Value at a distance

I learned recently that in the early 90’s, the Government decided to introduce a new council tax system. To make this work nationally, they devised a series of bands and attempted to fit every property in the country within them. This was based on valuations; how much they were thought to cost at the time. Ambitious. Bonkers. No mean feat.

The bigger problem here though, is most of the time value at a distance is very subjective. Surely there are too many variables that go into the process of determining the price of a house locally? Let alone trying to do that on a national stage. And, as a government, you’re almost too many layers of abstraction away to have any real sense of the value of something anyway, beyond what the market may tell you. Right?

So back to the 90's. The government turned to estate agents to help bridge this gap. Because estate agents, in a way, help to determine the value conditions of the market. But estate agents are the ultimate efficiency hunters. They cut corners in the search for an edge in the supply and demand game. So (oversimplification I know) they pretty much copied and pasted valuations in an area, shoe horning lots of different properties into the same tax band. They became known as ‘second-gear valuations’, as it was said they’d glance at a house from the car to assess the value, without having to stop. Rigour.

But why does all this matter? Well if you’re lucky enough to find yourself at the end of a successful house buy, chances are the amount of council tax you’ll pay was determined by this very process. And! It likely hasn’t been queried since the 90’s. But hang on a minute, hasn’t the market changed dramatically since then? Why yes! So you might be paying more than your neighbours, even though your houses might be the same darn size.

So, in an effort to reduce the distance or gap between that 90’s valuation and the true value – to save some cash on your tax band – you can challenge. There’s even a process for it, a proper governance mechanism as part of the Valuation Office Agency!

But! Before you do speak up and plead your case, you not only have to think about your outcome, but also that of your neighbours, your new community. Because the result of you challenge might just mean that your neighbours properties will be assessed and face a hefty price hike. Tricky judgement call.

Which is where I was going with this train of thought originally. I faced the dilemma recently, and as with all things in the universe, personal life and work life converged. Offering up the tax band judgement call as an analogy for voicing your opinion within an organisation felt fitting.

You see, it’s a bit like balancing the risks of speaking up within an organisation. You can have your voice heard, and ignite or propel some kind of change. That in turn could improve outcomes for you and the people around you. It might worsen those very same things. Or, it could even better the conditions for others whilst damaging your stock.

But I guess that’s activism (lite). And it sure in hell gives you a sense check of whether or not you’re really prepared and willing to make your own situation worse in favour of improving that of others.

So yeah, I spoke up. It didn’t end well for me, but I like to think it did benefit a few colleagues.

I haven’t challenged that council tax band though. Long live the 90’s.

by KJ