A property assessor is a person who calculates the value of various properties. Those calculations are then used to determine how much the owner must pay in property taxes to the local government. It also serves as a loose guideline for the amount of insurance needed on the property. A property assessor’s job description is similar to that of an appraiser or an insurance adjuster. The difference is that these other positions are with private employers, and an assessor works directly for the local government.
The term “property assessment” is often used interchangeably with the term “real estate appraisal”. A real estate appraisal is an estimate of the property’s value based on real estate market fluctuations. It is meant to estimate how much the property may be sold for on the open market, which is different than the property’s actual value. In fact, it is often significantly more than a property assessment of the same site.
A government property assessment combines the estimated cost of the property, and its buildings, with the estimated value of the surrounding properties to come up with a fair property value. Even though a property assessment does take into account some aspects of the market value, it is often ten to fifteen percent lower than a real estate appraisal.
As a local government official, the assessor is either appointed or elected for his or her term. During the term, the assessor will use onsite visits, statistics, and computer-generated tools to determine each property's value. While on-site visits do happen often, the property assessor does not necessarily enter any of the buildings on the property. He will rely on detailed notes taken about the property, and its distinguishing characteristics. Still, property assessment is not an exact science, and the property owner is generally entitled to an appeal, where he can present more detailed evidence that contradicts the previous assessment.
There are some things the property assessor is not responsible for determining. The assessor does not decide what a property owner’s tax bill will be, nor does he collect those taxes. The property assessment is used to calculate the owner’s tax bill, but the property assessor has nothing to do with the calculation of taxes. The assessor also does not decide the rules by which the property is assessed, or establish property tax laws. Those regulations are usually already in place by the time the assessor takes office, as determined by the local legislature.