I am just about ready to declare the Great Recession over. Home prices stalled, then dove in 2006, and apparently hit bottom in 2012. Most (not all) have seen some recovery in home values since then.
I know unemployment is still a major problem, Dr. Bernanke is still artificially holding down long-term home loan rates, and thousands of foreclosed homes are still in limbo. But I see a dramatically reduced inventory of homes for sale, prices beginning to firm up, and fewer vacant houses festering in otherwise attractive neighborhoods. I even hear Dr. Bernanke’s nebulous statements about the direction of interest rates. All of these are signs of real progress.
I have spotted one silver lining that you can enjoy, if you move quickly.
1. First, know that you are likely paying more than your fair share of property taxes. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has repeatedly documented that Georgia’s 159 counties have been slow to reduce property tax assessments, while property values have been falling. Your home has likely lost value faster than the county has cared to admit, as reflected in your assessment.
2. It’s really easy to protest your 2013 assessment. I’ve given you a sample blank form and instructions on my website. You have to spend 46 cents on a stamp.
But is it really worth the hassle factor? I emphatically say “yes,” and here is why:
* By law, property assessments for the current tax year (2013) are based on the value of your property as it existed on January 1, 2013.
* On New Year’s Day this year, we were beginning to see some positive signs of a recovery, but not much. We were still reeling from a disastrous 2012.
* The value of your home at any given time is a function of the sales prices of similar homes nearby that have sold in the 12 months PRIOR.
This means that, for most of us, the really terrible sales of comparable homes, even the foreclosure resales, are indicative of the value of our home on January 1, 2013.
Finally, here is the icing on the cake:
Most county tax assessors have a three-year review cycle for real property that is appealed to the local Board of Equalization (BOE) and has experienced an adjusted value. In plain English, that means if you appeal to the BOE and get your valuation dropped, even by a penny, then the tax assessor will likely leave that value in place for the current tax year, plus two additional years.
Because your home is likely over-assessed, your chances of seeing a successful appeal are high. And if the BOE grants you any relief whatsoever, its dollar savings will be magnified by a power of three unless you make a major improvement or sell your home during that period.
But your deadline for appeal is fast approaching.
Your tax assessor is required to mail you a NOTICE OF ASSESSMENT, usually delivered in May or June. Some counties are faster, some are slower. Once it’s mailed, the property owner has exactly 45 calendar days to file a protest, and after that date, no protests or appeals may be accepted.
If you live in Gwinnett, Hall, Clayton, Henry or Forsyth counties, it’s already too late. Your final deadline has passed. If you live in Cherokee, Cobb, Fayette, Fulton or DeKalb, you still have time, but not much. For other counties, call your local tax assessor and ask for the deadline for protesting your assessment.
For detailed information and access to forms and filing instructions, visit my website at Money99.com.
Statistically, one in three owners who file an appeal receive some reduction in property valuation. This year, I suspect it will be substantially more than one third. But you’ve got to ask.
John Adams is a broker, investor, and author. He answers real estate questions every Sunday at 3 pm on WGKA-am(920). He welcomes your comments at Money99.com, where you will find an expanded version of this column.