Assessing Your Assessement: The Basics

Fair to say,  if you are living in New Jersey, you are probably paying more property taxes than you should. The National Taxpayers Union, in fact, estimates that approximately 60% of all properties are currently overassessed.

What makes this particularly shocking is that, since 2003, prices of median homes have declined dramatically. We would therefore expect tax assessments to be adjusted so as to reflect such declines in market values – though this has generally not been the case. Therefore property taxes for many New Jersey homeowners unfairly continue to increase despite a continued decrease in local home values.

Due to a considerable shortfall in budgets, many municipalities are, in essence, heaping extra taxes on homeowners — many of whom are exercising their constitutional right for an appeal. Though appealing New Jersey property tax assessments can be difficult and time consuming — and not always successful — being well-prepared for the fight can significantly increase your chances of success.

Assess your assessment

It is important to understand how your property is assessed.  Ask a local realtor to help you compare your property with similar properties which sold recently to determine its market value. Multiply that value with the assessment ratio that has been established for your town. If the market value of your property is, say, $100,000 and its assessment ratio is 80%, this means the tax levied on that property is $80,000. Some rural areas and high class neighborhoods use another method of assessment by estimating the house replacement cost by adjusting factors such as the land value.

Property Record Card

Check for errors in your assessment next. To do so, you will need to obtain the worksheet of your property from your local assessor’s office. This work sheet is also known as property record card and contains information of your property such as number of rooms, dimensions, number of bathrooms, and so on. Check whether all the information about your property provided in the worksheet is correct or not. If you discover any incorrect or missing information submit this information immediately to the local assessor along with a blue print of your property. In this way you will could receive an immediate reduction and become exempt from a formal appeal.

Comparable Sales

Compare the assessed value of your property with other similar properties in that area. Look at the property’s worksheet to compare other factors like square footage, age, bedrooms, bathrooms, and so on. In this way you may be in a stronger position to appeal if your property’s assessed value is determined to be higher than at least five other properties. Make a list of comparable properties along with their other details like square footage, construction material grades, same neighborhood, and so on. This list should be produced when demanded by the assessor. The record of your neighborhood’s properties is available at the website of your local assessor.

In case you find only three assessed properties at lower and three at a higher value don’t lose hope because in this case you might be entitled to a reduction representing the difference between comparable properties and your property. Your house may be the only property with lousy grading which prevents you from having a garden or a less than desired view of your city’s water tower.

Fight back

Different localities have different rules and your assessment should be capable of explaining how your appeal works. For this you can provide evidence to the assessor including a list of comparable properties, repair estimates, blueprints, and photographs for review. In this way you can obtain a good settlement in an informal way and the assessor may continue completing his rolls and get a fair reduction for you. On the other hand if some settlement is not agreed upon, continue paying your taxes so as to avoid any future penalties on your property. Don’t worry because if the county is satisfied with your appeal, you will get a reduction or check on all future bills thereafter.

Before submitting your appeal form and other related documents, ensure whether or not they comply with all the requirements stated by the county. Keep one copy of all the documents and information submitted by you for your files In a few months you will probably receive a reply and if you think that the reduction you’ve got is not fair, you can follow the next step. The next step is to submit your case in front of an independent local appealing body. This will be more advantageous because you can personally explain your case. You can use photographs, blueprints, etc to prove that your appeal is correct. Also submit a copy of all the assessed document highlighting important points to every board member.

If your case at local level fails, you can take it to state, and even the judicial, level. Bear in mind, however, that judicial hearing will court fees, lawyer’s fees, and other expenses that could negate any savings you might realize from winning an appeal.

Where to search for the right help

It is better to employ an expert assistance which will not only save time but provide proper guidance also. In this way your appeal will become stronger. One more option is to submit your address and case to an online service company. Such companies — for a moderate fee — will highlight comparable homes in your area along with their assessment information and their sale price. If they consider your case strong enough they will send you a report which you can file with your local appeals board. If the appeals board rejects your appeal your  money is then refunded.

Should you decide instead on hiring a professional appraiser, confirm that the board to which you are appealing your case permits such a professional or not. Certified appraisers can be found through the Appraisal Institute or the National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers. Most charge anywhere between $250 and $500. Hire a person who is not only experienced in the field but also is familiar with local neighborhoods in your area.

 

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