You can't fight City Hall?
After 3 posts on my Real Estate Blog about Rochester, NY's property tax reassessment, Meaghan McDermott, a Staff Reporter for Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle (D+C), asked me if I'd give some advice to a local property owner who planned to challenge his home's new tax assessment.
Meaghan seemed surprised that I was a local Real Estate blogger. I'm not aware of another Real Estate blogger in the Rochester, NY Area. We're very conservative and a bit behind the e-times here in Upstate, NY.
Meaghan's article appeared in the Wednesday, 6/11/08 edition of the D+C: Front Page and above the fold, no less. Imagine, free advertising and branding coming from Real Estate Blog posts. Who'd 'a thought?
I wasn't sure of the deadline for her article, so I answered her questions on challenging your home's tax assessment, by copying and pasting her email into my email, and answering her questions directly in the body of her email.
I've found it's best to give any reporter as many written documents and as much follow-up information as possible. They then have the correct spelling and the correct URL's, domain names and links. And they have to work a lot harder to mis-quote you.
1) Your email:
Q 1) if you think the process is fair for the average homeowner."
- Features: Does the Town's description of your home's features match your home, ie: bedrooms, bathrooms, lot size, etc.
- Comparables: From your County Clerk's Office, A Realtor, RealEstateABC.com, Zillow.com, etc.
- Condition: Computers don't know the condition of your home.
"Q 2) It's up to the homeowner to prove the assessor wrong...do you think that's a fair way to go about it?"
The tax assessment process is like most other civil processes. I'm sure Tom Golisano (Of PayChex fame and Rochester's resident Billionaire, who's actively challenging his home's tax assessment) would make it out to be "Guilty until proven innocent". But my take on the process and my experience with the process are not that way. In Rochester, I'd rather fight a tax assessment than a traffic or parking ticket, any time.
- First Questions: Is it worth the time and money to appeal? What can I gain?
- Know your local tax assessment appeal process and what you need to do to appeal. Cutoff dates and the correct forms are very important.
- Document your case as much as possible: Town forms and your other documents and photos
- Think like an assessor: Think of the questions the assessor might ask. Think of the points and arguments he might make. "What do you think your assessment should be?", "Why do you think your assessment should be lowered?", etc.
- Practice your responses alone and with your family and friends.
- Pick a Strategy to argue: Incorrect house information, Comparables and/or Condition.
- Go to the appeal with a competent, composed, non-professional friend or relative for support.
- State your case clearly, succinctly and with some passion. Use your bullet points. If possible, don't read.
- Calculate and know the % and $ reduction you want.And what you'll settle for. (A 50% reduction in your tax increase or "split-the-difference", is usually a very good outcome)
- Show respect and courtesy to the assessor. Try to join with him and not be adversarial or argue with him. Say things like:"That's a good point; and...". "This must be a tough job." He'll be more likely to lower your assessment if he likes you and you get along.
- Leave documents and supporting information with the assessor. Make it easy for him to agree with you and to make your case to his superior to lower your assessment
- Resolve your assessment issues through the informal process whenever possible.
One last tip: In our present market, where homes sometimes sell under assessment, take your purchase documents to the Town Assessor right away. There's no better proof of a change in "current fair market value" than your purchase documents with a lower selling price.
Posted by: Cliff Jacobson
Adapt Or Die!
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