The majority of residential and commercial property owners don’t think twice about their property taxes, aside from the begrudging process of paying them every time they come due. People assume that, for the most part, their Fulton County tax assessment was done by someone from the county, and so, therefore, they can trust that it is accurate.
This could not be further from the truth. Through no fault of their own, county and municipal assessors calculate inaccurate property taxes all the time. They are tasked with appraising the tax value of properties based on what is known as “mass appraisal”. This process involves a lot of statistics and estimates, and may not take into account the most current information about your property that could affect how much you pay in taxes each year. Fortunately, even though this process may not be very reliable, it does allow residents of Georgia to challenge their tax assessment.
What is Mass Appraisal?
The International Association of Assessing Officers is responsible for setting the standards for the mass appraisal process. According to their latest edition of the Standard on Mass Appraisal of Real Property, this process requires:
- Complete and accurate statistics and data
- Effective models of valuation
- Proper resource management
As defined by the IAAO, a mass appraisal is: “ the process of valuing a group of properties as of a given date and using common data, standardized methods, and statistical testing.”
Determining value with this method relies on more than just the sale price of the property or parcel in question. In order to come to a “fair tax value”, your Fulton County tax assessor will have to utilize the various statistics, schedules, and valuation tables that have been compiled based on market data analysis. Of course, this introduction to mass appraisal also states that in order to achieve accurate and uniform property valuation for tax purposes, complete, correct, and up-to-date data must be used.
As discussed earlier, this is the first reason that a traditional appraisal may not be the best assessment of your property tax liability. Although the county assessors will do their due diligence, you can’t always guarantee that they have the most recent and accurate information. To save time, this method allows assessors to determine the market values of a group of properties at once, rather than assessing property taxes on an individual property basis.
Other Pitfalls of Mass Appraisal Tax Values
In the state of Georgia, property taxes average just over $1,400 per year, which is less than the national average and significantly lower than states like New Jersey, where the average resident spends over $8,000 on property taxes annually. Still, though, it’s important to make sure that your taxes are accurate and mass appraisal is not always the best method.
Although an assessor is supposed to use the most updated information available, their “most recent” reports and figures might be six months or a year old. Therefore, you may end up paying too much in property taxes without even realizing it. There are a lot of details that can be overlooked and county assessors might not even be aware that information is missing.
As a property owner, your best defense and first step in challenging your assessment is to look at your real property card on the Fulton County auditor’s website. Make sure that there is no missing or incorrect information on the public record. If there is, contact the auditor’s office to have information changed as soon as possible. Then, you can file a property tax appeal to have the amounts readjusted based on the correct information. Call us if you need help with this part of the process.
Logic dictates that “assessment neighborhoods”, which are used for group appraisals, would be comprised of similar properties that are truly comparable in value. In new construction, this is generally the case with any new neighborhood that is built. In an aging neighborhood, however, homes lose their comp value and end up having to compete with other similar homes that might be physically located in other neighborhoods.
For the most part, homes will remain in the same assessment neighborhood from one year to the next. If your property is moved, there should be a valid reason, such as if you made a major renovation or improvement that increased the property size, values, and other elements. Something as simple as a mismatch of street names or a lack of updated information can lead to an unnecessary and expensive designation into the wrong assessment neighborhood.
Incorrect or Incomplete Sales Data
When a house sells above or below market value, there is no real way to record the reason behind that price difference. Therefore, a handyman’s special, which wasn’t properly or legally recorded as such, could be errantly excluded from assessment sales and bias property values toward the high side. This is good for property values, but not good for tax assessments.
Another example is in the case of short sales, which were common during the most recent real estate crisis. There is a stipulation that the process of valuation needs to exclude any properties sold under duress. Unfortunately, there is no stipulation regarding homes purchased under duress, such as in the case of a buyer that needs to pay above market value to buy quickly so that they have a place to live. Thus, the duress guidelines are only going to remove lower-priced properties from the assessment sales list and not the properties that are sold above market value.
What You Can Do
If you’ve noticed that your property taxes have changed or feel that you just aren’t getting an accurate assessment, you can file an appeal with your county of residence. Of course, this process involves a lot of paperwork, evidence gathering, and knowledge of property valuation methods. Contact the team at Fair Assessments, LLC to discuss your situation and let us help you make sure your property taxes are accurate. We can take care of all aspects of the appeals process and give you peace of mind that you will get the outcome that you deserve when you enlist us to assist with your appeal.