Family Built ISBU (Shipping Container) Homes and Property Taxes

31 Jan

As we begin fulfilling the “Feasibility Study” that will define the Haitian Medical Clinic Containers that we’re going to start building in the next few weeks…

While the Fat CAT’s fight over funding, WE “little guys” (just “Average Joe’s” in full possession of a conscience instead of a freakin’ spreadsheet)  are gonna actually DO something.

Children are dying. It’s breaking my heart.

Yes, I have one, Yeah, it’s little, and calcified, and probably black, but it’s still beating. And every time I see the Haiti footage on the News, I see MY young son lying there.

If you’d like to contribute or help, you know where the Paypal button is, and you know my email address. (For those of you who don’t they’re both located over on the right side of this blog post.)

We AREN’T gonna talk about helping people in committee’s and conference calls… We’re going to DO something.

Here comes “The Container Cavalry”… pilgrim.

As John Wayne said: “Come Hell or High Water”…

Anyway… where was I? Oh yeah…

… As we start laying the foundation for the aid to Haiti,  I thought I’d take a moment to answer a question that was emailed to me a few days ago.

This is a question that I suspect every ISBU Home Building family faces, so it’s a good idea to just answer it here.

Let’s just jump in, shall we?

Dear Ronin,

First, we appreciate you and your family more than you know. Here in the Sierra’s, our ISBU home is finally complete.

After months of hard work (where you told us what we COULDN’T build as often as you showed us what we COULD build),  piles of paperwork, shop drawings, scans, and napkin scratchings, and lot’s of “last minute hand-holding” (from you), we’re finally in our new home and starting to adjust to a a different lifestyle, one filled with a strange new world of awareness.

Now we actually KNOW how much power we use during the course of the day. And we’ve begun adjusting our lives, as we become self-reliant and responsible. We actually time our showers now, to conserve hot water and electricity.

(BTW: Our teen-aged daughter ‘hates’ us now. Her hair dryer is now basically history. Do you have any idea how much energy a hair dryer uses?)

Wait until she figures out that the extra money we’re saving is going to help buy her first car next year. I bet she changes her tune then…

Speaking of “adjustments,” I need an opinion. Now, I know that asking your opinion on the blog may subject us to your wry wit (and even a few pointed sticks), but we’re willing to risk it.

You’ve been right (and even the voice of reason), at every turn, thus far.

YOU, of all people…  “The voice of reason.” How ironic. 🙂

(So, we thought: here’s your one chance to be “spectacularly wrong”, and skew all the data!) 🙂

“Obie-Wan, please, use the “Force” and tell us what do to…

Now that our home is complete, one of the first thing that happens is that the Tax Assessor races up the driveway, to slap a value on all of our hard work, thus lining their pockets with our hard-saved cash.

We built this house out of our savings, just like you taught us. We crawled thru junk piles for materials, we recycled, we ‘repurposed’, and we even ‘invented’ some things… We didn’t borrow, and we didn’t overextend ourselves.

I still say that  you’re the Jewish version of MacGiver. Of course Tina (Editor’s note: Tina is Bob’s wife, and FAR better half)  says that you’re a “psychotic Drill Instructor”.  I think that it probably just depends on the day…

(Editor’s note: Okay, maybe not THAT much better a half.)

So, now we have no note, no mortgage, no greedy relatives to pay off, no rent, nada.

We’ve gotten our Assessment, and frankly, I nearly had a Heart Attack when I saw it.  It’s actually over double what we spent on the house, even if you add in our estimated costs of labor.  (Editors Note: They did much of  the work themselves.) We didn’t spend anywhere near this “taxable amount” and with the Real Estate market hemorrhaging, we can’t see how we could ever get this amount, in resale.

(Like we’d sell it, after all the crap we went thru to build it. Now we understand what you were talking about when you said that this process can actually lead to divorce, or “gunplay.”)

We have no intention of ever selling it.

We’re surrounded by foreclosures, and empty vacation homes.

As a result of this, we’re thinking that our house is actually worth much less than the value slapped on it by that “good ole boy”  Tax Cowboy down at City Hall.

We have no desire to use the created equity to borrow against. What we sought from the beginning was a home, free and clear, that no one could ever take. And now, the tax man is trying to leverage that take-over, after all our hard work.

What do we do? Should we appeal the assessment?”


Bob and Tina

Dear Padiwan Learner,

First, I look more like Yoda, than Obie-wan, according to the “Intergalactic Oracle of all Arcane Knowledge”… my wife…  🙂

Second, I’m not “psychotic.” I’m “special”. I know it’s true because my Mom told me so. And she NEVER lied. 😉

Third, after consulting the “Power of the Force“, a OUIJI Board, a Magic 8-Ball…  and even some people who are paid to  act like they actually know (but probably don’t) – you know… Lawyers and Realtors, and such ilk… 😉

I think that you answered your own question.

You have no intention to sell the property in the near future, if ever. So, you’re not trying to protect the actual perceived or “estimated” resale value.

In your case, it’s just a generated number, one that unfortunately helps to calculate your Property Tax exposure.

I think that you SHOULD appeal the assessment.

And, you should do it quick. You only have 90 days to file it.

Your concern isn’t the resale price of your property, it’s the amount of tax that you’ll pay now, to live in/on it.

And like I told you all thru this process, ISBU Homes frequently appraise higher than the construction costs. Sometimes significantly. I was, in my way, trying to gently get you ready for just this scenario.

(Imagine ME acting “gently.” Now THAT’S Irony…)

Okay… It should be noted that tax assessments aren’t really even a good indication of what your property is really worth. That dollar value is almost completely market-driven.

Now, you’re going to have to prove a few things to make this appeal work;

You’re going to have to demonstrate that the guy “pencil-whipping” you made a mistake. You know… like in adding too many bathrooms, or bedrooms and such to the equation.

In your case, he probably didn’t… as from our previous conversations you said that he was quite thorough, as your construction method peaked his interest.

So, you’re going to have to prove that other houses similar to yours, in your general location, are worth less money. The fact that you are surrounded by foreclosures should help this along.

These foreclosures drive down values in entire neighborhoods, like housing cancer.

If there’s one thing I know about, it’s cancer.

Be forceful, choose your points well, and then, argue your tail off.

In fact, send Tina.

Note: Tina is the wife of this clan, who evidently says “I’m psychotic”. I always liked her, up until about…  um… a few days ago. 😉

Anyway, I repeat. Send Tina. No one on earth can win an argument against your wife or even “get a word in edgewise”. She’s the ‘Henry Kissinger’ of arguments. I love that girl! 🙂

At least when she’s not arguing with ME.

And… I know for a fact that you’re a Military Veteran.

Semper Fi, you [expletive deleted]!! 🙂

You may just qualify for an exemption that will affect your property tax. You don’t get them automatically, you have to file for them. According to my sources, you have until March 15th to do it, if you want it to affect this years taxes.

I’ve already requested the paperwork, and as soon as it arrives, I’ll publish the information on the blog.

Enjoy your new home. I am so proud of you guys!

And I seem to recall that you owe me a big steak dinner… I’m still waiting…


Another Success Story, straight from the bowels of the Deep South!

If Tina and her tribe can do it… especially hampered by having to work with HER husband…

You can do it too!

(Sorry guys, I couldn’t help myself…) 🙂

Actually, all kidding aside… Tina’s husband is a ROCK. He’d have to be. He’s a U.S. Marine.


6 Responses to “Family Built ISBU (Shipping Container) Homes and Property Taxes”

  1. NickB. February 2, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    Where I’m at, all property tax appraisals are done as market value and you can research, through our appraisal districts, recent sales in your area. If you can demonstrate that homes of a similar square footage, #bedrooms, etc are selling significantly lower than what your house is appraised at then you should be able to fight it and get your appraisal reduced.

    Now, that’s for the structure/improvement… if they jacked your land value that can be a little more difficult to fight unless you can demonstrate that they did not appraise your land like-for-like (like when my lake-viewable property was reappraised at 300% as lake-front).

    Best advice, get prepared, try not to be too hot under the collar – at least, at first – and make the initial contact in person. Also speaking from personal experience, don’t get frustrated if they don’t reduce right off the bat but ask you to go to an appeal board hearing… sometimes the first responders are not allowed to make certain concessions but you could get lucky. At worst, they should be able to explain why your appraisal was justified in the head of the guy who came-a-callin, schedule your appeal, and then you will be able to prep better for the formal hearing.

    That said, method of building typically does not factor into appraisal methods BUT other properties of the structure can. Again, where I live at least, things like ceiling heights, built-ins and the overall building quality (*on the outside, not the inside) can bend the curve on your appraisal… but that difference should be marginal and not orders of magnitude… which it sounds like what they were hit with here.

    That’s my $0.02 at least

    * “on the outside” implies what is visible, not the bones of the structure

  2. clarkscottroger February 3, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    Read with interest this Post, being in the real estate business. (A broker in New England).
    For all the stories in the media about the ‘real estate market change/price adjustment/foreclosure/or meltdown’ there have been few stories about the effect of the change in market values on (tax) assessement.
    The writer of the first Reply here has said all that can be said about what you are up against. Little for me to add other than the key is to recognise what you are ‘up against’ when appealing an Assessment.
    The successful appeals that I have experienced have been, without exception the result of maintaining the balance (as described in previous Reply) between getting the facts that argue in your favor and recognising that you are trying to convince a person who is usually viewed as ‘the enemy’.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, sell the person first and provide (them) with facts for them to ‘justify’ agreeing with you.

    (Chilling stat: in my part of the country, current market value of property compared to what people paid at the peak of the market (2005 or so) is running at a discount of about 40%.)
    Many communities and municipalities ‘re-assess’ real estate every three years, others assess upon the sale of the property. Those communities doing this every 3 years will see dramatic changes to their “Grand List’ due to ‘adjustment in real estate values.

    Good Luck on your efforts to help the people at your town hall/tax assessor to see that your particular property should have consideration of the factors everyone here has outlined so well.

  3. clarkscottroger February 4, 2010 at 6:51 am #

    (quick follow-up) it is a ‘tribute/validation’ to the design of ISBU homes that (your local) Tax Assessor seems to be just plugging in Total Available Living Area (a component of assessment). Your house and the Colonial and the Ranch down the street are being measured side by side for market value.
    As NickB rightly points out, there are a number of factors in arriving at an assessed value; while different parts of the country take different approaches to this process, an appraisal (often a component of the assessement), has a factor called ‘Design Appeal’.
    This means, how much do people like a particular style of house? This might be the ‘Archilles Heel’ in your assessement. You might want to consult an attorney or an appraiser to see if that might be the basis for a sucessful appeal. (Even a local real estate agent can help, from the sales appeal perspective).
    Having said that, I would repeat the obvious, the Tax Assessor is a person who may or may not welcome someone coming in challenging their work. And the system is designed to allow it but there is the saying about winning the battle and losing the war.
    (Hope this does not sound condescending, I do not mean to do that, but I have seen it happen where a property owner goes in with an ironclad case for appeal, only to have the Official find something in “subchapter 6 of the amended rules…” to trump my clients case.)
    Still, sounds like you have the basis of an Appeal and with good counsel hopefully you will do well.

    ( the topic here is personality types and your typical Tax Assessor is totally a roger.

  4. Shuey February 7, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    As one who (unfortunately) has a fair amount of experience contesting property tax appraisals, I commiserate with you. You’ve already heard the basics from previous commenters about addressing both the land and the structure valuations separately. Nitpick all the details (driveway finish, metes and bounds, square footage of the structure, etc). Find out if your appraisal board recognizes a “cost basis” approach to valuing the structure. If they do, give ’em the list of materials cost and add your labor at no more than a minimum wage rate. Might give you another valid avenue for some well-deserved relief. If they shoot you down, you might stick some short axles on the sides, slap on some big rig wheels and tell ’em you want your home recognized as a mobile home. If p&z tells you that’s illegal, you’ve got another argument for a valuation downgrade…a non-conforming structure.
    Good luck!

  5. Gayla Bilal February 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    I would have to say this is an certified piece of work. I say this needs mentioning somewhere else. Would you mind if I placed a link on my site to this post?

    • renaissanceronin February 22, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

      What can I say? I’m “Certified.”

      At least that’s what the shrink the Judge made me see, said… 😉


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