May 15, 2023


In this comprehensive guide to property taxes, readers will learn about the definition and types of property taxes, how they are calculated, and the assessment and appeals process. Additionally, the article delves into property tax rates and levies, payment and collections, the effects of property taxes on homeownership and real estate, and property tax reform and public policy.

Key topics include understanding assessment notices, appealing assessments, calculating property tax bills, payment methods, and the impact of property taxes on home affordability and public services.

Definition of Property Taxes

Property taxes are local taxes levied on the assessed value of real property, including land and buildings. They serve as a primary source of revenue for local governments, providing funding for public services such as education, public safety, and infrastructure maintenance. Property taxes vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, property location, and type of property.

Types of Property Taxes

There are two primary types of property taxes:

  1. Real Property Taxes: Real property taxes are levied on land, buildings, and permanent structures. They are based on the assessed value of the property.

  2. Personal Property Taxes: Personal property taxes are levied on movable property, such as vehicles, boats, and aircraft. These taxes are typically based on the value of the item or its assessed value.

How Property Taxes are Calculated

Property taxes are calculated based on the local tax rate and the assessed value of the property. The assessed value is determined by the local assessor and is typically based on a percentage of the property’s fair market value. The local tax rate, or millage rate, is applied to the assessed value to determine the property tax owed. In some jurisdictions, a property’s taxable value may include exemptions or abatements, which can lower the property tax bill.

Assessment and Appeals

How Properties are Assessed

Property assessments aim to determine the fair market value of a property for tax purposes. Assessors use various methods to evaluate properties, including:

  • Market Value Approach: This approach compares the property to similar properties that have recently sold in the area to determine its value. The market value approach is commonly used for residential properties.

  • Income Approach: The income approach estimates the potential income a property could generate if rented or leased. This method is typically used for commercial and rental properties.

  • Cost Approach: This method estimates the cost of replacing the property with a similar structure, considering factors like land value and depreciation. The cost approach is common for unique or specialized properties, such as industrial facilities or historic buildings.

Understanding Your Assessment Notice

Assessment notices are sent to property owners, typically annually, to inform them of the assessed value of their property. The notice includes important information, such as the property’s assessed value, any exemptions or abatements, and instructions for appealing the assessment. It is essential to review your assessment notice carefully and ensure that the information is accurate.

Appealing Your Property Assessment

Property owners have the right to appeal the assessed value of their property if they believe it is inaccurate. The appeals process varies by jurisdiction but generally involves submitting a formal appeal to the local assessor’s office.

The appeal must typically be filed within a specific timeframe and include documentation to support the claim for a lower assessed value, such as recent appraisals or comparable sales in the area.

Property Tax Rates and Levies

Components of Property Tax Rates

Property tax rates are determined by the combination of local and state taxing entities. These entities include:

  • Local Taxing Entities: These can include school districts, municipalities, counties, and special districts, such as parks and recreation, fire protection, or library districts. Each entity has its millage rate, calculated based on its budgetary needs.

  • State Taxing Entities: Some states also have statewide property tax rates that are applied to all properties within the state.

Calculating Your Property Tax Bill

To calculate your property tax bill, you will need to determine the millage rate for each taxing entity and then apply these rates to your property’s assessed value. The sum of these calculations will equal the total property tax owed.

Property Tax Relief Programs

Various property tax relief programs are available to assist specific groups, such as seniors, disabled individuals, veterans, or low-income homeowners. These programs can provide exemptions, deferrals, or credits to lower property tax bills. Eligibility requirements and application processes vary by jurisdiction and program.

Property Tax Payment and Collections

When to Pay Property Taxes

Property tax payment due dates vary by jurisdiction but are typically scheduled at least once a year. In some areas, property taxes may be billed and paid in installments, with each installment corresponding to a portion of the total annual property tax amount.

Payment Methods and Installments

Property taxes can often be paid through various methods, including online payments, by mail, or in person at local tax offices. Installment plans for property taxes are generally offered by the county treasurer’s or tax collector’s office, allowing property owners to pay their taxes over several months instead of a lump sum.

Penalties and Late Payments

Failing to pay property taxes on time can result in penalties, such as late fees, interest, and potential delinquency. Penalties vary by jurisdiction but can quickly add up and create a substantial debt for the property owner.

Delinquency and Property Tax Liens

If property taxes are not paid, the local government may place a tax lien on the property. A tax lien is a claim against the property that must be satisfied before the property can be sold or refinanced. If the property owner is unable to pay the outstanding tax debt, the local government may initiate a tax foreclosure process, ultimately leading to the property being sold at auction to recover the unpaid taxes.

Effect of Property Taxes on Homeownership and Real Estate

Property Taxes and Home Affordability

Property taxes can significantly impact the affordability of a home for potential buyers, as they are often a substantial annual expense. High property taxes can make homeownership less accessible, especially for first-time buyers or those with limited incomes. Additionally, property taxes can influence a homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment, as lenders often require escrow accounts to ensure property taxes are paid.

Property Taxes and Real Estate Investments

Property taxes are a crucial factor for real estate investors to consider when purchasing and managing investment properties. High property taxes can reduce the profitability of an investment due to the additional annual expense. Investors must also be aware of potential changes in property tax rates, as this can impact cash flow and property values.

Property Taxes and Property Values

Property taxes can affect property values, as they are an ongoing cost for property owners. Generally, areas with lower property taxes are more attractive to potential buyers, resulting in increased demand and property values. Conversely, high property taxes may deter buyers and decrease property values.

Property Tax Deductions and Credits

Property owners may be able to claim property tax deductions or credits on their federal or state income tax returns. These deductions and credits can help offset the cost of property taxes, making them more manageable for homeowners and real estate investors. The specific deductions and credits available vary based on individual circumstances and tax laws.

Property Tax Reform and Public Policy

Current Issues in Property Taxation

Property taxation is a complex and often contentious issue. Current challenges in property tax policy include the rising property tax burden on homeowners, concerns about the fairness and accuracy of property assessments, and debates over the appropriate use of property tax revenue to fund local services and infrastructure.

Regional Differences in Property Tax Rates

Property tax rates can vary dramatically between different regions, states, and local jurisdictions. Many factors contribute to these differences, such as the reliance on property tax revenue to fund local services, local property values, and the overall tax environment in a specific area.

Property Tax Reform Efforts

Efforts to reform property tax systems often focus on issues such as reducing the tax burden on homeowners, improving the transparency and fairness of property assessments, and ensuring that property tax revenue is used efficiently and effectively to support public services and infrastructure.

Impact of Property Taxes on Public Services and Infrastructure

Property taxes play a critical role in funding public services, including education, public safety, and infrastructure maintenance. The availability and quality of these services directly impact residents and businesses, shaping the overall quality of life and economic vitality in a community. However, property taxes can also create disparities between communities, as areas with higher property values can generally support more robust public services compared to those with lower property values.

Property Taxes FAQs

1. What are property taxes, and why do homeowners need to pay them?

Property taxes are local taxes levied by governments on real estate, typically to fund essential services like schools, infrastructure, and public safety. Homeowners need to pay these taxes to contribute to the costs associated with community resources and services (Pomerleau, 2021).

2. How are property tax rates determined and assessed?

Property tax rates, also known as mill rates, are determined by local governments and are based on the required revenue to fund services divided by the total assessed property value in the jurisdiction. Assessment is determined by local assessors, who evaluate the market value of properties using sales comparisons, replacement costs, or income potential (Youngman, 2016).

3. Is there a property tax exemption for homeowners over 65 years old?

Many states and local jurisdictions offer property tax exemptions, reductions, or freeze programs for homeowners who are over 65 years old. These programs may have specific eligibility criteria, such as income limits and residency requirements, so homeowners should review their local guidelines (Istrate & Chirila, 2017).

4. Can property taxes be deducted on federal income taxes?

Yes, homeowners can deduct property taxes on their federal income tax returns. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, enacted in 2017, allows taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 of state and local taxes, including property taxes, for taxpayers who itemize deductions on Schedule A (IRS, 2021).

5. What happens if a homeowner does not pay their property taxes?

Failure to pay property taxes may result in penalties, interest, and potential tax liens. If the homeowner does not satisfy the debt within a specified period, the local government may auction the property in a tax sale, potentially leading to the loss of the property (Huther, 2017).

6. Are renters responsible for paying property taxes?

Renters are not directly responsible for paying property taxes; those are the property owner’s responsibility. However, landlords often consider property taxes in determining rental rates, so indirectly, renters may contribute to property tax payments through their rent (Oates, 1999).


Huther, R. (2017). A Good Tax: Legal and Policy Issues for the Property Tax in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

IRS. (2021). Deducting Taxes. Retrieved from

Istrate, E., & Chirila, V. (2017). Navigating your jurisdictions’ property tax administration system. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Counties.

Oates, W. E. (1999). Property taxes and the price of housing: An empirical study. In The Economics of Property-Casualty Insurance (pp. 287-318). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Pomerleau, K. (2021). Sources of personal tax revenue. In J. Mikesell (Ed.), Fiscal administration: Analysis and applications for the public sector (10th ed., pp. 354-400). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Youngman, J. M. (2016). Legal Issues in Property Valuation and Taxation: Cases and Materials. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

About the Author

As a native Washingtonian, Carlos Reyes’ journey in the real estate industry began more than 15 years ago when he started an online real estate company. Since then, he’s helped more than 700 individuals and families as a real estate broker achieve their real estate goals across Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.

Carlos now helps real estate agents grow their business by teaching business fundamentals, execution, and leadership.

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