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Property taxes are one of those foggy areas for many first-time buyers. How much do they really cost you? What do they cover? And why are they much higher in some neighbourhoods than others? The truth is, it pays to understand how property taxes work before you determine a home-buying a budget. Here’s a primer:

Taxes are calculated based on several criteria. To determine a tax rate, cities compare the cost of services to the value of all homes within certain neighbourhoods. Home values are calculated based on things like the property’s age, updates, size and location. In most provinces, home values are calculated every few years. Your annual property taxes will then equal the neighbourhood’s tax rate multiplied by the municipality’s home assessment value.

How often you pay taxes depends on where you live. Every home is responsible for paying a certain annual amount in property taxes, but how frequently those payments are can vary from municipality to municipality or home to home. You might pay this monthly, quarterly or regularly but only for part of the year.

You should seek out tax information before you buy. Listings will often include the most recent property tax assessment for the home or unit, so you can get a sense of which neighbourhoods and/or buildings pay different rates. When it comes time to buy, your lawyer will confirm the amount before the sale closes.

Living in an area with higher property taxes doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll pay higher tax rates. As mentioned, the total rate of a home’s property taxes is dependent on the home’s assessment. An older or smaller home, or one in need of repairs, may require less, even in a neighbourhood with a higher tax rate.