Maricopa County, like many counties throughout the country these days, keeps a public record of the square footage (among other statistics) of residential dwelling structures (i.e. houses, apartments and condos.) The County gets their information from plans included with building permits which have been approved and completed. At least that’s one way they would obtain such information.
The problem with this method of reporting square footage is that, many people build livable square footage on to their houses without pulling permits. People will intentionally not pull permits when building additions and additional square footage for many reasons. Pulling permits delays construction from beginning while waiting for permit approvals; as well as, trying to avoid planning and permit fees are among the top reasons not to pull permits. Also, included in reasons for not pulling permits would be to avoid the increase in property taxes by “hiding” the new square footage for the County Assessor, thus avoiding a higher value assessment and property tax.
Not so fast though, the County is on to those who think they can fool them. With more and more sophisticated and accurate satellite aerial measuring devices now available, the County is using such methods to be able to tax those unpermitted structures.
Maricopa County has put to work a system that measures the outline of structures via an aerial satellite device, then compares the square footage calculations current on county records and increases it if it measures the structure larger. This way the County will benefit from the larger tax base evaluation.
This method of assessing square footage is riddled with problems. The most obvious problem is that it is very difficult to determine livable square footage from a roof view via satellite images. Very few of these additions are nothing but enclosed patios, often without any heating and cooling. Such would hardly be considered livable square footage.
The definitions of livable square footage vary considerably; however, most include the premise that the livable portion of a structure should contain most if not all of: an efficient central heating and cooling system, insulation, a roof line that is from the same continuous slope form peak to eave and has a proper stem wall or structural support foundation system. You can see why it would be difficult to determine livable square footage from a satellite view.
The County is now charging many homeowners taxes based on a larger assessment calculated from a false aerial assessment. This isn’t the only problem this situation is causing. This situation is causing havoc in the real estate world. The problem here is that many agents don’t know the County is doing this type of assessment and don’t know how to even check to see if the County’s footprint assessment of the structure is actually what exists. What ends up happening is a property is listed by an uneducated agent who will price the house based on the County’s higher false square footage assessment. This makes for a big surprise come two weeks before closing when all parties find out the property will not appraise because it is smaller than the tax records indicate. Not to mention, the seller that has likely negotiated and even preformed repairs based on the wrong square footage and price.