Assessment Appeal Law

Georgia Property Tax Assessment Appeals

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Coweta deadline for tax value appeals is Aug. 8

By Sarah Fay Campbell

The Times-Herald

If you think your property tax value is incorrect, you have until Aug. 8 to appeal it for the 2011 tax year.

You can obtain an "appeal of assessment" form from the Coweta County Tax Assessors Office, located in the Coweta administration building. The assessors office entrance is on Perry Street, near the intersection with East Washington Street.

You can also download a form from the assessors' website, www.cowetatax.com , or you can simply write all the information down on a sheet of paper, without using a form. The office can also mail you the form.

If you get your form directly from the assessors' office, staff can fill in all the property information -- such as the description and parcel number -- for you.

When appealing your property's tax value, it's important to provide concrete reasons why you think the value is incorrect. You should also give your own estimate of what the actual value is.

"If you know what it is not worth, you have an idea of what it is worth," said Mike Marchese, chief appraiser for the Coweta County Board of Assessors. Marchese said he's talked with people before who would say "my house is not worth $200,000."

"When we ask, 'Well, what do you think it is worth?' -- don't say, 'Well, I don't know,'" Marchese said.

"The more information we have, the better prepared we are to make a judgment call on it," said Beverly Ward, chairwoman of the Board of Assessors.

If you have an appraisal that was recently done, attach it. "But attach the whole copy, not just the summary," Marchese said. "We need to make sure all things are being considered."

It's possible there is something about your home or property the assessors' staff doesn't know.

"There are things we cannot tell from paper and just looking at it. And usually, if we're made aware, we do make adjustments," Ward said. And the condition of a home may have changed substantially, for the worse, since the last appraisal, and the appraisers may not know that unless they take a closer look.

"People need to remember we do mass appraisal, not fee appraisal," Marchese said. "We look at averages, for quantities of properties, not individual properties," he said. Taking a closer look at an individual property when an appeal is filed "really can make a difference." Tax appraisals "should be relatively close, but it is not an exact science."

If you plan to appeal your tax value, it's a good idea to do some research first. Especially if you've made improvements to the home in the past few years.

"Make sure you really want us to come," Marchese said. "Not as a threat, by any means. But if you've got a finished basement that we don't know about and you invite us to come out and look at it -- your value might go up," he said.

If you have the time, a good way to get started on the appeal process is to stop by the assessors office and talk with a staff member. Sometimes issues can be cleared up right then. Or call and talk to someone.

"Field appraisers are talking with people all day long and making phone calls all day long," said Ward.

When filling out your appeals form, make sure to include contact information such as a daytime phone number or e-mail address. Otherwise, the assessors office will only be able to contact you by mail.

"We have had a lot of problems with that in the past," Ward said. And since they couldn't discuss issues with people, "things that could have been settled instead go to the board of equalization."

There are several routes to appeal the tax valuation, but all begin with filling out the appeals form.

First, you choose your "grounds for appeal."

There are six: value, uniformity, taxability, exemption denied, breach of covenant and denial of covenant. You can choose all options that apply.

For the typical appeal, the reasons would be valuation and "uniformity." Uniformity means you think that your property is not being valued in the same manner as comparable properties. Valuation means you don't believe the property is worth what the assessors' office says it is worth.

The other grounds deal with tax-exempt properties and agricultural covenants.

There are also four ways to appeal.

Appealing to the board of equalization is the most common. There is no cost involved, and property owners don't need attorneys, though they can hire one if they wish.

You can appeal the decision of the board of equalization to superior court.

Other routes include going through arbitration, having a meeting with a hearing officer and appealing directly to superior court.

Arbitration doesn't allow appeal to the superior court, and valuation is the only grounds for appeal. Appealing to the hearing officer is only allowed for non-homestead property with a value in excess of $1 million.

Appealing to superior court requires consent of the board of assessors, as well as court fees.

After you file your appeal, the assessors office will review it and make a determination. A notice will be sent, and you then have 30 days to decide the next step.

If the property owner is happy with that determination, the process ends. If the property owner is unhappy, things move to the board of equalization.

In a hearing before the board of equalization, which is made up of Coweta residents appointed by the grand jury, each side presents its case. The BOE then makes a decision.

Property owners who feel their value is too high but who hope to sell in the next few years need to be aware that any information submitted in an appeal becomes public record -- and potential buyers can have access to it.

Marchese and Ward said they can't recall anyone ever submitting a freedom of information request for the appeals forms.

However, if a property value is lowered because of a specific reason, it might be included on the property card, which is kept at the assessors office.

For instance, "if they appealed in 2007 and told me the basement had flooded and they had a big mold problem, that is going to be there," Marchese said.

There have been a few changes in the way the tax assessors office does things in the past few years, because of changes in state law brought on by the foreclosure crisis.

In the past, only "arm's length sales" were considered when appraisers figured value. An arm's length sale is between a willing seller and a willing buyer, with no extenuating circumstances.

Now, appraisers have to look at "almost every kind of sale ... whether auctions, sales on the courthouse steps, owner financing," Marchese said, though some particularly unusual sales might be excluded.

But they probably would have been anyway, without changes to the law, said Marchese.

"Whether it was in the law or not, we didn't used to consider that sort of stuff because it just wasn't a significant portion of the market," Marchese said. "Common sense would tell you that you've got to look at them when you didn't before, because they are significant."

With law changes, there can often be unintended consequences. When the Georgia General Assembly first changed the law to make appraisers consider foreclosures, "we had to actually consider the foreclosure" itself -- "the transaction when the bank took it," Marchese said. "The problem is, that is not a sale. That is a transfer based" on the loan value. The next year, the law was changed to specify the intent to consider sales after foreclosure.

Property owners can only file an actual appeal if they've received an assessment notice. Because every property owner should have received one, all property owners can appeal this year.

All property owners, however, have always been able to file a "property tax return."

Returns are similar to appeals and can be filed between Jan. 1 and April 1.

Anyone who filed a property tax return would receive an assessment notice and could then appeal further if not satisfied.

There has been some confusion in the past with property tax returns because "the taxpayer thinks they have filed an appeal, but they have not. They have only filed their return," Marchese said. "The return might serve the same purpose" as an appeal, though.

But there can be confusion when someone who files a return gets an assessment notice that informs them of their right to appeal, and the property owners think they have already exhausted their appeal rights.

"The bottom line is, if you have a problem with that assessment notice, you need to file a written appeal," Ward said.

For more information about appeals, assessments, and the like, you can contact the tax assessors office at 770-254-2680, e-mail tassessors@coweta.ga.us , visit www.cowetatax.com , or stop by the office at 37 Perry St. in downtown Newnan.