Paying real estate taxes is one of the unpleasant parts of owning real estate. No one enjoys it, but it can’t be avoided. That said, you can make sure that you’re paying only your fair share of taxes.
Fair Market Values
In Western Pennsylvania, the amount you pay in real estate taxes is calculated on a base-year system. This means that once every so many years, county governments pay to have a company go out and place a fair market value, or real estate tax assessment, on each property. That fair market value, compared with the fair market values of the other properties in your area, is used to determine how much you will pay in school district, municipality and county real estate taxes.
None of the counties in Western Pennsylvania are required by law to determine new property values at any regular interval. That means that the old real estate tax assessments usually stay in place until someone challenges them.
Recent Assessment Challenges
In 2005, some homeowners brought a lawsuit alleging that Allegheny County’s 2002 base-year system was not fair. They thought their property values had dropped since 2002, while the values of properties around them had risen. If that was true, then the homeowners were paying more real estate taxes than they should be, while their neighbors were not paying enough.
The judge agreed with the homeowners and ordered Allegheny County to reassess all property and start calculating property taxes based on those values. After a legal and political circus, Allegheny County property owners faced a controversial property assessment in 2012. Allegheny County residents who are not happy with the assessed value of their property are eligible to file a formal appeal every year between January 1 and March 31.
A similar situation has developed in Washington County, where the McGuffey and Washington school districts filed a successful suit to demand property reassessments. Washington County conducted a property assessment in 2016 with the new values being applied for the 2017 tax season. Like other assessment evaluations, the process has been met with mixed reviews. Beaver County officials have filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in an effort to avoid implementing a reassessment project that has been ordered by the Court of Common Pleas. For information regarding those appeals, give us a call at 412-391-8000.
Is Your Property Assessed Accurately?
Paying your fair share of property taxes based on the true value of your real estate sounds good. The problem comes when the county assesses your property for more than it is actually worth. Obviously, the companies hired by a county to perform the assessment could not go into each property and assign it a value based on its condition. The company calculated the property values based on recent sales of properties and the general trends in real estate values. There are bound to be mistakes with this system.
Some of the mistakes are statistical. For instance, your county may have listed that your home has five bedrooms when it only has three. There is a good chance that the county will assess a five-bedroom home at a higher amount than a three-bedroom home, meaning that you will pay more than your fair share of property taxes unless the mistake is corrected. Other assessments could be incorrect for no apparent reason. For instance, a homeowner that bought their home six months ago for $100,000.00 might be shocked to find their home is assessed at $150,000.00. What can you do when your county assessment department thinks your house is worth more than it really is?
That’s where the appeals process comes in, and Steidl & Steinberg can help. Each county has an appeals process to allow you to challenge the value assigned to your property. If you lose your appeal, it could end up costing you thousands of dollars in property taxes over the years. Don’t take that chance. Let the knowledgeable attorneys at Steidl & Steinberg handle your assessment appeal for you. We will navigate the process and make sure you have the right evidence to prove where the county went wrong.