Tuesday, February 28, 2012


If you haven't heard, Allegheny County is going through a county wide real estate re-assessment.  A while back a few homeowners sued the state saying that their taxes we not representative and the judge on the case ruled that the whole county needed to be reevaluated.

Needless to say reassessing an entire county is a big job and errors have been fairly common.  I heard about one guy who owned a parking space in his apartment building that had previously been assessed at $500 having it reassessed at $40,000.  It seems likely that a computer model was used and nobody ever put eyes on the properties as they were evaluated.

Our house didn't see that kind of jump, but it was formidable.  The county says that even though the assessments are going up, people's taxes won't because the taxing bodies are not allowed to take advantage of a reassessment windfall.  So even though the property value is going up, taxes are supposed to remain the same because the taxing bodies will have to lower their rates.  That seems like it works fairly well if you are in the world of "average" but even if the millage goes down, people with sharp assessment increases will pay more.

So many people complained about their new number that the county set up an informal appeal process.  A formal appeal is a court proceeding and requires a filing fee, the informal hearings are free (although you have to take off work and then park downtown).

We spent nearly a month cogitating over what to do at our appeal.  We found the settlement from the home sale.  We came up with the appraisal we had to do at the sale.  We talked for a long time about how to characterize the work that we'd done on the house since we bought it; if it was a refresh or an update or a reno or a reno that didn't increase the square footage.  We looked at the comps the assessment specified and thought of all kinds of reasons that they weren't appropriate: traffic, streetlights, buses, rentals, steepness of grade...

The hearing went a little like this:

"So how much do you think your house is worth?"

"Well, we bought it for this much just over a year ago."

"Then that's what it's worth."
Maybe 5 minutes.  They scanned the settlement page and we were on our way.  Doesn't mean it'll come out that way, we'll have to wait and see.  What we did find out for sure is that I angst too much.

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