ASSESSING THE ASSESSMENT New law eases access to tax data


What's behind your property tax assessment?

The question could become easier to answer this spring: Maryland's Department of Assessments and Taxation has begun release more information from the work sheets assessors use to evaluate a property.

A state law enacted last year requires more information about individual assessments to be made public. So the state has started to sell computer tapes with the work sheet information to vendors such as Rufus S. Lusk & Son. Inc., a real estate information service company based in Silver Spring.

And Lusk has started to sell that information to libraries.

The state assesses one-third of all properties each year. The state has released computer tapes for the most recent year's assessments for Baltimore, Howard, Carroll and Prince George's counties.

"We think this is a tremendously important development," says Rufus Lusk III, chief executive officer of the company bearing his family name.

Homeowners will be better able to compare their assessments with those for other homes, and real estate professionals, such as appraisers, can use the information to track values and price property more accurately, he says.

In evaluating property, assessors have long used work sheets on which they note characteristics of the property. These include square-footage, house dimensions, number of bathrooms, construction materials, garages, carports, porches, dormers, type of heating, air-conditioning and fireplaces.

A homeowner who challenges his assessment has always had access to work sheet information for his own property and for comparable properties. And very basic information -- usually such things as the owner's name, date of purchase and the valuation -- was available to the public on all properties.

But now, the work sheet -- with detailed information as diverse as the type of mortgage used to purchase the home to the size of the porch -- contains property characteristics and is available any time and for any property.

One caveat: The informal comments on the work sheets, such as those about the condition of the home, will not be released.

The information is already available at public libraries iBaltimore, Howard and Prince George's counties; the Baltimore County worksheets data will also be available at the central Enoch Pratt Free Library on Cathedral Street in Baltimore.

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