Assessed Value vs. Fair Market Value

Taxing times ahead

 Kevin King and Debbi Conrad  |    March 08, 2007

Throughout most of the state, the boom conditions in the real estate market ended in 2005 — in some cases rather abruptly. According to figures from the Department of Revenue, Wisconsin home values rose an average of 10 percent in 2005. DOR figures are not yet available for 2006, but the popular consensus is that home prices have leveled off (or at least slowed in the rate of increase).

The impact of this market change can be felt in many areas for homeowners — including the area of property assessments and the property tax bill. Tax bills for 2006 arrived in December and many homeowners have expressed concern, if not frustration — particularly if they are also in the process of trying to sell their property. Why? Because their tax bill is based on an assessed value that appears to be many thousands of dollars higher than the market is willing to pay.

How does this happen? First of all, we must remember that the 2006 property tax is based on the assessed value of that property as of January 1, 2006 — the very end of the housing price escalation. Unfortunately, there is no correcting the 2006 assessments.

Local assessors are busy establishing the assessed values for 2007. So what do we do now if we believe an assessment is too high? By law, property owners have an opportunity to challenge their current year assessment if they do so in a timely manner.

Notice of change in assessed value 

An official notice of any increase in the assessed value must be mailed to the property owner at least 15 days prior to the local Board of Review meeting (or Board of Assessors, if applicable). The notice must contain the amount of the change in the assessed value along with the date, time and location of the Board of Review meeting. In addition, the notice must set forth the procedures available to the property owner to object to the assessment. Typically these notices are mailed in April or May, but please note — failure to receive the notice does not invalidate the assessment. Therefore, if there is concern about an assessed value, it may be prudent to check with the municipal clerk’s office as to the anticipated date of the mailing of notices and the date of the Board of Review meeting.

Assessment roll open book sessions 

If possible, the property owner should always try to meet with the assessor to discuss any questions about the assessment. By law, the local unit of government must publish or post a notice at least 15 days in advance of when the tax rolls will be open for inspection. This process is a less formal alternative — especially given that the assessors are present for at least two hours while assessment roll is open. Minor errors and misunderstandings may be easily corrected. It may be a good idea to contact the municipal clerk to verify the dates of the open book sessions and determine the times the assessors will be available.

48 Hours! 

If the property owner decides to appeal the assessment to the Board of Review, the property owner must file a notice of intent to challenge the assessment with the Board’s clerk at least 48 hours in advance of the Board of Review’s first meeting.

Filing the assessment objection form 

The next step in the process is the filing of the objection to property assessment form, again with the clerk of the Board of Review, no later than during the first two hours of the Board’s first scheduled meeting. The form itself is available from the local municipal clerk’s office. It is always best to reconfirm with the municipal clerk the date, time and location of the first Board of Review meeting, as this may have changed to a later date than designated on the original notice of assessment change.

Board of review 

The board’s first meeting will be at least two hours long. Assessment roll and other assessment data will be available during the meeting for examination by property owners. It is imperative that the property owner (or the property owner’s representative) appears at this meeting in order to preserve any subsequent rights of appeal.

The board will schedule all objections that have been received prior to or during the first two hours of the meeting for a subsequent hearing. A minimum of 48 hours prior notice of the hearing must be provided to the property owner and the assessor (unless the parties mutually agree to waive the notice requirement).

The Board of Review is made up of municipal officials, local residents or a combination thereof, as established by the local ordinance. By state law, the Board must include at least one member who is the municipality’s chief executive officer (or his or her designee). This person(s) must have attended DOR training within two years prior to the board’s first session.

The board operates similar to a court of law – receiving sworn oral testimony supported by appropriate documentation. For example, if the property owner has an appraisal that he would like to introduce into evidence, it will be necessary for the appraiser to attend the hearing and provide testimony about the appraisal. In Milwaukee and other cities that have a Board of Assessors, the process is a bit different. The property owner must first go through an informal review by the Board of Assessors (composed of members of the assessor’s staff) before objecting to the Board of Review.

Removal of board members 

In order to preserve the due process rights of the parties, a property owner filing an objection to the assessment may request that any one board member be removed during the hearing on the assessment – for any reason whatsoever. Further, the property owner may request the removal of additional board members for cause. All requests must be filed at the time the 48-hour notice of intent to challenge the property assessment is filed. Lastly, the municipality must also remove any Board members having a conflict of interest in the particular objection coming before them.

Appeal of the board’s decision 

A property owner has the right of appeal if he or she does not agree with the decision of the Board of Review. There are two avenues of appeal set forth in the statutes — one is to the circuit court and the other is to the Department of Revenue.


The Department of Revenue website ( offers a number of helpful publications regarding property taxes and the assessment process that can be downloaded or ordered, including the “Guide for Property Owners” — an excellent booklet of questions and answers about property assessment and taxes in Wisconsin.

By March or April of this year, most assessors will set the 2007 assessed values to properties. This will provide a new opportunity for property owners to make certain their property values reflect accurate values in the post-boom real estate market conditions.

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