Most of Amherst's property owners by now have had a chance to think about their new assessments.
The town late last week mailed out preliminary notices for its 2017 Assessment Equity Project, a townwide reassessment of properties. Every property is reviewed, from the smallest home to the largest commercial property. The assessed value of a property determines its tax liability.
The reassessment will result in some people's tax bills going up. But some owners' taxes will decrease, while others' will stay the same.
Some property owners might be thinking about challenging their new assessment in the hopes of having it lowered. Donald Griebner, president and founder of Real Property Services, specializes in helping property owners do that.
He formed the company 21 years ago after serving on the Town of Amherst Board of Assessment Review and seeing first-hand the difficulties property owners had in presenting their cases. They were losing cases they should have won, or presenting cases that had no merit.
Griebner tells his clients "there are only two answers that I can give you, but they're both good news: You are fairly assessed and therefore not paying too much in taxes, or you are over-assessed and I can help you." Clients only pay him if he's successful at lowering their assessment.
Griebner offered this list of advice:
- Can you sell your home for its assessed value? If yes, you are fairly assessed, Griebner said. If no, you need to challenge. If you're not sure, you need to investigate further.
- Do not focus on your taxes, focus on your value. "This is the biggest mistake property owners make," said Griebner, an appraiser with 31 years of experience. "Taxes are not the problem, they are a by-product of the problem. An over-assessment is the only problem that can be addressed."
- Understand the market value of your home. There is no single market value for a property, Griebner said. However there is a reasonable range of value that can be proven. "An assessment should reflect the lower end of the reasonable range in order to protect against future uncertainties," he said. A recent sale of the home will most likely lock you into an assessed value at that price, he adds.
- Do I need to hire an appraiser to help with a challenge? Not necessarily. "Since the burden of proof is on the property owner, finding and analyzing comparable sales data is critical," he said. "If the owner feels capable of doing research and presenting the case, then that approach is acceptable." An appraisal is not required to challenge your assessment. Hiring an appraiser will provide the most thorough and defensible proof of value, however, the appraised value may support the town's assessed value. Hiring a real estate professional as an advocate who charges a fee only if successful takes the risk out of the process, he said.
- Reviewing/challenging your assessment is not a fight. Both sides are trying to accomplish the same thing. "Take the emotion out of the process, and apply sound principles of value -- meaning market sales -- and analysis," Griebner said. "Educate the assessor about your house with pictures and descriptions. Work together for the same goal, a fair market value for your property."