent years, and color-coded them to see where there was a significant difference between the assessed value and the sale price. Homes that are assessed at at least double what they sold for are red. In Smith’s neighborhood, the East End of Bridgeport, there was a significant cluster of red.

Zoom out to see the rest of the state. There are similar clusters of red in cities like Waterbury and New Haven. The main explanation for that is that most of those “red” properties are foreclosure sales or some other kind of bank sale. Basically, if you live in a neighborhood that was clobbered by the housing crisis, you’re probably still paying property taxes on a value that your home is no longer worth. In the wealthier areas, houses mostly sold for more than their assessed value.

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