Step-by-Step Guide: How to Calculate Washington State Property Taxes
Newmark PCG

August 18, 2021

Washington State property taxes are calculated by their fair market value and reassessed every year. The state uses a budget-based property tax system, which means that the counties recalculate tax rates annually to pay for the budget. Every county determines the assessed value of all the real estate in its jurisdiction and levies regular and special property taxes against a property. The following steps are the process for a county in Washington to calculate property taxes:

  1. The government’s budget is determined
  2. The government determines the property tax revenue required to fund the budget (called the Levy Amount)
  3. The County Assessor’s Office reassess property values (annually)
  4. A tax rate is determined by dividing the Levy Amount by the Total Assessed Value of the County
  5. The tax rate is applied to the individual properties assessed values to calculate the tax bill, plus any special assessments

Counties split the reassessment of commercial property into the land and improvements. State law mandates that the land is valued by the market approach as if the land was vacant. Next, the assessor’s office determines the value of the improvements through all three appraisal methods although the income and cost approach are mainly used. The appraisal method that offers the best evidence of value will be used as the assessed value of the improvements.

There are two limitations to the total property taxes collected by the government. In 1972, voters placed a 1.0% limit on the property tax rate, nicknamed the “Ten Dollar Limit.” The Ten Dollar Limit controls step four above when the County Assessor divides the levy amount by the total assessed value of all property in the county. In practice, the Ten Dollar Limit is not a significant barrier, since the government reassesses property values every year. As long as property values increase, the 1% tax rate is achieved, and the government collects more property taxes. The other limitation is a 1% cap on annual increases. However, voter-approved special assessments, tax rate increases (levy lid lift), or banked capacity by the local government can adjust both limitations.

Since the Ten Dollar Limit and the 1% cap on the levy amount are for the government’s total property tax collections, these limitations do not affect individual properties. There are no limitations or caps on annual increases to any property’s tax assessment. As the government’s budget increases, or decreases, property taxes follow. Holding all else constant, if there is new construction in the market, then property taxes decrease since the levy amount is spread across more buildings. Our general rule for property tax calculations in Washington is 90% to 95% of market value with annual reassessments depending on the county.

Woman reviewing Washington State property taxes on a clipboard

Banked Capacity

A property tax bill may be more than 1% of assessed value if there are voter-approved special assessments, or the government may use its banked capacity from RCW 84.55.092. Banked capacity is the ability of a local government to levy additional property taxes when previous taxes were less than the maximum amount allowed. For example, a city decides not to increase property taxes during year one. The following year (year two), the city’s budget requires extra funds. The city can increase property taxes in year two by the maximum legal amount for year one and year two since the taxes from year one was “banked.” The goal of banked capacity is to disincentivize cities from increasing property taxes the maximum amount each year by providing reassurance for future revenue.

Property Tax Example

Let’s assume there is a 50,000-square-foot office building. Due to its location, the office building has a market value of $12,500,000. In our example, King County has assessed commercial real estate at 95% of market value.

Taxes can fluctuate dramatically in Washington State due to the budget-based system. Real estate reassessments occur annually. However, in practice, annual reassessments may not happen due to excessive workload. If there is a sale, the assessor will likely use the sale price as the market value and reassess the property at approximately 95% of the sale price and charge the tax rate determined by the Ten Dollar Rule and any local special assessments.

Market Value$12,500,000
Assessed Value (95%)$11,875,000
Tax Rate Estimate – $12.52 per $1,000$148,675
Possible Other Charges (ex. Fire Fee)$6,000
Total Property Taxes$154,675

How to Appeal Washington State Property Taxes

The best candidates for property tax appeals are properties that have recently changed ownership or have recently finished construction. Property owners can appeal property taxes by filing an application with the clerk at the County Board of Equalization by the later of July 1st of the assessment year or within 30 calendar days after the date of the value change.

There are two issues upon which to base an appeal:

  1. The value placed on the property is not correct
  2. The value placed on the property is not equitable with values placed on comparable properties

The first step in the appeals process is to speak with the staff in the assessor’s office to determine if there is a discrepancy. The next step is an administrative hearing in front of the County Board of Equalization. At this stage, property owners may choose to be represented by a tax professional or a lawyer since the property owner has the burden of proving the assessor improperly valued the property. If the Board denies the property owner, further action is possible through an appeal to the State Board of Tax Appeals. The Newmark Property Tax Group specializes in appealing property taxes, so reach out with any questions.

For more information about property taxes in the Western United States, review our other articles like the Step-by-Step Guide: How to Calculate Nevada Property Taxes and the Step-by-Step Guide: How to Calculate California Property Taxes.

Timeline of Washington State Property Tax Laws

2017House Bill 2242Suspended the revenue limit only on state property taxes between 2018 through 2021.
2007House Bill 2416Reinstated the 1% limit to property tax increases from Imitative 747.
2001Initiative 747Limited property tax increases to inflation or 1%, whichever is less. This was also ruled unconstitutional since it amended Initiative 722.
2000Initiative 722Limited annual increase on the assessed value to the rate of inflation or 2%, whichever is less, and rolled back tax base years to 2000. However, this was ruled unconstitutional.
1997Referendum 47Imposed additional requirements to the 106% limit on jurisdictions with populations over 10,000 people. Overturned by the State Supreme Court for being unconstitutional.
1990RCW 84.52.043 (2)Local property tax levy rates are increased to $5.90 per $1,000.
1976Amendment 64 in WA State ConstitutionExtended Amendment 55 from 1972 to limit State property taxes too.
1972Amendment 59 in WA State ConstitutionNicknamed the “Ten Dollar Limit” this law limits the regular levy of property taxes to 1% of the assessed value and allows for additional special levies with voter approval. And assessment level is increased to 100% of true and fair market value.
1972Amendment 55 in WA State ConstitutionStates that property tax revenue cannot increase more than 106% of the highest amount of revenue from the previous three years for local governments. Additionally, annual reassessment is permitted.
Source: A Legislative Guide to Washington’s Tax Structure, 2020 & Washington State Department of Revenue Property Tax Levies Operations Manual, 2020

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is provided for general informational purposes only, and should not be considered or treated as legal or tax advice and represents only general information that may or may not be applicable to the reader’s particular situation. The reader should consult its own attorney and/or tax advisor if specific guidance, information, or advise is required.

About the Author(s)

Mark Schuessler is a Managing Director with the Newmark Private Capital Group and has closed more than 80 sales transactions with a total volume in excess of $1.5 billion. Mike Diaz is a Managing Director based in the firm’s Irvine, CA office, Mr. Diaz brings to his position over 15 years of experience assisting clients in all phases of the property tax cycle.