Residential Property Assessment Increases: What You Should Know

Beginning in the spring of every year, many residential property owners in Wisconsin are given a new assessed value of their property. Homeowners are often shocked to see substantial increases over the previous year’s assessed value, despite no recent updates to the home.

An increased property assessment may be a concern for homeowners who fear the higher value will significantly increase their property tax bill. As a result, some homeowners feel it’s necessary to appeal the new assessment.

It’s important that homeowners understand how assessments are determined and if it’s reasonable to contest the higher value.

How are properties assessed in Wisconsin?

As described in the 2024 Guide for Property Owners by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, “An assessment is the value an assessor places on your property. This value determines what portion of the local property tax levy is covered by your property. An assessed value is the value a local assessor places on taxable property.”

Property Assessment Law requires that assessments be done by certified assessors and be based on fair market value on January 1.

If you are a homeowner, you should know that assessors determine the value of your home by reviewing recent sale prices of comparable homes in your neighborhood. In addition, assessors might look at the exterior of your home (and possibly request an interior inspection as well) to have the most up-to-date information on the condition of the property.

If you think you could sell your home for at least the amount on your latest property assessment, then chances are good that the assessment is appropriate.

Do I need to talk to a lawyer if I think my property assessment is unfair?

Each year the lawyers at Murphy Desmond are contacted by Wisconsinites who wish to appeal their new property assessment as they feel it is too high.

Before you decide to hire a lawyer to help you, consider the following:

1. Does your municipality know everything about your home that might make the assessment go even higher? Many people make improvements to their home without a permit (correctly or incorrectly), such as adding central air, finishing a basement or attic space, or updating a kitchen. If you made any improvements since the assessor last inspected your home or of which your municipality may be unaware, your assessed value could increase even further if you appeal.

2. How likely is it that your property taxes will go up significantly as a result of the increased assessed value? There is no way to determine in advance how much your property taxes will increase or how much any increase will be attributable to an increase in your assessment. If, however, your assessment increases at roughly the same percentage as most other residential properties, the increased assessment is not likely to be the cause of a tax increase. Assessments do not increase taxes in a direct manner. Rather, your assessment determines the share of the total municipal tax levy you will pay. Either way, that tax increase, for all but the most expensive homes, is likely less than the cost of hiring an attorney to appeal your current assessed value.

Still want to appeal your property assessment?

Wisconsin residential property owners who feel certain their latest property assessment is unfair may challenge the latest assessment. You can do this by completing an "Objection Form to Real Property Assessment" with your municipality by the date indicated on the notice of changed assessment. You may present your reasoning, which must be based on relevant evidence, in person to a local Board of Review (BOR). The BOR will make a determination.

A municipal or real estate attorney can help in this process, but rarely is the property tax increase more than the cost of hiring counsel to appeal the assessment.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue produces detailed guidance for property owners, including relevant links to forms and laws here.

Published May 13, 2024