- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

In your search for the latest value of your house, one of the records you need to include in your formula is the tax assessment. Now this is a slippery piece of information to use in the valuation process.

While most tax assessment offices across the country will tell you that their assessments reflect fair market value, sales prices usually do not mirror the assessed value. Therefore, you may find your assessed value vs. market value doesn't match. For some jurisdictions, the assessed value is lower and vice versa.

Another piece of information to keep in mind is that property assessments are performed regularly, while market value is a moving target, changing each week as average sales prices roll in.

As you go about researching the value of your home, however, there are some great Web sites to make your job easier. The Internet makes public records research a breeze.

One of the best places on the Web to take a look at your property records is found on a site operated by the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The link is pretty long (https:// www.people.virginia.edu/~dev-pros/Realestate.html) but well worth the tapping upon your keyboard, then bookmarking the site or clicking it into your favorites.

U.Va. has produced, and keeps adding onto, this fabulous database of property assessments online. If you own property and pay taxes, this site can be very useful if your public data is digitized and available through your county or city's Web sites.

Created by U.Va. student Angela Vaughan, the site is maintained by fellow student Susan Rider and was just updated a couple of weeks ago.

The front page of the Property Assessments Online (PAO) first offers the surfer links to the various regions of the country. For instance, "The South" link gives you access to online assessments from 231 jurisdictions spread throughout Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Once you click the link, you're taken to a long html-based page (I would suggest creating these pages in a columnar format for even easier navigation) with states listed and their locales linked. From there, you can check out whatever it is your tax assessor's office has deemed pertinent enough to place online, assuming, of course, that your hometown has made digitizing of your land records a priority.

In my own back yard of Fairfax County, not only did I find my current assessed value, but also the last two transactions of my property, acreage of the lot, house description, comparable sales used to determine the assessed value of my house, a parcel map of my neighborhood, along with an aerial view of the whole community with my property highlighted in yellow. Amazing. Scary, but amazing.

While I like having access to the PAO, so does anyone else in the world not just my address, taxes, names, etc., but now satellite photos of my roof line, albeit from thousands of miles away.

If you don't find your jurisdiction available at the U.Va. site, then click on over to Appraisers.com (https:// www.appraisers.com/index.html), which is a commercial site that has 3,200 pages, including a page for every county in the United States with listings of appraisers for consumers to use in determining valuation of their property.

This one is high on graphics and ease of navigation, mainly directing surfers to its paid-listing directory for appraisers. Click a state, click a region, click a county and you are then presented with a directory of appraisers using the site.

Finally, if you're mostly interested in the latest sales price, rather than the most recent tax assessment, then check out Domania.com (https:// domania.homestore.com/ homepricecheck/index.jsp), which is the area of Realtor.com where you can find out the latest sales prices in your community. Seeing the value of working with a winner, Domania.com partnered last year with Realtor.com to produce this very useful site. Domania.com researches property sale records and inputs them in its massive database, which powers Realtor.com's Home Price Check section.

Click to Realtor.com, scroll down to the Check Home Sales Price link on the left side of the page, and you're there. Then search by address for sales in your area.

M. Anthony Carr is a Washington-based writer who has covered real estate issues for more than a decade. Send questions or comments to him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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