Watch your mail, because this is the season when county assessors send property valuation notices to homeowners and commercial property owners across the state.
Before you roll your eyes and turn the page, read on, because February is the time of year when normal, everyday people can save hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes. All they have to do is pay attention and be their own advocates.
I never let a February pass without giving my property valuation notices a close look. It’s not unusual for me to pay the assessor’s office a visit to discuss my own properties or advocate for my clients when I think valuations are either unfair or inaccurate.
Here’s how property taxes are figured. Assessors establish the Market Value of a property, then it adjusts the Taxable Market Value of the property in accordance with limits imposed by state law. Once the Taxable Market Value is solidified, it multiplies that Value by the Assessment Ratio. Next, it subtracts any Exemptions, such as the Homestead Exemption. Finally, it multiplies this adjusted amount by a Millage Rate, which is not set by the Assessor and varies depending on the county and school district. This is a bit complicated, so to simplify, the higher the property’s assessed value, the higher the tax assessment.
The county assessor’s job is to generate funds for county government and public schools. Assessor’s offices across the state are tasked with establishing market valuations for thousands, and in some counties, tens of thousands of properties. The sheer volume of this work creates a lot of opportunity for inaccuracies, faulty data or property specific considerations that these diligent assessors cannot possibly know. That’s why assessors distribute notices each year. They want to hear from you.
To many property owners, those notices are just another piece of mail to put in a stack, but for those paying attention, they are opportunities to reduce their tax burdens. If they find the assessor’s market value estimates are too high, they get to work.
Property appraisals are not always accurate. That’s why you can and should ask for the comparable properties and other information that an assessor used when estimating your property’s market value.
Few properties are truly the same in a given area, especially in neighborhoods with homes built at different times. Look at each property and determine if they truly compare to yours. The internet makes this research easy. Just key in the address and all kinds of information pops up.
Has the comparable property been remodeled recently? Does it have expensive amenities that your property does not have? Are the structures similar in age? Also, what’s the condition of your property? Are there foundation issues that could devalue your property? What’s the condition of the electrical system and the plumbing? Does your property need a new roof?
Those questions can help you determine if the assessor’s comparisons are fair and accurate. Assessors aren’t your advocates. They use a much broader brush that usually works in the county’s favor. So, the question is, are you going to do the leg work, ask the questions and be your own advocate? The county hopes you don’t.
Scott Cravens is chief operating officer and a founding principal at Full Sail Capital in Oklahoma City.