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How To Assess The School District Before Buying A Home

Property Taxes, Your School District and You

Real estate property taxes pay for local services that benefit area residents. They pay for public education, the library, the police department, public administration and more. Because they comprise a large portion of the homeowner’s budget, property taxes are at the heart of heated debates when officials announce plans to raise them.

Public education is expensive. Many times, school taxes make up half (or more) of the total property tax bill. Older residents who live on a fixed income and childless residents who don’t use the school system -- or those who oppose high taxes in general and suspect administrative waste -- often staunchly oppose tax increases. Schools, in anxious get-out-the-vote efforts, rally the parental faithful to support increases.

Thus, a classic local battle is born.

Many states provide tax relief for older citizens who no longer actively utilize their local school system. In New York, the “Star” system automatically lowers property taxes depending on age and other factors. Other states waive property tax bills for older homeowners until the house is sold, at which point the owner settles up with the local taxing authority.

Avid school supporters often point to a district’s record of success as justification for sky high bills. Towns that maintain excellent schools keep property values high, thus benefiting all residents, they argue, because when a homeowner sells he enjoys a better selling price than a person in a neighboring district with not-so-desirable schools.

As a matter of record, towns with excellent schools enjoy higher higher property values. Many that consider excellent schools a necessity would rather pay higher taxes. They're deductible and often cheaper than private education, which is not.

If you are concerned about your property tax bill, contact your local tax assessor. You may be surprised at the programs available that will help your budget but maintain your district’s reputation at the same time.

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