CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Most of the time, Kanawha County field appraiser Zach Phalen is greeted by polite residents who are very understanding about his duties.
Phalen has worked for the Kanawha County Assessor's Office for about two and a half years. The 29-year-old travels the county to reappraise property for tax purposes, he said.
He looks at the property, which can include houses, garages and even vacant lots. He inspects the property and talks to the landowner to make sure the county's tax records are accurate.
If he sees that an improvement has been made, he will add that to the tax books, possibly causing the owner's tax liability to increase. He also can decrease the value if property has been damaged.
"Nobody's happy to see the tax man knock on the door," he said.
Despite the fact that his visits can mean an increase in taxes, Phalen said he is normally treated with courtesy and respect.
"Sometimes the owners probably don't want us there," he said. "But I've never had anyone tell me to leave their property.
"Once I explain what I'm doing, they're OK with it," he said.
That doesn't mean he lacks for stories to tell.
Once a woman answered the door wearing nothing but her birthday suit and a smile. The woman evidently thought he was her significant other, Phalen said.
The situation was shocking to say the least.
"She wasn't real bashful," he said with a laugh.
Naked women aren't the only job hazard, he said. Phalen also keeps a close eye out for dogs.
For example, he always notices if a house has a fenced yard. That could indicate a dog is present. He will shake the fence before entering the property to make sure a dog isn't lurking.
Phalen's precautions evidently have paid off because he has never been bitten while on the job. If a dog is roaming the property and the owner does not make an appearance, Phalen will return to the parcel at a later date.
Hazards aside, Phalen said meeting people and seeing the county is his favorite part of the job.
He once had to travel to the Elk tax district in the Elkview area to reappraise a house.
He had to cross a creek twice to get to the house, he said. Once he got there, he found the man was raising whitetail deer.
"They would eat right out of your hand," he said.
Phalen also likes to see how areas have developed. He pointed out some subdivisions in South Hills to illustrate his point.
"You would see hillsides with nothing but trees on them, and now they're covered with $400,000 to $500,000 homes," he said. "That's just really cool to me."
Phalen is one of about 11 residential field appraisers in the county. The Assessor's Office also has three commercial reappraisers on staff.
Phalen heads out every day of the week armed with a tape measure and a digital camera. He measures houses and garages to make sure the actual square footage matches the information on the county's tax books.
He notes additions to houses and takes digital photos to back up his work.
Phalen makes a concerted effort to speak to owners, who can provide information about the condition of structures on the property.