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Why Each Home Owner Needs A Property Tax Doctor

Because each home owner who protest their assessments, with a knowledge of how the property tax assessment system works, often receive $500 to $1000 tax savings, if not more annually on their property tax bill. Simply stated the property tax bill is calculated by multiplying the homeowner’s assessment times the local property tax rate and subtracting any tax deductions for which the individual home owner is eligible.

The property tax doctor can show you how to lower your assessment and thereby reduced your property tax bill! The property tax doctor is a former tax assessor who knows first hand how difficult it is for the average person to penetrate the tax assessor’s bureaucratic jungle comprised of arcane terms and practices. No government document does this for the home owner.

Just like going to a medical doctor’s office the first thing that you need to do is to gather the necessary information with which to do the paperwork. The primary sources for that information is the homeowner’s property record card obtained at the assessor’s office and comparable home sales. Most homeowners armed with one or both of these information items get their assessment reduced the majority of the time without going beyond their local tax assessor’s office.

Just as you ask your medical doctor informed questions to get some pain relief, so also you must ask your tax assessor (with the help of the property tax doctor) some informed questions in order to win some property tax relief. The best advice the property tax doctor can offer is to go to your local tax assessor’s office and check your property record card for mistakes of fact! Clerical errors and plain mistakes do occur during the valuation process. Here is a partial list of common mistakes you should check up on.

1. The dimensions of your home or the dimensions of your land are wrong.

2. Failure to note depreciation on adverse-onsite conditions or no depreciation or minimal deprecation shown for an older home.

3. The dimensions of your land are wrong.

4. Check all computations, whether or not you understand where the factors came from.

5. Failure to note depreciating off-site influences — a factory or landfill producing toxic fumes.

6. The quality of improvements are wrong — you have a stone not a macadam driveway, or — you have the low priced whirlpool tub not the big name expensive whirlpool tub.

7 Finished areas are listed incorrectly — basement is shown as finished and it is not.

8. The age of the home is listed incorrectly or the number of stories is wrong.

My father would not let the local tax assessor, who was also his best friend, go past the kitchen table at our farmhouse. My father was afraid he would see certain interior home improvements and he would increase our assessment. My father mistakenly believed that improvements he had made inside the farmhouse like a new bathroom sink, plaster repairs, wallpapering, new ceilings, new light fixtures would add to our assessed value. Likewise he put off making outside repairs until after the next revaluation because of fear of an increased assessment. Surprisingly, he was wrong. Outside repairs like roof replacement, repairing masonry, repair of porch, steps, stairs, etc. do not increase the homeowner’s assessment. Neither does replacing garage doors, or sheds, sidewalks, etc

Often establishing the proper combined property value for your home and the land under it is the key to your property tax appeal. To win your appeal the homeowner must establish his or her property’s value at a level lower than the one the assessor used.

To establish market value the homeowner can go to the web site http://www.zillow.com to get a rough estimate of the value of his home. The site uses some basic variables like square footage, number of baths, acreage and number of bedrooms to calculate a market value for the home based on a formula that is driven by other home sales in the neighborhood. Where zillow has the sales data this is a good first step to see if your home is assessed way too high.

In years after the revaluation year the homeowner should find out what the assessment to sales ratio for his or her taxing district is in New Jersey. This ratio is announced each year and is available from the local tax assessor’s office. It represents the average at which the assessed value for all properties that sold in the past year was compared to their sales value in the municipality. Why is it important? It may provides a key factor in proving that you have received an unequal assessment and are entitled to file a discrimination challenge to your property assessment to win a tax reduction.

An unequal assessment is one made at a higher proportion of market value than an average of the other parcels on the roll. A year or so after a revaluation housing inflation often makes the assessment your tax assessor placed on your home look low compared to sales prices of comparable sold homes in your neighborhood. But watch out!

A low assessment to sale ratio in a municipality can fool some taxpayers into thinking that they are being assessed below market value and are therefore getting a break. However, if all assessments are set below market value then the tax rate must be increased in order to collect the necessary amount of tax revenue. The same amount of tax is collected, but the taxpayers are fooled into thinking they’ve gotten a break and do not search for malassessments.

Now, do not forget that the assessment to sales ratio (or common level ratio) is a key factor in getting you property tax relief. Let me explain. An important test for fairness of your assessment is not just its relationship to market value. It is also whether or not it is fair in relation to assessments on other properties in your town. For example, if you have a home with a market value of $800,000, but it is assessed at $600,000, you may think you are getting off cheaply. However, if your neighbor’s house which is comparable to yours is assessed at only $200,000, you are paying three times as much real property tax as you should!

When your property is under appeal the County Board of Taxation can adjust your home’s value to the common level. The taxpayer should know the average ratio in the municipality where the property under appeal is located before filing a tax appeal. Remember the ratio changes annually on October 1, for use in the subsequent tax year. Also, remember this adjustment to the common level is not used in the year of revaluation or reassessment when all properties have been brought to 100% of market value.

Once the County Tax Board determines the true market value of a property they are required to automatically compare that true market value to its assessment value. If the ratio of the assessment to the true value exceeds the average ratio by 15%, then the assessment is automatically reduced to the common level. The homeowner gets his property tax relief. But watch out! If the assessment to true value ratio falls below the common level, the County Tax Board is obligated to increase the assessment to the common level. The homeowner would then get his property tax increased. If the assessment falls within the common level range no adjustment is made.

Each year on October 1 of the pre-tax year the assessor establishes a value for each of the properties in the municipality for the following tax year. The annual assessment value is considered tentative during the period of public inspection of the new tax list from January 1 to January 10th. The purposes of the inspection period is to enable the taxpayer to ascertain what assessments have been made against him or her and to confer informally with the assessor as to the correctness of the assessments.

At this point your approach can be informal and will not require a formal, written appeal. Taxpayers have an opportunity only once each year to file a formal property tax appeal. Get your tax form for property tax appeal purposes from your County Board of Taxation web site. Generally, it must be received by the County Board of Taxation on or before April 1 of the tax year. If the taxpayer misses the deadline for filing a formal appeal the taxpayer must wait until the following year to make a challenge for any tax relief.

The Property Tax Doctor can help the average homeowner win his rightful property tax relief. Under the common level adjustment, described above, the New Jersey’s statutory standard for an acceptable property tax assessment margin of error in its calculation is 15%. In New Jersey where the average homeowner in 2006 paid about $5,000 per year in property taxes that amounts to an acceptable error of $750 in the propertytax bill. If we administered our Federal Tax bill with that 15% margin of error we would have a taxpayer revolt.

Gerald Dowgin © 2006

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