Md. property tax reassessment is worth appealing

40% of appeals succeed in winning reductions

Assessors can err

Appeal process is simple

deadline is Feb. 10

January 19, 2003|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Last month brought more than the usual holiday spirit for 692,000 Maryland homeowners who received their residential property reassessments from the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation.

For many, it was an insignificant reminder that three years have passed since their last property reassessment.

For others, it was a rude awakening that an increase in demand - coupled with a decrease in housing inventory - has raised real estate values and their property taxes.

Case in point - the average property assessment increase for 2003 was 26.4 percent, compared with 15.9 percent in 2002, 10.1 percent in 2001 and 5.7 percent in 2000, according to state figures. The 2003 figure translates to an average increase of 8.8 percent for each of the next three years.

The state inspects a third of all properties each year. Increases in a property's value are phased in over the next 36 months beginning July 1. Although properties can be reassessed downward in value, such instances are quite rare, officials say.

For those who disagree with the new assessed valuations of their homes, there is hope - the tax department is accepting appeals through Feb. 10.

About four people in 10 who appeal typically see their assessments decreased by the state, officials said.

Though less than 8 percent of homeowners in Baltimore and 4 percent statewide appeal each year, the process is simple, said Ronald W. Wineholt, director of the state's assessments and taxation department.

Wineholt said anyone who questions his property assessment should feel free to contact the office to proceed with filing an appeal, which can be handled in person, by telephone, mail or online.

"All a person really has to do is select the method of appeal they would prefer [in person, on the telephone or in writing] and sign their name at the bottom of the form and send it in. It's designed to be as easy for the taxpayer as possible to have their appeal heard," Wineholt said.

Wineholt says he has noticed an increase in traffic to the department's Web site (www.dat.state.md.us) since reassessment notices were mailed Dec. 27. The site, which he monitors daily, includes statistics, answers to commonly asked questions and a searchable database of properties.

"There have been significant increases in property values in some neighborhoods in recent years," he said. "Our job is to appraise properties at their current market value. I would encourage property owners to use our Web site and look at the data, and hopefully they'll feel that our values are consistent with current sales."

Last year, Kathy Klemmer was surprised to find the state had reassessed her Hampden home at $75,000 - $13,000 more than its previous assessment three years earlier.

Though homes in her area had increased slightly in value during that time, Klemmer had not made any improvements to her property.

Further, after perusing the real property valuation listings on the state's Web site, she soon discovered that assessments for comparable houses on the next block had remained the same.

She requested an appeal. "When you get the assessment, there's a form you can fill out to schedule an appeal," she said. "So, I mailed that in, followed up with an e-mail and got an appointment."

Klemmer also asked for a copy of the worksheets that revealed how the state had arrived at the increase in value. The state incorrectly noted the year her home was built by 20 years and valued the house based on what officials thought included a finished basement and a second kitchen.

Klemmer's home had neither.

Klemmer won a hearing several months after filing her appeal. "I went in, took copies of the assessment of the house a block up and then I had the paper from when I bought the house. It really didn't take that long."

Klemmer regrets not paying closer attention to past assessments that included the nonexistent upgrades.

"I just paid extra taxes all those years," she shrugged. "But this time, it just went up so much I figured I'd go ahead and do it because I figured what could I lose? And then the hearing took like 10 or 15 minutes."

Klemmer's appeal was successful and officials reduced the assessed value by $13,000.

"We find that in a typical year about 40 percent of the persons appealing receive an adjustment to the property value," Wineholt said.

Joan Jones is a Federal Hill property owner whose 2003 reassessment increased the value of her home by almost 50 percent.

Jones contacted the department and requested the worksheets for her property. Like Klemmer, Jones realized the state attributed modifications to her house that did not exist - namely, a finished basement and central air conditioning.

This will be the second time Jones has appealed the reassessment of her home. The first time was more than a decade ago.

She admits that she was less thorough back then, never requesting the worksheets on her property.

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