Tips and advice for contesting a property tax assessment?

monopoly houseSean emails:

As a new homeowner, I've been hearing rumors about a certain day / week in May where folks can go downtown and challenge their property tax amount. Would the editors or other AOA readers have any knowledge about this upcoming event, any tips for when to go (I imagine it's a zoo...) and what to come prepared with for the best possible outcome (i.e. lower taxes!)?

We're guessing the day Sean is referring to is Grievance Day, typically the fourth Tuesday of May in cities and towns in New York State (May 22 this year). You can submit the forms necessary to "grieve" the assessment of your home before that day (probably the best course). The day in question is when it's possible to make an oral argument before the board of assessment review, if you decide to do so.

OK, so let's use the city of Albany as an example. It recently posted the official notice that's it's completed its tentative assessment roll for property tax purposes. The assessment information is online -- it's as simple to look up as plugging in your address. From the city's website:

Complaint forms and a publication containing procedures for contesting an assessment are available at the Office of Assessment & Taxation Room 302 in City Hall. It is a prerequisite to review an assessment that the official complaint forms be used and that said forms be filed with the undersigned or the Board of Assessment Review on or before May 22nd, 2012.

The board of assessment review will be hearing grievances May 22 from 9 am-1 pm and 6-8 pm in city hall.

Of course, some details will vary from one municipality to another. Here's a NYS website with info on how to contest your assessment.

So... Have you ever contested an assessment? If so, got any tips or advice for Sean? Please share!

photo: Flickr user woodleywonderworks

Comments

I successfully contested an assessment in Albany after the last big re assessment.

I put together a spreadsheet of 10 or so recent sales in the neighborhood containing the homes assessed value, sale price and sq ft. I added calculations for price\ft and assessment per\ft. It very clearly illustrated that my new assessment was out of line. I also included a explanation of why I though they assessed it too high. In my case it due to a peak bubble year sale price.

If you have a case, the number's will show it

We successfully lowered our assessed value twice. Our experience was several years ago, and my information may be slightly outdated, but here's my advice:
1. Register Democrat. Seriously. The members of the grievance committee check. I know this because one of the committee members was a neighbor and told us we didn't have a chance in **** unless our registration was changed.
2. At the time, there was no online information, so we went to a central location to get comparative values. We learned a few important points here...like that the size of the property your house is on isn't relevant because they simply valued it at a certain percentage of your house value. I include this because we thought that our house could never be valued at more than our neighbor's because their lot was bigger. It was simply not considered. Also, a two car garage vs. a one car garage was not important because the garage is not included as living area and didn't affect the assessment. (It did help in mediation though...keep reading.)
3. Bring quarters. My husband had to visit numerous buildings in downtown Albany on the day he turned in paperwork. They had to be visited in order.
4. Don't give up. Our paperwork was denied, and we contested their findings. We took detailed photos of the properties the city used as comps explaining why they were worth more than our house, and found truly relevant comps. Eventually a mediator (judge?) sat in a small conference room with us and we won. See? you can fight City Hall.
Good Luck.

I have never had anything but efficient, positive experiences with the people at the Albany Office of Assessment and Taxation. After reading this and checking my assessment/fair market value on the website I realized I'd better plead my case, and the friendly guy who answered the phone said they will walk you through everything you need to do. And they have extended hours this Saturday.
The only barrier to their help is the limited parking near City Hall. But don't let that deter you.

I contested the assessment of my home a few years ago. I live in Western NY. All I can say is that if you feel that your assessment is wrong, make sure you have documents to support your claim as to what you believe your assessment is. Just as "the King" said, do your homework. Also bring photos of your home compared to others in your neighborhood to show any differences.

> The assessment information is online -- it's as simple to look up
> as plugging in your address.

Though probably not 100% complete. I know my house was assessed, yet couldn't find it in the database (found my neighbor though).

@-S: Obvious conclusion: you don't have to pay taxes. ; )

Since you're a new owner you can argue that the sale price is a pretty good indication of your home's current value. You also probably had an appraisal done for your mortgage. Use that and look up the assessments of the similar homes your appraiser used. Don't just rely on those two things though -- search the rolls for more similar homes in your neighborhood. I did this successfully last year without having to stand in front of any committee.

And I'm with Rebecca: The fine civil servants down in the Albany Assessors Office were very helpful, professional and friendly. I know,right -- shocking!

As others have said, above, the key is just going prepared.
I objected to my reassessment this spring and got a 7% adjustment.

1. Make sure you have the grievance form complete when you walk in the door.http://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/current_forms/orpts/rp524_fill_in.pdf

2. Research,research, research. A spreadsheet is your best friend.
a. Look at the comparables around you. Square footage, age, lot size, home type.
I live in Saratoga county, so the website http://saratoga.sdgnys.com actually did some of this work for me. I just had to sift through and find the ones I wanted to use.
b. Look at homes for sale/recently sold around you. Zillow.com is a good place to start. While homes on the market are not used as comparables, homes which have been on the market for a long time, or have had reduction in sale price can be a good negotiating point.

3. Be nice to the assessor and grievance board. These people are just doing their jobs and have to deal with angry taxpayers all day. Be polite. You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

I actually used to do this as part of my law practice (no attempt at advertising here, as I don't do that type of work anymore.) While I agree that Albany is pretty good about property assessments, not all municipalities are. Come prepared with comparatives (other houses in your area), even though you recently purchased your property. With all the foreclosures and short sales going on, assessors are less likely to take a purchase price at face value. Other than that, my best advice is to familiarize yourself with how property is assessed. Some really helpful information is available from the state ( http://www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/default.htm).

Also, if you and the assessor cannot come to an agreement, you can request judicial review. There's an easy do it yourself way, and a more formal method. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The easy way is cheap, and, well, easy. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that the people presiding at these hearing are a bit partial to the assessors. The formal way, where the case is heard before a supreme court judge, is longer, more expensive and more complicated, but tends to have fairer results.

The assessment review committee is volunteer and they are desperate for members. Volunteer and abuse the system.

Make sure the description of your property is ACCURATE! also if you are doing comps - are you sure the other properties assessments are ACCURATE? (Many are not!)

I had my home professionally appraised a number of years ago when the assessments were reviewed and substantially raised. This pro also handled the grievance process for me.

It was worth EVERY penny as the reduction in the assessment paid for the assessor's fee in the first reduced tax bill I received.

Comparables don't always mean much to towns/municipalities. Spend the few hundred dollars and get an appraisal. That is your BEST way to get a fair reduction in your taxes. Comparables are not an assessed value of YOUR house and property, after all.

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