Every year, property owners in Pennsylvania are permitted to file a real estate Property Tax Assessment appeal. A successful assessment appeal for your property can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Below is a list of the six most common and costly mistakes property owners make during the tax assessment appeal process.
1. Property Owner Ignores the Appeal Notice. Many property owners still ignore Property Tax Assessment appeal notices and hearing dates for assessment appeals filed by the school districts and other taxing entities. Failing to appear at a scheduled hearing will result in a forfeiture of the property owner’s defense. Moreover, a property owner’s failure to attend a hearing for an assessment appeal filed by himself/herself without a timely request for postponement results in the appeal being withdrawn and forfeiture of any further right to appeal for that tax year. All appeals should be defended vigorously.
2. Property Owner Appears in Person at the Hearing. Appearing at an assessment appeal hearing without representation can be extremely risky. If the property owner appears, he/she can be cross-examined by the taxing authority/authorities defending or bringing the appeal, and his/her testimony can, and likely will, be used against them. For example, taxing authorities will often ask property owners about any improvements to their property, any appraisals in their possession, and/or other information that may result in an increased assessed value.
3. Property Owner Focuses on Comparing “Assessments”. Although it may seem logical to compare the “assessment” of your property with those of your neighbors, real estate in Pennsylvania is valued according to its “actual value” and a bonafide rate and price for which the property would separately sell in the marketplace. Thus, comparable sales data, rather than surrounding assessments, should be the primary evidence presented at the hearing. While a lack of uniformity argument is relevant, it generally is not sufficient on its own.
4. Property Owner Makes the Appeal Process Too Complicated. Less can be more, and in the case of Property Tax Assessment appeals, presenting limited, more focused evidence of your proposed assessment is generally more successful than presenting piles of irrelevant, or less significant information. Each case is truly unique, and depending on the solicitor, taxing authority or hearing officer involved, it can be (and often times is) best to simply focus on your strongest valuation method (i.e., comparable sales). Other information, such as property condition and necessary repairs, is relevant, but it should be succinct when presented. An efficient, organized case typically increases the odds of a successful appeal.
5. Property Owner Loses at BPAAR and Does Not Appeal to BOV. Tax assessment appeals have two levels. The first level, or the informal appeal, is heard by the Board of Property Assessments, Appeals and Review (BPAAR). The second level, or formal appeal, is heard by the Board of Viewers (BOV). If a property owner is unsuccessful at the BPAAR level, he/she has 30 days to appeal de novo (fresh or new) to the county BOV. The BOV level offers a new process with new rules and often greater opportunity for success. Property owners who lose at the BPAAR level should not waive their right to appeal to the BOV.
6. Property Owner Tries to Represent Himself/Herself. The single biggest mistake property owners make regarding their assessment appeals is attempting to represent themselves. Typically, there is too much money at stake, usually for multiple years, not to hire a competent attorney to handle your appeal. Representation in assessment appeals is affordable, and the cost is generally well worth the potential savings in property taxes.