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Our Madison Home Assessment Jumped 49.53%—City Dropped Ball For Years

April 24, 2012

One might think the headline to this post is a typo.  It is not.

At a time when the recent assessments in Madison indicated home values fell an average of 1.6 percent across the city how did our home increase by almost 50%?  I grant you increased values are better than the alternative, but still how does this happen?

Over the years since we moved in there have been restoration projects, and refurbishing of this and that.  We both think our home looks rather swell.   But there was nothing that we did over time to account for such an increase in the perceived value of our home.

Even the assessor’s office agreed with that point.

So when we talked with the appraiser on Monday in his office, the one who did a walk through of our home last fall, it was obvious that he was pleased to know we were not angry or loud or demanding anything.  In fact, to be honest, he seemed amused that we were there to better understand the process.

My dad, Royce, sat for a time on the Board of Review when serving for 40 years for the Town of Hancock, and there was no way not to not think of the stories he told about the angry ones he encountered.  I think that was one reason I wanted to treat this middle-aged appraiser in the office with more than ample calm.

Still the question loomed that needed a response.

How does a home get an increased assessment of nearly 50% in one year?   The man looking back at us from his side of the desk had a slight smile.

Well, that is where the City of Madison comes into the equation.  (You think?)

It seems that no walk-through of our home had taken place since roughly 1985, and therefore only administrative assessments were made over the years.   While other homes such as ours were being sold and changing hands in the area, and increasing in value somehow our home never registered a need to be dealt with.  While  I could not get a firmer answer on how that happened other than being told  “I have 11,000 properties to deal with” I moved on to other matters.

I posed a devil’s advocate question about how this property could have been adding to the tax base over the past many years thereby assisting with needed programs, but had not done so due to the low assessment.  The kindly face across the desk listened and registered what I had to say but did not really have much of a response.

Clearly over time someone at the city had dropped the ball and not taxed this home at the proper rate.

While James and I have no qualms about paying our share of taxes, and well understand the need to do so for society, I do question how the process works where a home can be so undervalued for so long, and then adjusted upwards so quickly.

As we prepared to leave the office I asked, for the sake of the stories I would tell over the coming days to friends, if there was a way to let me know what percentage of homes were assessed at more than 40%, or even near 50% this year.  Clearly a most small number to be sure, but might such a figure be given to me down the road?

I was informed that would not be possible as the computers seem not to calculate such pieces of information.

One would think that given a 50% assessment rate they could have at least thrown in a free piece of trivia to banter about with friends.

But no.

All this is making for more of an interesting story than any sense of angst for James and myself.

If only all the faces my Dad had to deal with at the Board of Review over the years could have felt the same.

BTW…Dad would have loved hearing about this story!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2012 1:36 PM

    As stated in the post there is no problem with paying taxes, or having a high assessment made. We are mindful that government needs taxes to operate and we are always working to help others and are often using public programs to make that happen. That is why I wrote, “I posed a devil’s advocate question about how this property could have been adding to the tax base over the past many years thereby assisting with needed programs, but had not done so due to the low assessment.”

    Our friend with Alzheimers uses over 8,000 a month at a residence in Dane County which we placed him in almost a year ago, as just an example. So we have no problem paying taxes. The only issue I wondered about was the process by which no walk through had taken place for decades, and then one sudden increase.

    Finally there should not be an increase over 50% as then our property would be assessed more than the other comparable homes in the neighborhood.

  2. PayYourFairShare permalink
    May 6, 2012 12:43 PM

    It is very appropriate to raise the assessment in this case. If there hasn’t been a walk-through since 1985, it seems that the increase should have been even more, probably way more than 50%.

    Considering the disproportionate share of public services that are received, it’s only fair to pay in at least partially to cover what is taken advantage of.

    Nothing would prohibit one from voluntarily paying more to cover the benefit deficit.

  3. May 3, 2012 9:34 PM

    It would be really sad if it causes a financial burden that resulted in them loosing their homes. I know if our taxes suddenly spiked, we’d be hurting.

  4. skip1930 permalink
    May 1, 2012 10:06 PM

    My little house in Sturgeon Bay was assisted at $162,700, and that’s what I pay my taxes on, plus taxes went down thanks to Walker even though similar houses around me of are selling for $116,000 and I feel that is what I should be paying taxes on. Not the $162,700. If some fool walked in and offered $162,700 I’d sell her and go buy a similar house for $116,000, and pocket the difference or buy another Roth IRA [ which has been doing rather well lately. Thanks Raymond James.]

    Enjoy your home. Nothing wrong with being carried out of your house with your toes pointing up. We picked our house ’cause as we age we wanted no stairs to deal with. This is our fourth house in 33 years, and I like it.


  5. April 29, 2012 10:33 AM


    You have the reason one lives in a home all wrong. Let me post here something I penned in Sept. 2010. I hope this helps you understand why this home is not for sale—ever. I trust this also helps you understand why we were not upset when the ‘value’ was low, and also why we are not complaining about the taxes.

    Here then is what I posted in 2010—

    Three years ago yesterday James and I became homeowners. At our kitchen table where we eat every day the papers were signed. It was the event that evokes all sorts of imagery about the American Dream. We snapped photos of the signing, and know that it was a real milestone. But unlike lots of others who sign such papers there is a bit of old-fashioned rationale that goes into our thinking.

    The news today that the American dream of owning a home has lost some of its luster has me thinking again about the reasons we own homes in the first place. As we all know from years of news coverage falling home prices and foreclosures have made for an economic nightmare. Now the news alerts us that a growing number of people no longer consider housing a safe investment.

    A safe investment!

    As the news today pointed out some think of home ownership as an “economic trap.” While I would never suggest anyone enter into a home purchase without the ability of being able to pay the mortgage, I also would not steer anyone away from home ownership because it might not be a ’good investment’.

    In fact, I would argue that the investment view of home ownership is part of the problem we have had in this nation. To many opted to make money with the purchase of a house. Buy big and sell bigger was a theme that too many bought into. Greed and more greed was somehow good.

    I grew up with parents who became home owners after World War II. The home they bought was not new, in fact, it was old and needed lots of work. Over the years many projects were completed, including one that allowed for my brother and me to have a new bedroom off on the side of the house. I have often joked that my parents were even smart enough to time our births so there was never a question my brother and I would have to share that room. He moved out on his own just as I was needing to upgrade my living space.

    For all the years I grew up in the family home there was never, not once, any word spoken about what that improvement, or that addition, would do for the value of the house. The value of any improvement was the day-to-day pleasures and conveniences it made for the family. Nothing more, nothing less.

    The family home where I grew up was not so different from all those in my community. Inside were the favorites places to tuck away to read, the family kitchen where everyone gathered no matter how many folks there were or how small the room might be, and the favorite window to watch the snow pile up or the rain to fall. The home was a place to live and relax. It was a place to ‘be’.

    In our nation’s recent past instead of thinking of a home as a place for treasured memories to be made and stored houses have become a mere stepping stone to a larger house. The home became a mere house, nothing more than an investment. A warm place reduced to a cold financial transaction.

    That, to me, is sad.

    As James and I watch HGTV we often see people who are making upgrades to their homes so in order to sell them for a higher price in order to move to a bigger and better place. After the decorator has spent a relatively small amount of cash the owners will sometimes lament that ‘it looks so nice now I wish we could stay’.

    What limited their ability to see the obvious before they thought of selling is never answered. That after all is not the purpose of the show. Tune it up, make more money, and move on is not only the theme of the shows, but the pattern of too many in the nation.

    That is why I think the current economic woes have a definite upside. Perhaps people will again look at housing in their price range, but also evaluate why they really want a house. Having a place to come home, have a family, and ‘be’ are the reasons to own a house.

    When James and I were making a series of improvements before we moved into our Victorian home, which included painting every wall in warm and bright colors, we were asked by lots of folks, “what about the resale value?” After all there is no beige or sea-foam green so how on earth can we ever think about making money on the house?

    We both had a stock response. “The next move we make is going to be in a box.” (As in being planted in one.) “Others will have to think about what colors they like.”

    After all a home is to be lived in.

  6. skip1930 permalink
    April 29, 2012 9:22 AM

    Congratulations, your assessment goes up, so do your taxes…hope your happy. Now if you could just sell your house for the assessed value….maybe in six years from now.


  7. Solly permalink
    April 25, 2012 3:56 PM

    I understand that the Madison School Board is considering 2 year old kindergarten (why should the parents take care of the kids?!), and found out that the $15 million in maintenance referendums they’ve routinely passed wasn’t good enuf and there’s a backlog of projects and MATC (oh, sorry Madison Wanna-be College) has to staff their new digs (gold leaf isn’t cheap), and Parisi wants a few more manure digesters so that corporate farms can expand without being responsible for their by-products, and on and on. Your bill next year will likely double. Let us all know.

  8. April 24, 2012 9:51 PM

    I think it better to have a home with the proper value than the reverse—no one is upset here. I think this story just amusing.

  9. Paulette permalink
    April 24, 2012 9:49 PM

    Oh my gosh, I am SO sorry that his happened. The house hasn’t been properly assessed since 1985? Holy cow!

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