Northeast Times

City mailing property assessment reviews

Dead­line: Prop­erty own­ers who don’t like what they hear from OPA can ap­peal to the Board of Re­vi­sion of Taxes by Oct. 7.

Homeown­ers who asked the city to lower their new prop­erty as­sess­ments should start check­ing their mail­boxes and cal­en­dars.

About half of the 17,000 com­pleted prop­erty value re­views are in the mail, said Mi­chael Piper, the city’s deputy chief as­sess­ment of­ficer.

However, the Of­fice of Prop­erty As­sess­ment re­ceived al­most 50,000 re­quests to re­view the new as­sess­ments the city sent out to own­ers earli­er this year, and all of those re­quests won’t be pro­cessed un­til the end of Septem­ber, Piper said in an Aug. 13 phone in­ter­view.

Those who don’t like what they hear from OPA can take their dis­sat­is­fac­tion to the next level and ap­peal to the Board of Re­vi­sion of Taxes, but they have to do that by an Oct. 7 dead­line.

Most of the people whose re­views were among those pro­cessed be­fore Aug. 13 prob­ably won’t like what they hear from OPA. Piper said 13,000 of those 17,000 pro­cessed re­views are deni­als.

OPA looked first at the re­quests that seemed easi­est to handle, Piper said, and, it was pretty easy to deny those 13,000 be­cause many homeown­ers didn’t back up their claims. 

“There wasn’t any­thing to sup­port the as­ser­tion we were wrong,” he said.

People who did little more than state that they thought their new as­sess­ments were too high aren’t likely to see those as­sess­ments go down, Piper ex­plained. Re­view re­quests that showed sur­round­ing prop­er­ties have been selling for less or in­cluded oth­er in­form­a­tion, however, aren’t so easy for ap­praisers just to shoot down. 

But even data that in­cluded a pro­fes­sion­al ap­prais­al and pho­tos didn’t help loc­al Re­altor Chris Ar­tur, who said OPA denied his re­quest to lower the as­sess­ment on a va­cant Frank­ford Av­en­ue com­mer­cial prop­erty he owns. 

The OPA doesn’t just say no all the time.

“We is­sue ‘Re­vi­sion’ no­tices in in­stances where we de­cide that a re­vi­sion is war­ran­ted,” Piper stated in an Aug. 15 email to the North­east Times. That no­tice in­cludes de­tails on the new pro­posed as­sess­ment, in­clud­ing any de­crease or in­crease in value or any change in tax­able status.

But wheth­er the OPA says yea or nay, the no­tice will in­clude an in­struc­tion on the prop­erty own­er’s rights to file a BRT ap­peal.

A DIF­FER­ENCE

The OPA’s re­view pro­cess is something new this year.

For tax pur­poses, Phil­adelphia prop­er­ties used to be as­signed val­ues that didn’t seem any­thing near the money they would draw when sold. A city as­sess­ment was about a third of mar­ket value and the tax rate was set based on that frac­tion. Trouble is, some prop­er­ties were un­der­assessed and some were over­assessed, res­ult­ing in a lot of vari­ety, but not much fair­ness.

The pur­pose of the city­wide Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive was to as­sess all prop­er­ties fairly at their ac­tu­al mar­ket val­ues. That meant, of course, that new as­sess­ments were bound to be high­er, maybe even much high­er, than they were. When AVI as­sess­ments star­ted ar­riv­ing, homeown­ers ex­per­i­enced some stick­er shock. The as­sump­tion was that a high­er as­sess­ment would guar­an­tee a tax in­crease, a bit­ter no­tion since homeown­ers had seen sev­er­al tax in­creases the past few years. Some were fur­ther alarmed by mis­takenly be­liev­ing the as­sess­ments would be used to raise their taxes this year. The new val­ues will be used in com­put­ing 2014 real es­tate taxes.

By law, the city had to set a new tax rate so it could bring in rev­en­ues equal to those brought in be­fore AVI. Still, there were bound to be own­ers who would see their taxes rise, some whose taxes would be more or less stable, and some who would see their taxes drop a bit.

As the new as­sess­ments were be­ing mailed in the spring, it was pre­dicted North­east prop­erty own­ers for the most part would see taxes re­main about the same or dip a bit. But there were months between the dates when own­ers saw the new as­sess­ments and when City Coun­cil set the new tax rate.

Loc­al elec­ted of­fi­cials star­ted to hear com­plaints: identic­al homes as­sessed dif­fer­ently; mod­est homes near more ex­pens­ive prop­er­ties val­ued like the high­er-priced spreads; a re­ten­tion basin pre­vi­ously as­sessed at $2,000 marked up 61 times to $122,000. 

In an or­din­ary year, an own­er would take a re­quest to lower an as­sess­ment right to the Board of Re­vi­sion of Taxes. The BRT, which used to as­sess prop­er­ties too, usu­ally handles 1,000 to 2,000 ap­peals an­nu­ally, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Carla Pa­gan told the North­east Times in the spring. Since nobody seems to be able to re­call the last time there was a city­wide re­as­sess­ment, the city an­ti­cip­ated many more than 2,000 people would want to dis­pute AVI res­ults.

So, the city gave own­ers a new and early way to chal­lenge their new as­sess­ments — the first-level re­view that OPA now is com­plet­ing. 

“[It’s] sort of a free bite of the apple,” Piper said.

DE­CISIONS, DE­CISIONS

A lot of prop­erty own­ers won’t get much time to con­sider ap­peal­ing the out­comes of their OPA re­views. An own­er who learns to­ward the end of Septem­ber that OPA re­fused to lower an as­sess­ment will have about a week to file an ap­peal with the BRT.

But that’s only if that prop­erty own­er waits for OPA’s opin­ion. Piper said that any­one who sus­pects a deni­al will be com­ing from the OPA can file an ap­peal with the BRT now. So you can cov­er your op­tions while you’re watch­ing the cal­en­dar. Any­one who gets good news from OPA can choose not to fol­low through with a BRT ap­peal, he said. 

Ar­tur ad­vised own­ers to think bey­ond taxes be­fore fil­ing their ap­peals.

“It de­pends on what you’re go­ing to do with the prop­erty,” he said in an Aug. 15 phone in­ter­view.

A high as­sess­ment ac­tu­ally might prove to be a boon to someone who plans on selling soon, he said. The city’s as­sess­ment num­bers will be used by sellers and buy­ers, he ex­plained.

If nearby prop­er­ties are selling at $200,000, for ex­ample, a high­er city as­sess­ment might help a seller draw high­er bids. In the same vein, a lower as­sess­ment might make it dif­fi­cult for a seller to get buy­ers to agree to a price com­par­able to those of re­cently sold neigh­bor­ing prop­er­ties.

There’s an­oth­er date homeown­ers should keep in mind: Sept. 13.

That’s the dead­line for homeown­er-oc­cu­pants to ap­ply for the $30,000 Homestead Ex­emp­tion. Un­der the ex­emp­tion, an ap­proved homeown­er will see $30,000 shaved from the as­sess­ment for tax pur­poses. A house as­sessed at $100,000 would be taxed as if it were a $70,000 house. The ex­emp­tion is a tax break, but it doesn’t mean the house is worth only $70,000.

Homeown­ers can ap­ply for the ex­emp­tion by phone by call­ing 215-686-9200. ••

Tax facts:

Num­ber of re­quests to re­view mar­ket val­ues: Between 49,000 and 50,000

Num­ber of those re­quests pro­cessed be­fore Aug. 13: About 17,000

Num­ber of those re­quests denied: About 13,000

Top reas­on for re­fus­ing to lower as­sess­ment: No sup­port­ing in­form­a­tion.

Dead­line for ap­peal­ing to the Board of Re­vi­sion of Taxes: Oct. 7, 2013

Tax year new as­sess­ments will be used: 2014

Dead­line for ap­ply­ing for the $30,000 Homestead Ex­emp­tion: Sept. 13

Tax rate for 2014: 1.34 per­cent, or $1,340 for every $100,000 of prop­erty value.

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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