The Maine Constitution says that property shall be assessed at its “just value.” The courts have interpreted “just value” to mean fair market value or in other words “what the property is worth.” A property’s worth is commonly looked at as “what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller” for a particular piece of property.
Determining the market value of property is no easy task. Local assessors use three basic methods to determine a property’s worth. To find the value of any piece of property the assessor must first know what properties similar to it are selling for, what it would cost today to replace it, how much it takes to operate and keep it in repair, what rent it may earn, and many other dollar facts affecting its value, such as the current rate of interest charged for borrowing the money to buy or build properties like yours.
Using these facts, the assessor can then go about finding the property’s value in three different ways.
SALES COMPARISON APPROACH
The first method compares your property to others that have sold recently. These prices, however, must be analyzed very carefully to get the true picture. One property may have sold for more than it was really worth because the buyer was in a hurry and would pay any price. Another may have sold for less money than it was actually worth because the owner needed cash right away. The property was sold to the first person who made an offer.
When using the sales comparison approach, the assessor must always consider such overpricing or under pricing and analyze many sales to arrive at a fair valuation of your property. Size, quality, condition, location, and time of sales are also important factors to consider.
A second way to value your property is based on how much money it would take, at current material and labor costs, to replace your property with one similar. If your property is not new, the assessor must also determine how much it has depreciated. In addition, the assessor must also determine how much a lot like yours would be worth if vacant.
The third way is to evaluate how much income your property would produce if it were rented as an apartment house, a store, or a factory. The assessor must consider operating expenses, taxes, insurance, maintenance costs, and the return most people would expect on your kind of property.
One, two or all three of these methods might be used to help the assessor determine the fair market value of your property. It is also important to note that land and buildings are valued separately. Therefore, a home with water frontage may be assessed at a significantly higher value, because of the land’s value, than an identical home without water frontage.
To implement the constitutional requirement that real estate be assessed at its “just value,” and in recognition of the tremendous difficulty and costs to a municipality to maintain a “just value” assessment, the Maine Legislature enacted assessing standards that municipalities must meet. One standard is that the total local valuation of taxable property not falls below 70% of fair market value. Another standard is that the quality ratings of assessments not exceed 20 (which basically mean that the difference in valuation between similar properties should never be greater than 20%).
Revaluations are commonly used when a community falls below the assessing standards. During a revaluation, all property in the municipality is inspected and assessments are adjusted to their fair market value.