Taking Advantage of Proposition 60 or 90

Q: My husband and I have lived in a house in San Francisco for more than 25 years. Can we buy another house first and then sell the old one to take advantage of Proposition 60 or 90, or do we have to sell the old house first?

A: Before I answer your question, I had better explain it to others who might find it puzzling.

Both propositions are designed to hold down property taxes for Californians ages 55 and older, as well as disabled homeowners of any age.

Under Proposition 60, they can transfer the assessed value of their present home to another home they buy in the same county, provided the new home costs no more than the amount they receive for the old home. Every county in the state must honor this proposition.

Under Proposition 90, they can transfer the assessed value of their present home to a home they buy in another California county. again, if the new home costs no more than the sales price of the old home.

However, Proposition 90 applies only in nine counties that authorize the transfer of the old tax base. They are Alameda, Kern, Los Angeles, Modoc, Orange, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Ventura.

Keeping your old tax base can save you a lot of money. Thanks to Proposition 13, which severely limits the amount a home assessment can rise each year, people who bought houses many years ago, when houses were relatively cheap, are paying only a fraction of the tax paid by their neighbors who bought in the recent, booming market. The difference can run to thousands of dollars per year.

Now, to answer your question: Yes, you can buy the new home first and still get the tax break, says Kristine Cazadd, senior staff attorney with the state Board of Equalization.

The caveat is one that also applies if the old house is sold first: The transactions must occur within two years of each other. For the purposes of this law, the transaction date is the date on which escrow closes.