Reviewing the ins and outs of your property tax bill

Like clockwork, your property tax bill shows up in October. Like clockwork, you either pay half or all of the bill and bemoan how high it is or appreciate the savings of Proposition 13.

Following are a few frequently asked questions about property taxes.

Q: When does my property tax bill arrive, and when is payment due?

A: It usually arrives in mid-October. Bills are prepared based on the assessed valuation as of January. You must pay at least half no later than Dec. 10, and the second half no later than April 10.

Q: What time period does this year’s bill cover?

A: July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.

Q: Can I pay it all in December?

A: Yes. To the extent allowable, property taxes are deductible in the calendar year they are paid.

Q: How are property taxes calculated?

A: The lion’s share is ad valorem, meaning a percentage – usually 1% – based on the assessed value.

Q: How much could my property taxes go up each year?

A: Property taxes are generally limited to a 2% increase annually, plus any voter-approved parcel taxes.

Q: What’s a parcel tax?

A: Parcel taxes are levied, usually by a super-majority vote, as a fixed-dollar amount per parcel regardless of size or value. Some parcel taxes have provisions that seniors can opt out of paying.

Q: What do our property taxes pay for?

A: A multitude of things that will vary but could include local public schools, public safety enhancements and road improvements.

Q: What is a supplemental tax bill?

A: By law, your property tax can only increase by a maximum of 2% each year. When you sell your house, the property taxes will increase to the current value – the sales price, in most cases. The new owner will continue to pay the old, lower seller’s rate until the county can prepare a new property tax bill based on the new price. When the county does, usually three to six months later, the new homeowner will receive a supplemental bill.

Q: What happens if the value of my house decreases to less than the assessed value?

A: You can appeal, and if you can show a loss in value, your taxes may be reduced temporarily.

Q: Do I have to pay property taxes?

A: Yes. Property taxes are levied as a lien on your house, so they will eventually be deducted from the proceeds when the house sells.

Owen Halliday is a realtor who manages the Sereno Group office in downtown Los Altos. Text or call him with questions, comments and potential column topics at 492-0062 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A new kind of social community platform

R Community” width=
Courtesy of Jenny Huang
R Community co-founders Kevin Arnold, left, and Scott Plautz developed a social media platform that aims to build community via curated content delivered to smartphones.

Some of us grew up watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” That was the good old times, when we knew our neighbors and what was happening around our town.

Will no-cost trading improve your investment returns?

Charles Schwab & Co. revealed recently that it plans to eliminate online transaction fees for exchange-traded funds, stocks and options. Two days, later TD Ameritrade followed suit, causing brokerage stocks to suffer their worst weekly drop in well over a decade as investors digested the earnings losses brokerage firms are likely to experience.

Is this really a big deal, and which investors are most likely to benefit?

On the Market: Dealing with changes in home insurance coverage

The damage incurred in the wake of recent wildfires has dramatically impacted insurance companies’ bottom lines. In the past, homeowners didn’t have to worry much about purchasing insurance – it was nearly always available, and at a fairly reasonable cost. That, however, is changing.

Q: Where has the most dramatic change occurred in homeowners insurance?

A: The availability and cost of fire insurance. Not only are the rates rising, but in some places, insurance companies are not writing new policies for fire insurance.

Q: What happens if my insurance company raises my rates?

A: Get on the phone and call around to other insurance companies. (Or call me for some referrals.) In most cases, it is better to stay with your existing company rather than change companies altogether.

Q: What if my insurance company cancels my insurance?

A: A program called the California FAIR Plan (, which operates like the California Earthquake Authority, offers fire insurance. It is expensive, though.

Q: What about flood insurance? Is it required?

A: Around here, it is not usually required unless you are in a designated flood zone. If you are in a flood zone and have a federally insured loan on your house, you will be required to purchase flood insurance (usually in the $2,000-$3,000 per year range).

Q: What other insurance problems are you seeing?

A: Airbnb, vacation rental, etc. If you are using your home for short-term rentals, contact your insurance company to ensure that you have the right kind of coverage.

Also, take action if your home will remain vacant for an extended period of time (usually 60-plus days). Call your insurance company to confirm that you will be covered.

Q: What’s the advantage of an insurance broker versus an insurance company?

A: Brokers offer access to insurance products from a wide range of insurance providers, so that would be a good place to start if you are having trouble finding insurance. Your best bet is to call around. Combining all of your insurance needs under one roof often provides substantial discounts, so be sure to ask.

Q: Should I upgrade the policy I have had for many years?

A: Yes, it is definitely worth reviewing. Replacement costs have risen dramatically, as labor is more expensive. There’s nothing worse than paying for insurance that ends up not covering you when you really need it.

Owen Halliday is a realtor who manages the Sereno Group office in downtown Los Altos. Text or call him with questions, comments, potential column topics or to request a valuation of your house at 492-0062 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

How to use up leftover money in a 529 college savings plan

Los Altos High School graduation” width=
Alicia Castro/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos High School seniors march toward graduation ceremonies in June. Many families start 529 college savings plans long before their child graduates from high school. In some cases, there is money left over even after their child finishes college.

Despite the burgeoning cost of higher education these days, you might still find yourself with unspent money in a 529 plan after your child has graduated from college. As you may know, if you withdraw the money for nonqualified education purposes, you have to pay taxes plus an additional 10% penalty on the earnings withdrawn from the account.

Nest Egg Briefs: How big a risk are your investments facing?

You might be familiar with the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where leaders from around the world meet to discuss the most pressing issues facing our collective societies. The WEF produces a Global Risks Report summarizing the results, based not only on the discussions at the meeting, but also on feedback from hundreds of economists and other specialists in numerous countries.

One of the biggest risks highlighted in the 2019 report was not the possibility of a global recession, trade wars or political extremism. Rather, it was the risk of nuclear war using weapons of mass destruction. The logic behind this applies to your investment strategy as well.

Schools »

Read More

Sports »

Read More

People »

Read More

Special Sections »

Special Sections
Read More

Photos of Los Altos

Browse and buy photos