Property tax bills will be mailed to homeowners in Sacramento County in October. And in this upside-down real estate market, it is worthwhile for owners to scrutinize their bills.
The questions are: Is your property's assessment too high given the values of other homes in your neighborhood? If so, what do you do?
If you don't want to wait till October to see your 2012-13 assessment, go straight to www.assessor.saccounty.net and choose parcel viewer.
By entering your street number and name, you can see the net assessed value listed below your address.
Your net assessed value should be a reflection of sales on or around Jan. 1, 2012, of homes similar to yours in your neighborhood.
Your basic tax will be 1 percent of that amount. That doesn't include direct levies for things such as community financing districts or lighting districts.
If you don't think the net assessed value is comparable to sales of your type of home in your neighborhood, you can ask the county for an informal review of your assessment at no cost.
Call (916) 875-0700 or visit www.assessor.saccounty.net and print out the Request for Assessor Review form linked on that page, fill it out and either mail or fax it to the county.
The process for establishing residential valuations is not foolproof. The assessor uses "mass appraisal techniques" that account for home sizes and other attributes within neighborhoods.
When there are questions, the assessor can examine a specific property closely, zeroing in on a specific street or house or area.
The Assessor's Office does adjust valuations when the research shows a change is warranted.
"There's no way we have the manpower to look at hundreds of thousands of properties every single year," said Curt Caldwell, chief appraiser for Sacramento County. "We do our best. If there are questions about it, the property owner can go through the informal request for review. If there are still questions, they can go to the Assessment Appeals Board.
Taking that next step will require some homework. But it's fairly simple. Visit www.sccob.saccounty.net and choose Assessment Appeals Board link to see all the forms and steps you'll need. The cost to file is $30.
The filing period for appeals closes at 5 p.m. Nov. 30 for the current tax year. Most people wait until November to file their claims. By then, the county assessor's office is swamped. So it's a good idea to get ahead of the pack.
Remember when you analyze your own neighborhood, you're looking for comparable sales in late 2011 or in the first three months of 2012.
Need online help? Visit www.sacbee.com/homesales, which is searchable by size, prize, location and date of sales. Or check out www.redfin.com or www.zillow.com for listings of home sales by date in your neighborhood.