Time Consideration in the Tax Assessment Appeal Process

By Yvonne J. Broszus, MAI

Vice President, Hulberg & Associates, Inc

The tax assessment appeal process can take up to two years to reach resolution.  While this may seem like an extraordinary long time, it pays to hire a professional appraiser early in the process, if one is needed.  The following article summarizes a recent case in which doing so would likely have saved the taxpayer frustration and money.

My representation of a property owner at a recent Assessment Appeal Hearing in Santa Clara County brought forth several important considerations for a taxpayer when going through the assessment appeal process.  One of those considerations is that hiring a professional appraiser early in the process can save the property owner both money and frustration.

The subject of the hearing was a five-acre lot that transferred between family members.  The Assessor’s Office did not accept the purchase price as the “market value” of the lot, citing the familial relationship of the parties.  The Assessor valued the property at almost 2x the amount of the purchase price based on sales of other nearby lots. The property owner filed an appeal for the base year value, which was the date of transfer. The Assessor and taxpayer initially worked towards an informal resolution of the tax appeal, but both became very frustrated at what seemed like the inability of the other to properly understand the valuation issues of the property.  As a result, this appeal was scheduled and heard by the Assessment Appeals Board.  Hulberg & Associates was hired by the property owner a few weeks prior to the hearing in a last-ditch effort to resolve the appeal with the Assessor’s Office, and/or to represent the owner at the hearing.

Many properties have complicated valuation issues.  Sales of comparable properties, which have the same unique characteristics as the subject, may not exist.  In these cases, a detailed analysis of the unique characteristic(s) is very important.  Due to the recession-induced onslaught of tax appeals at the Assessors’ Offices, the Assessor may not have the time and resources to conduct the careful analysis needed in such circumstances.  The property owner also may not have the needed time and resources.  A thorough analysis by a professional appraiser, who has knowledge and experience in such issues, can be well worth the cost, especially if the property owner plans on owning the property for many years.  An experienced appraiser can also effectively communicate the main value issue and analysis with the appraisers at the Assessor’s Office.

In the vast majority of cases, Hulberg & Associates has been able to settle cases far short of going before the Assessment Appeals Board. We typically find that the Assessors’ Offices welcome our careful data and analysis, which greatly helps resolve valuation issues without going to the Appeals Board.  An informal resolution or stipulation, however, requires time for research, analysis and discussion of the issue with the Assessor’s Office.  The opportunity to informally resolve an appeal, and/or be successful at an Assessment Appeal Board hearing, is reduced if insufficient time is provided for that process.

In my recent case, insufficient time was available for a thorough discussion with the Assessor’s Office.  As a result, there was minimal opportunity to informally resolve the appeal.  The careful research and analysis that I prepared on the subject’s unique characteristics unanimously won the case at the Assessment Appeal Board hearing.  Unfortunately for the taxpayer, however, I think the same result could have been achieved at half the cost, and with less frustration for the property owner, had I time to fully discuss the issue and analysis with the Assessor’s Office prior to the hearing.

If Hulberg & Associates can be of service with your property tax assessment needs, please contact us.

Yvonne J. Broszus, MAI – (408) 279-1520, x135, or yvonne@hulberg.com

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