What Is the Difference Between Real Estate Taxes & Personal Property Taxes?

Most homes are subject to real estate taxes

Taxes are a fact of life. That's why taxpayers need to be well-informed about the different types of taxes that they may have to be pay. Two common categories of taxes are real estate taxes and personal property taxes. The two terms are easily confused because they both concern types of property, but in fact, personal property and real estate have very different meanings.

Real property

The term "real estate," or "real property," refers to land, plus anything that is fixed or attached to the land, such as a building or landscaping. For example, a house built on a residential lot is considered to be real property. The furniture inside the house generally isn't part of the real property or real estate. Built-in fixtures, such as a bookcase that's permanently nailed to a wall, or built-in appliances, such as a dishwasher that's part of the kitchen cabinets, generally are considered part of the real property after they are installed. Real property is permanently affixed to land or a structure.

Personal property

The term "personal property" refers to items of private ownership that can be moved about and are not attached to land. Personal property is also sometimes called "chattel" or "movables." Livestock is considered to be personal property, not real estate, even though cattle or other animals may be sold along with real property. Examples of personal property include cars, furniture that's not attached to the property, jewelry, art, electronic devices, and boats.

Real property taxes

Real property taxes are taxes based on the value of real estate. These taxes aren't collected by the federal government, but rather by states, cities, school districts and other local authorities. Real property tax laws may be "split roll," which means that the taxes are assessed separately and differently for commercial or business property and residential property (homes). In California, annual rises in property taxes are limited by a law commonly referred to as "Proposition 13."

Personal property taxes

Personal property taxes are taxes on the value of personal property such as retail purchases, cars, boats, livestock and business equipment. These taxes are also assessed by state or local governments. The most common type of personal property tax is a sales tax, which is paid at the time of purchase. Others, such as car or boat registration fees, are paid annually. Services generally are exempt from sales taxes.

Useful to know

If you owe taxes on real property or personal property, you should find out specifically what property is being taxed, how the value of the property is determined, how the tax is calculated, when the tax must be paid, and what the consequences in terms of interest and penalties are if the tax payment is late. In the case of real property, the property generally can be confiscated and sold by the taxing authority if the tax isn't paid.