In all the fuss about homeowner taxes, no one has mentioned the official tax appraiser who decides how much your house is really worth. I myself hadn't give him any thought until the other day when I saw a nicely dressed man with a pad and pencil standing on a street corner studying a house.
"You thinking of buying?" I asked him.
"No," he said, "I'm just appraising. How much do you think that the house is worth?"
"I know they paid $34,000 with a GI loan in 1947." He write down $34,000.
"But it's in great shape. They put a new roof on it two years ago," I told him.
"They make any other improvements?" he asked.
"They put in air conditioning in 1962," I said, trying to be helpful.
He wrote "A.C., $5,000."
"But they're really neat people. They take care of their lawn, and they have the most beautiful resebushes in the back."
He described "rose bushes, $160,000."
"When was the last time they painted the house?"
"Oh, they don't have to paint. All they do is wash down the brick every four of five years."
He wrote "No painting" and next to it "$7,500."
"What's that shack back there?" he asked.
"That's where they keep their electric lawn mower. The old man's getting on in years and can no longer mow his grass manually."
"They give many parties?" he wanted to know.
"Not many, but they have a lovely patio in the back and they bought a new awning for it last year."
Another $5,000 was added for the awning.
"You're really writing fast," I said.
"The law says any home improvement has to be added to the tax appraisal."
"I feel as if I'm ratting on those nice people," I said.
"Look at it this way. You're just making sure that they're paying their fair share of their property taxes. If they don't, the you'll be burdened with more than you should pay."
"That's true. I guess you know about the barbecue pit they built. The old man laid every brick of it himself."
The appraiser wrote down "Homebuilt barbecue pit, $25,000."
"Isn't that a bit much for a barbecue pit?" I asked.
"Since it's home-built it's one of kind. These things have a lot of value. Their curb seems kind of new."
"They repaired it this spring. The winter wrecked it."
He appraised the new curb for $2,000.
"I see the house next door is up for sale."
"Yes, it's the best house in the neighborhood. Has a wet bar in the cellar, an automatic sprikling system, a chime doorbell and a gazebo in the back yard."
"How much they asking for it?" he said.
"Two hundred and eighty thousand dollars."
"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?" the appraiser said angrily, tearing up his notes.
"If that houses is going for $280,000, then every house on the block is worth that."
"Oh," I said. "There goes the neighborhood."