The tax man (not going PC on that) was everyone’s friend as the real estate market sagged, now that stability has been found he’s back to being anything but. If your bill and assessment have increased, there are a few things to check. Tax records are notoriously inaccurate and in many cases, updates are rarely completed. It’s possible that your recorded information is different than what presently exists; both in terms of the market and the home itself.
First and foremost, if this is your primary residence then make certain that your homestead exemption is filed. This alone can save a few hundred dollars a year. The homestead exemption reduces taxable property value provided that the home is occupied by the homeowner on January 1st and the application is filed within the county where the property is located. The deadline to file for homestead exemption in most Georgia counties is April 1st. Check with your County Tax Commissioner or Tax Assessor’s office to verify the deadline to file for Homestead Exemption within your county. Here is list of Metro Atlanta counties, Google for additional info.
The likelihood of substantive errors on assessment is high and includes both physical characteristics and current market data. There are key areas to check:
Land Value – This is part of the total assessed value. There’s no rocket science here but this could be a completely fabricated number. In theory, lot value is based upon comparable sales; but how often are building lots transferred at “arms length” (normal sale conditions)? Rarely, as developers usually buy acreage and subdivide; lots rarely hit the market. Typically, the lot value is that assigned at construction and then “adjusted” by the assessor. The challenge however, is demonstrating a lower lot value with comparable sales; they can be hard to find. The best way is to use public real estate sites and search for sales or see if an appraiser will compile a list for a nominal fee. Once in hand, you can determine if it pays to challenge the lot value, it might not.
Home Characteristics – It is almost a certainty that errors exist with the physical characteristics section of the home. The most common in living area; tax assessments chronically show incorrect figures for this. It pays to understand how to measure a home and to have an understanding of how rooms are defined. If the tax figures are way off, it might be an option to measure the home in accordance with FNMA guidelines and bring that to their attention. The other big variable often seen are things like finished basements, finished attics or additions. Some owners don’t apply for permits, many times the assessor is unaware of additional improvements. In some cases pools and outdoor hardscapes can be more than the permit allows…so sometimes inaccuracies work in favor of owners.
The “typical” tax record likely contains errors, owners should check their records. Ensuring accuracy and that current closed sales are used to estimate value are key to keeping assessments on target.
Assuming everything is accurate, the next best move to challenge an assessment is an appraisal. An appraisal completed on the standard URAR form will estimate the current market value, this is considered the best indicator of value short of a sale. The appraiser will complete the report using the same appraisal research that they would on a transaction. It’s best to seek the most experienced appraisers, many are familiar with appraisals for assessment appeal and they might offer suggestions.
If after analysis of the assessment, the decision is made to appeal it then make certain to understand the process. There is no uniform way – be certain to check with the county in question because like everything government, there will be surprises. Campbell & Brannon, PC have a branch specializing in this process as well.