Special assessments can be a unique animal for our property analysts and a deadly beast for a new property owner. That’s a bit dramatic, but they’re one part of the whole municipal lien search puzzle that gives a buyer a clear look at the financial health of a property and can be tricky to track down. Special assessments also cause current homeowners a lot of stress when facing municipal bills they might not have ever expected. After all, if the home was bought 20 years ago and the septic system works fine, why would owners want to connect to the city or county sewer system?
While title agents and other real estate professionals are familiar with assessments, some potential buyers may not be fully aware of how these bills will affect their biggest financial investment.
Here’s the classic conundrum: You are buying a home. You have searched the current owner’s name in the clerk of the court and requested the most current utility balance on the property. However, after closing, you come to find that there is an unpaid assessment on the property for sewer connection. Where did you go wrong?
What is a special assessment?
Special assessments are charges levied against a particular property that will gain a benefit from a public project. Special assessments typically include infrastructure improvements such as new roads, street lights, or sewer, stormwater, and water connections to the municipal supply. This type of charge is not listed in the ad valorem taxes of the property.
Some counties will list special assessments on the non-ad valorem tax line of a property’s bill, but not always.
In addition to public special assessments, living in a condo, townhouse or house that is part of an HOA or COA may also see special assessments levied by the private association. This can go toward anything in the community that will improve the general amenities for the residences. This assessment is in addition to HOA fees.
How do you find a special assessment on a property?
The major problem with public special assessments is that they can be easy to lose track of on a property that has changed owners several times since the assessment was first placed on the property. Special assessments are usually found in the public record of the county, but not always. If a new buyer is not aware of the chain of title and only does a name search in the clerk of the court on the most current owner, the assessment and pay off will not be found under that owner.
This is why it is imperative to get an official assessment search, payoff request, or municipal lien search from governing authorities who have the power to levy an assessment.
For instance, in Pasco county, any property, whether it be in the jurisdiction of the county or in an incorporated city, has the potential of being assessed for paving improvements by the county. Unless this is specifically requested from the county, the unpaid assessment may be missed. To ensure that no amounts owed to the municipality are overlooked, it is highly advised to always get this paving assessment search completed by the county for every property in Pasco.
Palm Beach County also levies special assessments on property for pavement, water, and sewer connections. Although the original lien might be easy to find on the owner that it was levied on at the time in the clerk of the court, this lien does not always list the most current amount owed to the municipality due to interest or adjustments in cost. A payoff request must be made to the county in order to receive the most accurate amount due before the closing.
It’s the job of our property analysts to work diligently to report all money owed to a municipality or homeowner’s association on commercial or residential property. We know that special assessments can be especially sneaky for a new home buyer, which is why we work hard to provide clarity in our municipal lien search reports and educate every consumer, regardless if they are directly (indirectly) working with us.