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Assessment Corrections

Posted: Mon Mar 08, 2010 2:21 pm
by dfiler
Allegheny Country recently sent me a letter detailing the info they had on my property and providing a form to make corrections. This is of importance because property tax around here is ludicrous, as in 5.3% per year ludicrous! We've been stuck on a previous year's assessment while the various legal challenges work their way through court.

Well it looks like they're going to reassess every property this year and adjust the tax rate for the following year. Any way you slice it, somebody is going to have their taxes go waaaaay up. So here I sit, trying to figure out if there is some way I can legally reduce my assessed value.

Here's my line of thinking... the home is 2.5 stories tall with the top floor being a good-sized attic with knee walls (waist high) and dormers. The key is that the boiler only has radiators on the first two floors. The top floor used to have a wall mounted gas space heater and a floor standing stove/heater. Both have been removed, re-roofed over the flue from one and capped the flue opening to the chimney on the other. With this done, I think the top floor qualifies as an "unfinished attic" which doesn't count toward square footage. In order to be considered "finished" the space has to be heated. There is no electricity on the top floor either, but I don't think that matters for assessment purposes.

Thus, the home's square footage has been reduced by a third by changing the attic's designation from "fully finished" to "unfinished". While this might seem a bit like tax evasion, it is an accurate representation of the home at this time. The top floor is unlivable with no heat or electricity. (not to mention crumbling plaster, rotted dormers, and storm windows being used as normal windows)

Anyway, I sent in the correction paperwork today and should probably expect a county assessor's visit at some point this year. Any suggestions on how to deal with the situation or assessor's visit? Does the above seem reasonable?

Re: Assessment Corrections

Posted: Mon Mar 08, 2010 2:26 pm
by Danno
i dunno. that's a fine line there. otherwise you could have people just disconnecting electrical and heating ducts to reduce square footage. when it comes down to it, though, what you did didn't really reduce the value of the house (in fact, it probably increased value), so I'm not sure it's worthwhile, even if it is a fair representation of the house's features. I'm interested in seeing how this plays out for you. I don't think fraud is an issue if you call it like you see it.

Re: Assessment Corrections

Posted: Mon Mar 08, 2010 3:14 pm
by Don M
It seems to me to be a reasonable attempt to reduce assessed value especially if you are not using the space for living space. Granted my attic is unfinished & has no heat although it does have electricty. It is a walk-up attic with four small gable windows. I have an outbuilding they thought had a bathroom (it doesn't even have running water) they took my word for it. I suppose it is harder to convice the assessors in these tough economic times. Don

Re: Assessment Corrections

Posted: Mon Mar 08, 2010 3:56 pm
by dfiler
Danno, good point about people playing temporary games in order to get lower reassessments. You wouldn't want that. On the other hand, there are differences between homes so there has to be a clear assessment guidelines.

In this case, the wall heater was gone before I moved in. Believe it or not, the previous owners never patched that hole in the roof, unless you count a zip-lock bag being glued to the underside of the roof deck. :shock: I did remove the floor standing stove/heater. Although it was around 50 years old and I wouldn't have used it.

Here's how the county defines it:
NUMBER OF STORIES: The data shown in this section reflects the story height for the main section of the dwelling only. Generally, 1.50 or 2.50 story dwellings have dormers that run the length of the house or have knee wall in the upper floor area. For example, Cape Cod style homes can be 1.50 stories if they have full dormers, but can also be listed as one story with the upper floor designation being listed beside the "ATTIC" category."

ATTIC: For an upper area of a dwelling to be classified as "Attic," there must be a permanent stairway leading to the area from the main level and there must be adequate headroom at the peak of the roof. (upper floors with full-length dormers are listed as half stories) Possible attic entries include:
1 - NONE - No attic, meaning no permanent stairway.
2 - UNFINISHED - Less than 40% of main level space is finished
3 - PARTIALLY FINISHED - 40% of main level space is finished and heated.
4 - FULLY FINISHED - 50% or more of the main level space is finished and heated

TOTAL LIVING AREA: The total square footage of the dwelling that is actual living area. This would not include porches, garages, decks, unfinished basements or unfinished attics, but does include finished basement living area and finished attic area.
Here's what it looked like prior to my purchasing the home: (It's interesting to read my thoughts (and grammar) from 3 years ago) :lol:
http://filerhouse.com:8080/web/FilerHou ... ing.html#1
(That website is being served from the basement, 3 floors below) 8)

Definitely a significant space. But if the legal definition of "FINISHED" requires heat, then it seems safe to mark it down as UNFINISHED and subtract that space from the total living area.

Re: Assessment Corrections

Posted: Mon Mar 08, 2010 10:24 pm
by oldhouseluvr
dfiler - I also live in PA and our county underwent a similar reassessment about 10 yrs. ago. You are correct about your attic and you are not "cheating". Without heat it cannot be considered living space. Here, the assessors never even entered our house. You can imagine that with ours being the only house of its kind in the area, they had no idea what was inside. They added on all kinds of rooms. LOL We did receive a copy of the report and were offered the opportunity to make corrections, which we did. I think our new assessment is as fair as it can be.

Re: Assessment Corrections

Posted: Tue Mar 09, 2010 4:03 pm
by cs
We are currently proceeding with a "grievance" to have our property taxes lowered. There has not been a town-wide reassessment here since the 1950's. Instead, you are reassessed when you file a permit. That means that those who have done so are carrying the excess tax burden for those who have not.

The town sent an assessor to our place who peered into every nook and cranny. The lawyer who is handling the grievance said that they will ask if they can take interior photos and that you can say no. They are supposed to base the assessment on how the property stacks up on paper (IE unheated attic = not living space... square footage... garage or not... etc), NOT on how much the review board likes your interior architectural features and furniture.

That said, you might stack a bunch of boxes up there, like Abuela! :lol:

Chris
http://www.saracenihouse.com

Re: Assessment Corrections

Posted: Tue Mar 09, 2010 4:12 pm
by dfiler
Thanks for the feedback. Keep it coming, even if critical.

As for stacking boxes up there, that's taken care of... reaaaally taken care of. :lol:

In the winter months i'm never home during daylight hours on weekdays. If I want to find something on the 3rd floor, gotta do it on the weekend when there is light to see by.

Edit:

While on the subject of interior photos. I wonder if that's another avenue to pursue in this county. Depending on what the law says inspections are based on here, it could be to our benefit. That is, if they took the following into account.
* half gutted kitchen with no overhead light
* storm window being used as the only window in a few places
* large sections of plaster missing and crumbling from walls and ceiling in a few rooms
* no electricity on 3rd floor
* cracked in two floor joists and stair stringers
* etc

I guess the silver lining is that an assessor's visit would almost certainly be to our advantage. The condition of this home is far below what would be expected from the outside. And with every property being reassessed this year, I'd rather have them look at the outside and inside, instead of just the outside.

Re: Assessment Corrections

Posted: Wed Mar 10, 2010 12:03 am
by pqtex
dfiler wrote: While on the subject of interior photos. I wonder if that's another avenue to pursue in this county. Depending on what the law says inspections are based on here, it could be to our benefit. I guess the silver lining is that an assessor's visit would almost certainly be to our advantage. The condition of this home is far below what would be expected from the outside. And with every property being reassessed this year, I'd rather have them look at the outside and inside, instead of just the outside.
Each year when the tax assessments come out, we have a time period to protest the valuation. I took photos of the interior and exterior to show things that needed to be repaired and that would affect the value. For example, my ceilings are currently unfinished because I removed the dropped ceilings, leaving bare boards instead of wallpaper (which is what it had originally) or drywall or ceiling tiles. I took photos of the screens on the side porch, which were torn by Hurricane Ike. My kitchen beadboard has peeling paint and is in the process of being scraped so I can repaint. My kitchen floor is a mess because I pulled up the vinyl after a sink leak, revealing an original pine floor,but one that looks pretty bad because of all the glue left from the vinyl. I did that for every room in the house. Outside, I included pictures of the rusted posts on the front porch, the damage to the shed roof (more Hurricane Ike damage), and a photo or two of broken asbestos tiles on the siding. I mailed the photos with my protest form and got a favorable adjustment on my tax assessment. It made a big difference, but our taxes are still relatively low compared to what I hear for other areas. My annual taxes for 2009 were $862. That includes ALL of my taxes, including school, city, county, etc.

Re: Assessment Corrections

Posted: Wed Mar 10, 2010 12:28 pm
by Don M
Hi pqtex,
Yes your taxes are relatively low by comparison to ours---Ours are around $5500 :evil: Don

Re: Assessment Corrections

Posted: Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:19 pm
by 1880 Stick Victorian
pqtex wrote: I mailed the photos with my protest form and got a favorable adjustment on my tax assessment. It made a big difference, but our taxes are still relatively low compared to what I hear for other areas. My annual taxes for 2009 were $862. That includes ALL of my taxes, including school, city, county, etc.
Wow, that is great!! I've never known anyone to have annual taxes for less than a 1500 and i have lived on both coasts and in between. We pay village tax, county & town tax and school tax. Our first year the taxes were about where Don's taxes were and then we found out the house had been appraised at 96,900.

We paid 79,200, so a call to the tax assessor was next. She even came out and although nothing structurally is wrong with the house, one concrete wall of the garage was crumbling, the kitchen and bathroom were last updated in 1961. Paint was peeling inside and out. We even showed the assessor our original purchase offer of 75k and we were given a reduction from the assessed value of 96,900 to 75,000. But because the its on like a two year cycle for taxes we will see decrease for everything this year, 2010. and should be about 3500 for all three taxes...
scott