In appeal, aim to show why assessment is incorrect

Your options

February 04, 2007|By Jamie Smith Hopkins

Homeowners whose property was just reassessed have until Feb. 12 to appeal. Information and an online application can be found at sdatcert1.resiusa.org/Appeals2007.

You can also call your local assessment office for more information.

The state Department of Assessments and Taxation says the key is showing why the home is incorrectly valued, not arguing that the taxes are too high. Residents who appeal are entitled to see the assessor's worksheet for their home and, for $1 each, worksheets for similar homes. The state also offers a searchable online database of property assessments at sdatcert3.resiusa.org/rp_rewrite.

According to the state, assessors value homes using sales data for similar properties and by researching replacement costs. They visit neighborhoods to look at exteriors in an effort to judge comparability, and they knock on some doors to ask questions.

Paul A. Fenn, an attorney who lives in Baltimore's Otterbein neighborhood, got his market-value assessment reduced by more than half last year - to $347,420 from $724,700. He had bought it the year before for $725,000 but was outraged to find that his assessment shot up while the houses of many neighbors who had not moved were reassessed at far less. (The state Constitution requires uniform assessments.)

"They're penalizing new purchasers," said Fenn, whose taxes were set to skyrocket, though he had moved only 30 yards from his old home. "It is a completely flawed process."

At his appeal, he showed that 19 nearby homes, bigger than his by an average of more than 900 square feet, were valued by the state at an average of about $225,000 less. When his assessment was lowered by just $10,000, he didn't give up, eventually taking his case to the Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board and winning the much bigger reduction.

But Anne-Marie Lucido, a UPS Store owner, was only able to get her assessment lowered by $7,000, to about $384,000. At the time of her appeal last year, she was trying to sell her Federal Hill home and had had to drop the list price below that. It finally sold for $369,000.

"They don't listen to what you're saying," said Lucido, who did not appeal beyond the first step, known as the supervisor's level. "I brought in comparables."

Patrick Murphy, president of the Maryland chapter of the Appraisal Institute, recommends getting an appraisal first. It's the nature of assessment systems everywhere that some homes will be undervalued or overvalued because the state cannot closely look at each property, he said. An average assessor handles 4,000 to 5,000 properties a year, the state says.

Murphy says his home gets overassessed because it's in the less expensive part of Baltimore's pricey Guilford neighborhood and gets lumped in with homes in more expensive parts. He appealed his new $675,000 assessment. "It's worth about 500 [thousand]," he said.

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