County Property Assessments
Q. What does property assessment mean?
A. A property assessment is an estimate as to what your house would sell for if it was on the market today. The value of your property, as determined by your county, determines the basis for your annual school, county and local property taxes.
Q. How is the assessed value of my property determined?
A. In recent years Allegheny and Washington Counties hired a company to assess all of the properties. The company used pictures taken of each property, statistical data such as number of bedrooms in the home and size of the property the county already had, and the real estate sale prices to determine the assessment value of each property.
Q. Do I have a case?
A. This is the most important question. You have a case simply if the assessment on your property is higher than what the property would sell for if you listed it with a reputable real estate agent today.
Q. My neighbor’s house is just like mine, but his assessment is much lower than mine. Do I have a case?
A. You cannot try to appeal your assessment solely based on another property assessment. The hearing officer or judge is only interested in what your property is worth if it were on the market to sell, not what your neighbor’s house is worth. It is always best to have a qualified appraiser evaluate the value of your house based on its condition and the recent sales of comparable pieces of real estate.
Q. My property is not worth what my county says it is. Now what do I do? Can I appeal the assessment?
A. Call Steidl and Steinberg at 412-391-8000 to discuss your assessment appeal options.
Q. Do I need an attorney to appeal my assessment?
A. You can represent yourself in an assessment appeal hearing. It should be noted that attorneys for the municipality and the school district may be present and they will be presenting evidence that will best serve their clients, not you. While you may think you are saving money by representing yourself at any hearing, you are not likely to receive the best outcome unless you have counsel. Attorneys who represent the school districts and municipalities are experts in their field. They will not hesitate to flex their muscles and use aggressive negotiation tactics against citizens without representation to scare them into a settlement that will greatly benefit the school district or municipality.
With the potential for a great deal of tax savings at stake, we believe it is in your best interest to have our representation in your corner for property assessment appeals. We will represent you in the hearing and gather the documentation, including an appraisal of your property, to present your case. Why try to go through an emotional battle against legal professionals when you can rely on the experience of Steidl and Steinberg? We will represent your interests for a very affordable fee, and we will fight for you.
Q. My assessment has gone up by 30% compared to my old assessment. Will I pay 30% more in real estate taxes?
A. Probably not. This is the most misunderstood part of a property assessment. Your assessment alone does not determine the amount of taxes you pay: it is a combination of your assessment and your rate of taxes. For example, if your assessment goes up by 30%, and the municipality, county, or school district reduces its tax rate by 40%, your taxes will actually go down, despite your raised assessment. This is not as remote a possibility as you think. There are state laws that cap the total amount of taxes that can be collected by municipalities and school boards. If these are allowed to take effect, many, even most taxpayers may receive a decrease in their municipality and school district taxes.
Q. What is millage, and what does it have to do with the amount of taxes that I pay?
A. Millage is simply the rate of taxes that you pay on your property. So if your Washington County property is assessed at $100,000, and your cousin’s Westmoreland County Property is assessed also at $100,000, you will pay the same amount of taxes if your millage is the same. However, if the millage on Washington County real estate is double that of Westmoreland County, you will pay double the taxes, despite the fact that your properties are assessed identically.
Q. How many different real estate taxes do I actually pay?
A. Here in Western Pennsylvania, you pay three different real estate taxes. The largest is the amount paid to your school district. The two smaller taxes are paid to your municipality and the county. Sometimes, the taxing authorities combine some of your real estate tax bill. For instance, if you live in the City of Pittsburgh, you will find your municipal real estate taxes and your school district taxes are on the same bill.
Q. Why are some new assessments so far off from what they should be?
A. The assessment process is not an exact science. It is impossible for each property to be visited, inside and out, to determine the condition and true value. Your county has to make the best guess as to property value based on the old assessments; recent sales of real estate and the statistical data already known about the property. Since there are many variables this evaluation system doesn’t account for, there are bound to be inaccuracies.
Q. What happens if I win the assessment appeal?
A. Your assessment is reduced and your taxes will be calculated on this lower number until a new assessment is performed.
Q. Okay, you’ve convinced me. I need help fighting my assessment. Now what do I do?
A. Call or email us! We’ll take it from there! Let’s start saving you money as soon as possible!