From out on the street, and high in the sky, BC Assessment puts a value on your piece of paradise.
Assessors have a variety of tools to help them assign a fair and accurate worth to your home. But if all that fails to give them the information they need, they might come knocking at your door.
The good news, I suppose, for those who are super secretive or just plainly distrustful of government in general, is that you don't really have to let them in.
Provincial law gives employees of the BC Assessment Authority the right to enter your home and look around to see what kind of value-added upgrades you might have installed - a fancy new kitchen, say, or a previously undeveloped basement made into an unauthorized secondary suite.
"But we're not the police," Tracy Wall, deputy assessor for the Okanagan region, said Tuesday. "If somebody is exceptionally reluctant to let us in, we're probably not going to make a big deal out of it."
Eighty-three thousand property owners in the Central Okanagan have now received their 2014 property assessments.
It's basically another blah sort of year in the housing market, five in a row now, with most homes still bobbing along near the value they fell to after the recession hit in 2008.
The average single-family Kelowna home is assessed at $493,000, barely above the $485,000 figure of 2009. The stagnant market has been such an accepted
reality for so long now that
assessors don't anticipate getting many calls from people contesting the valuation of their home.
"I expect it's going to be pretty quiet this month," Wall says of the window people have until Jan. 31 to file a formal appeal of their assessment.
In a typical year, less than two per cent of property owners wind up filing such an appeal.
In the past, most have done so because they believe the assessment was too high and feared a big hit on their municipal taxes as a result in July.
Market activity, in the form of real estate sales of comparable properties, is the most important guide used by BC Assessment in assigning a value to a typical home.
But assessors don't just run a computer program. Every year, they also conduct what's called a desktop review of about 20 per cent of all residential properties.
As its name suggests, the review can be undertaken without an assessor leaving their desk to actually have a look at the property. They use images from aerial
photography to ensure the home's general footprint matches what's on file, and that no large additions have been undertaken.
Between August and October last year, in an expansion of a province-wide program that started a few years ago in the Lower Mainland, BC Assessment also took street-level pictures of every home in Kelowna, West Kelowna, and Vernon.
Assessors also have access to building permit information held by municipalities, to track any upgrades like the addition of decks or foundation-expanding additions to the house.
As they conduct their review of all properties, assessors will occasionally find homes that seem to be worth at least 25 per cent more than the information on file. The owners of such homes will get what's called a Notification of Extreme Value Change well
before the general assessments are sent out next January.
Most of us, I think, tend to equate stagnant property values with stagnant property taxes. It's one small comfort, we might believe, from our net worth not expanding. But that's not the case.
Even if your assessment has changed this year only by the city-wide average of about one per cent, you will still be presented with a municipal tax increase of 2.5 per cent in the summer.
That's because Kelowna council has once again approved a budget that calls for spending to rise higher than inflation, and higher than the increase in most people's incomes. So although your house basically hasn't budged in value since 2009, you're paying about 17 per cent more in municipal taxes.
You may not be getting rich off your Kelowna home. But the City of Kelowna isn't doing too badly.
Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier reporter whose column appears Wednesday and Friday. Tel. 250-470-0750. Email: