What Seattle Homebuyers Need to Know about Property Taxes

First time Seattle home buyers are often faced with expenses that they did not face as a renter. Property taxes, for example, must be paid each year by all property owners in Seattle. Seattle home buyers who fail to pay their property taxes when they become due and payable can face severe penalties and negative consequences. For this reason, if you are planning on buying real estate in Seattle, you should understand how the property tax system works.

In Seattle, all residential property within the county limits is assessed each year by the King County Assessor’s office. The tax you will pay if buying real estate in Seattle is based on the assessed value. Typically, the Assessor will determine the fair market value of your property by determining the value of the land first. This is done by comparing your acreage to other similar land. Then, improvements are valued. “Improvements” usually refers to your home. The fair market value of that is also decided by comparing your home to other similar homes that have recently sold in the area. The value of the land is then subtracted from the value of the improvements to determine what the fair market value of your home is for tax purposes. In addition, someone will physically inspect your property about once every six years. If the value of your property changes, you will receive a notice indicating the change in value.

When buying real estate in Seattle, be sure to factor in the amount you will pay in property taxes. The amount you pay will depend on the fair market value of the property as well as current tax rates. Property taxes are used to pay for things like emergency services (police and fire), infrastructure repair and improvements, government expenses and local schools. Levies, or specific taxes, are set by both the state and local government. The state will set statutory levy limits; however, local residents may also approve additional levies for specific purposes such as building a new school or hiring additional police officers.

Seattle home buyers may also qualify for one of several exemptions that reduce your tax obligation. An exemption allows you to “exempt”, or subtract, a specific amount from the value of your home, meaning you will not pay taxes on that amount. Exemptions are available for senior citizens, disabled residents, and other specific categories of residents or property. Contact the local Assessors office to determine if you can reduce your property tax bill through an exemption.

Failing to pay your property taxes can have severe consequences, up to and including losing your home. Delinquent property tax obligations will incur additional penalties. Worse, if your property tax bill becomes seriously delinquent, a lien can be placed on your property that could lead to a forced Sheriff’s sale to pay off the tax debt. If you are unable to pay your property tax bill in full for any reason, be sure to contact the Assessor’s office and see what options you may have before the bill gets too far behind.


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