COLUMN: Our fascination with house value

Admit it, you probably caught your breath for a moment when you reached into your mailbox and grasped that brown envelope from BC Assessment in your fingers.

In newsrooms large and small across the province, the press release announcing this year's assessment information arrived in email In boxes on January 2 like manna from heaven.

That's because the days around the Christmas and New Year's holidays are amongst the slowest for news. Most people are taking a break from their usual concerns, civic officials and bureaucrats don't return calls because they're away.

And editors know, in these dog days, nothing attracts eyeballs like stories about lavish real estate and how everyone's property investment measures up.

BC Assessment, bless them, does its very best to help that process along.

Their 10 regional offices prepare no fewer than 42 news releases that break down the assessment rolls to more specific geographical areas so newsrooms and readers can easily access the information that's most relevant to them.

That's in addition to the two fact sheets and backgrounders that provide general information about assessments in the province and the assessment process, the eight charts and graphs that plot the various property trends around the province and the 11 "greatest hits" that list the top valued residential properties for British Columbia and each of the regions.

If every Crown corporation or government agency was this magnanimous with information, it would leave journalists with a lot more time to do important stuff like update our Facebook status or upload new photos to our Twitter feeds.

It's an extraordinary communications effort that is the culmination of the work that goes in every year to create the assessment roll.

Its 632 full-time employees in 16 offices spend the year poring over data from various sources, including photographs, footprint sketches, location, amenities in the area, plans for new development and market demand to assign a value to 1,954,445 properties in the province. The company even has specially-equipped vans stationed in some communities that drive along every street snapping photos of every property. More than 87 per cent of those properties are classified as residential.

The decisions assessors make touch everyone in the pocketbook one way or another, as regional and municipal taxing authorities apply their property tax rate to assessed values to come up with your annual property tax bill. Even if you're a renter and never paid much mind to assessment notices or property tax rates, a portion of your monthly rent cheque will end up going to help your building's owner pay his property taxes.

This year's assessment roll will be the basis upon which more than $6.2 billion is raised in property taxes, money that helps pay for schools, local roads, municipal services like garbage collection and sewers, recreational facilities.

Heck, a bit of that money even goes to pay for BC Assessment, which is supported by property tax levies. In fact, in 2011 the assessment process cost each property $40.25.

Of course, BC Assessment doesn't generate all this information just to make it easy for newspapers to fill space.

Tim Morrison, the company's acting manager of communication, says it's all about making as much data readily available so property owners can easily understand their assessment. That's why only about 1.2 per cent of assessments were appealed last year, down from 1.5 per cent a few years ago.

"Every year we have to work at reinventing ourselves as a place of information," says Morrison.

And the hunger for that information seems insatiable, says Morrison. "People are curious. There's certain things people talk about and real estate is one of those in B.C. It's heightened when we release the assessment rolls every year."


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