TaxTrim - Frequently Asked Questions



General
Q: What is TaxTrim?

Q: Why should I use this service?

Q: Why wouldn't my property taxes be fair?

Q: What are my chances of success?

Q: How do I tell if I am over-assessed?

Q: Why does my house not show up in the dropdown lists?

Q: What if I have waterfront property, great views, or large outbuildings?

Q: What is the difference between the "Reality Check" and the "TaxTrim Toolkit"?

Q: How do you decide that a house is "similar" to mine?

Q: Will you represent me before my town or city?

Q: Can I get someone else to represent me?

Q: Why don't you cover the entire country?

Q: Can you explain the 4 types of data you provide?

Q: How do I build my case?

Q: What do I do with the documents?

Q: What about pictures?

Q: What are detracting features?

Q: Are there specific dates I need to be aware of?

Q: What if my assessment does not seem high compared to my neighbors?

Q: How can I be sure this data is accurate?

Q: Are you showing the most current assessment data?

Q: Tell me about the 30 Day Money Back Guarantee

Q: I have detailed questions about my specific case. Can you help research it?

The Grievance Process
Q: I have no free time. I don’t even want to read this whole thing. What’s the absolute least I can do?

Q: I have a little free time, and I want to maximize my chances of success. What should *I* do?

Q: Tell me again – what are the 3 steps I can take?

Q: Do I *have* to go see the assessor?

Q: Can I send someone else to go in my place?

Q: What if the assessor says something like “I’ve seen these spreadsheets before and I don’t like this company’s work”?

Q: Any other tips on how to approach the assessor ?

Q: How do I proceed to Step 2 (the grievance board) ?

Q: How do I proceed to Step 3 (the Small Claims Assessment Review court) ?

Q: I’d like to add or delete some houses from my spreadsheet of comparable properties. Is that OK?

Q: Why is the property tax system so broken?

Things that may Detract from the Value of Your Home
Legal References

General


Q: What is TaxTrim?
A: We are a company that helps homeowners determine if they are over-assessed, and if so, quickly and easily prepare a comprehensive case that proves that to their town officials, so they can get a significant reduction in their property taxes (often thousands of dollars per year).

Q: Why should I use this service?
A: Many people are over-assessed without even knowing it, and as a result, they are often wasting thousands of dollars every year on taxes that are too high for their home. Just like you carefully check your income tax statements to make sure you are not over-paying the government, you should do the same with your property taxes, which are often a significant part of your monthly budget.

Q: Why wouldn't my property taxes be fair?
A: Each town creates a list of all the properties in that town, and decides how much each one is worth. This number (the assessment) is supposed to be its market value (how much someone would pay for it), or else a set fraction of the market value. If your assessment accurately reflects the market value of your home, and everyone else' is accurate as well, then everyone will pay their fair share of the taxes that fund their town and school system.

But, as you can imagine, these numbers are highly subjective, and very similar houses often have very different assessments. Mass re-assessments are often performed by a hired company doing nothing but quick drive-bys. Our report lets you compare your house to the most similar houses in your neighborhood.

Q: What are my chances of success?
A: We estimate that between one-third and one-half of all homeowners have a decent chance of getting a tax reduction if they try. Since there is an element of random-ness about property assessments, we find that they fall on a Bell Curve, and people whose numbers are higher than average can make a case for a reduction. Even someone with average numbers might have a property that is not as nice as their neighbors, and can argue that they should be assessed lower. Of course, some people are also under-assessed, and they won't have a good argument to make. In any case, it's nice to know where you stand, and to know that you are not losing money needlessly. But if you find you are considerably "above average", our service could help you save a lot of money!

Q: How do I tell if I am over-assessed?
A: Honestly, being "over-assessed" is an opinion. But, we help translate that into real quantifiable numbers by comparing your home to dozens of similar homes nearby. If your numbers are consistently higher than average, that is a good sign that you could stand to be reduced (unless there is an obvious reason why your home is nicer than all the neighbors, like, you are on the ocean and they are inland a few blocks).

Q: Why does my house not show up in the dropdown lists?
A: First, we only cover upstate New York (see map on home page). Also, we only cover residential properties, not commercial buildings or apartments. Some parcels have more than one house on then, which makes them too complicated to work with. And occasionally, our source data is simply missing a home. But the most common reason you're not finding your home is that it's listed differently than you think - e.g. you have the wrong township, or the street name we have is slightly different than what you expect. If your address is not found, send us an email and we'll look into it.

Q: What if I have waterfront property, great views, or large outbuildings?
A: Our product does not work well for waterfront properties, because unfortunately our data does not have an indication of that. We compare to similar houses around yours, but since most of them in a concentric circle will not also be waterfont homes, it's not a fair comparison. Also, homes with exceptional views not shared by the neighbors or unusual outbuildings that add great value may not produce good results for the same reason.

Q: What is the difference between the "Reality Check" and the "TaxTrim Toolkit"?
A: The "Reality Check" give you an analysis of your home's assessment compared to dozens of other similar homes near you, as well as recent sales of similar homes. You get charts detailing how you rank in each comparison, and an overall summary of your chances of success, if you decide to grieve your taxes.

The "TaxTrim Toolkit" gives you complete access to all the data on each home used in the analysis, plus tools that make it a snap to build a case that proves you are over-assessed. It also generates all the documentation you need to bring to your town officials.

Q: How do you decide that a house is "similar" to mine?
A: It's based on your property class (single-family home, duplex, etc), the style of your house (e.g. Colonial, Cape Cod, Bungalow), the number of bedrooms, the square footage (of livable area), and the acreage. A certain amount of leeway is used, and similar styles or classes may be considered.

To be "very similar", less leeway is allowed, and we also consider the grade of construction, the condition of the property, year built, and type of basements.

Sales comps use the "similar" criteria, and must have sold within the last 5 years.

Q: Will you represent me before my town or city?
A: No, we do not provide representation. You need to print out all of the documents, sign them, and then take them (or mail them) to your local assessor.

Q: Can I get someone else to represent me?
A: Yes, you can generally have someone else do this for you, using our documentation. There is usually a form to sign giving them that authority. This could be your lawyer, realtor, friend, etc. However, it is our belief that most homeowners are better off doing this themselves, since town officials are more apt to be charitable to the actual homeowner than to a third party.

Q: Why don't cover the entire country?
A: We had to start somewhere, and the data for New York was more accessible. But we are planning to expand to other states in the future, and eventually the entire country. If you live outside of our coverage area, please send us an email with your name and address, and we will write back to you when we have coverage in your area.

Q: Can you explain the 4 types of data you provide?
A: There are 2 ways to challenge your assessment: based on other assessments, or based on recent sales. Other sites will only tell you recent sales. We give you both. Clearly, when you compare your house to all of your neighbors (whether or not they have sold lately) you have much more data to work with, since only 2% of homes have sold recently. That makes it much easier to build a good case.
We provide 4 sets of data for you to use. You can think of them as being in concentric (but overlapping) circles:

  1. Sales – recent sales of similar homes – the 50 closest to your home. These are the best evidence to use in making your case, since their market value is clear based on the sale price. We typically recommend using 12 of these in your case.
  2. Very Similar – *assessments* of homes that are very similar to your own – again the 50 closest. This is the second best evidence to use. We recommend using 12 of these in your case also.
  3. Similar – assessments of less similar homes. These are not as ideal, but, if they are substantially closer to your home, you may want to use some of these also, because distance counts for a lot.
  4. Closest – assessments of the closest homes to yours of any kind (i.e. your closest neighbors). These may not be very similar to yours, though, and so should be used cautiously when building your case. But sometimes, you really want to include your next-door neighbor anyway…

Note that we focus on Value Per Square Foot – either the sale price per square foot, or the assessed value per square foot. This accounts well for small differences in size, and is commonly used by appraisers and assessors.

Q: How do I build my case?
A: You have two options: let our algorithms do it automatically, or do it yourself by choosing homes from the lists or the maps. You can also use the automatic approach, and then make adjustments. Our algorithm is pretty good (and we keep improving on it), but it can’t take into account things that you can, like neighborhood boundaries or lakes. So make sure you either build your case by hand, or carefully review what the algorithm presents for reasonable-ness.

Q: What do I do with the documents?
A: Our system will automatically generate the key documents you need to bring to your assessor – the case spreadsheet and the letter to the assessor. Click on “Edit Document Fields” on the “My Documents” tab to review or edit certain key pieces of information that will be used to produce these documents. In New York State, we also generate your Grievance Form and Small Claims Petition (other states to be added soon). And don’t forget pictures!

Q: What about pictures?
A: We strongly encourage you to add pictures to your case. First, take a picture of your own house, but don’t go out of your way to make it look especially nice. Then, drive by the properties used as comparables in your case. Take pictures of as many of them as you can, as long as they look at least as nice as your house. You’ll want to include all of these pictures as part of your case (nicely labeled).

Nothing makes an impression like pictures of a bunch of homes all similar to yours and all having lower assessments and sale prices (at least per-square-foot). Of course, some houses are down private driveways, so you may not be able to see all of them, but you are free to take any pictures you like from public roads.

Q: What are detracting features?
A: Anything that would make your house less valuable – e.g. flooding issues, noise problems, a bad roof. Be sure to point these out. You can easily add them to your Letter to the Assessor by using the “Edit Document Fields” button (there is a special section to add these, and they show up on your letter to the assessor). At the end of this FAQ, we list some examples of things that might detract from the value of your home, but be creative – you may think of others too! When possible, document them with pictures or video.

Q: Are there specific dates I need to be aware of?
A: Yes! Definitely! There are specific deadlines for when you can grieve your taxes each year, and they vary state by state, town by town. If you miss the deadline, you will not have another chance for an entire year, so, be sure to either research these dates online, or simply call your local assessor’s office and ask.

There are other important deadlines for secondary appeals (e.g. small claims court), and applications for exemptions (reductions you may receive based on using your home as a primary residence, being a senior citizen or veteran, etc.)

However, the first step in all of this is usually having an informal meeting with your assessor, and that can be done any time of year. So, there is no need to wait until it is close to your deadline – better to do it in the quiet season.

Q: What if my assessment does not seem high compared to my neighbors?
A: Of course, anyone can build a case by simply pointing out homes with lower values than their own, and our tool certainly makes that easy. Or, you may point out things that detract from the value of your home, and make it less valuable than those neighbors (see a list of ideas below). Remember, being “over-assessed” is an opinion, and reasonable opinions can differ, even among professionals. Any homeowner is entitled to make a case for a reduction using the best evidence they can compile.

On the other hand, you may realize that you are in fact either fairly assessed, or under-assessed, and decide not to grieve your taxes. That is also valuable information, knowing that you have carefully checked your property taxes and they are indeed fair. It’s also why we give away the Reality Check analysis for free (since not everyone has a good case for a tax reduction, and it's nice to know ahead of time).

Q: How can I be sure this data is accurate?
A: This data is only as accurate as the data provided by the town. You can compare any given property to the town’s records and you should not find discrepancies, as we have obtained it all from them (or from the state) and then reworked it into our own database (unless it is a very recent modification). You should be aware that there are often mistakes in the town’s data, and if they work in your favor, be sure to point them out.

Q: Are you showing the most current assessment data?
A: Not always, but let us explain. New assessments come out once a year, when the tentative roll is released. Then there is a brief grievance period, after which the final roll is released. We get the data in bulk from the state around February of each year, so between your tentative roll date and our next data cycle, you may see assessments from the previous year. However, this rarely makes much of a difference, because most assessments do not change every year, or only change a small amount. The exception to this is when a town or city does a complete reval, where they come up with new numbers for every property in the town. This is infrequent, but in those years our assessment data will be less useful (although our sales data is still fine).

You can update the assessment values in your case by hand (use the Edit link in the datagrid), using the online roll available at the website of your local assessor, but don't worry if you are unable to - they can't throw out your case for slight discrepancies (see our Legal Notes), and usually they will just update them for you. You should, however, update your own assessment if possible.

Although new rolls are available online at each assessor's office starting on the tentative roll date, these are purposely posted as badly formatted PDF files, and obtaining the data from them in bulk is almost impossible. Local governments are required to post this data, but they go out of their way to make it difficult to work with.

Q: Tell me about the 30 Day Money Back Guarantee
A: We realize that this is a complicated product, which is why we are now offering the ability to try it out on a random house for free. But still, there are times when the data we have may be insufficient in your area, or for other reasons you are unable to make use of it. If that happens to you, we'll be happy to refund your money within 30 days of purchase. Just let us know what happened. If you get stuck in the process, however, please write to us first, and perhaps we can offer advice to help you continue. We'd rather see you succeed and get a tax reduction!

Q: I have detailed questions about my specific case. Can you help research it?
A: We do not provide unlimited support, but we will attempt to answer your questions as best we can. Please send them to info@taxtrim.com, and we will try to respond in a timely fashion. In some cases, we may have to refer you to a local real estate professional for further assistance.

We also welcome comments and suggestions on how to improve our service, or inquiries regarding investment to help us grow. Please send them to info@taxtrim.com, and thank you for using our service!


The Grievance Process


Q: I have no free time. I don’t even want to read this whole thing. What’s the absolute least I can do?
A: Go to the My Case tab. Click on Lower Values Only, then on Build My Case. Review the houses selected and make any changes you wish. Then go to the My Documents tab, and print out the documents either for the Assessor (for an informal request), or the Board of Assessment Review (if the assessor denies you, or you are already in the Grievance period). Mail them to your local assessor (their address is at the top of your Letter to the Assessor). If you don’t hear from them in a week or so, call them to discuss it and ask for your reduction.

Q: I have a little free time, and I want to maximize my chances of success. What should *I* do?
A: Review your case. Make it your own. Drive by the properties in your case spreadsheet. Take pictures of as many of them as you can, as long as they look at least as nice as your house. Take a picture of your own as well for comparison. You’ll want to include all of these pictures as part of your case (nicely labeled). Nothing makes an impression like pictures of a bunch of homes all similar to yours and all having lower assessments and sale prices (at least per-square-foot). Of course, some houses are down private driveways, so you may not be able to see all of them, but you are free to take any pictures you like from public roads. You may also choose to grab pictures from the Internet, but if you have the time to take your own photos from the street, those will usually be better and more up-to-date. Make a list of anything you can think of that detracts from the value of your home. We’ve included a list of possibilities below that you can review, but it’s not exhaustive. Be sure to include these in the Document Fields section of the My Documents tab so they will be included in your letter to the Assessor.

Go visit the assessor in person. Bring a friend for moral support. Explain your case and show him or her the data and pictures. Point out detracting features. If you need to go to the Review Board, go there in person as well. They may say that they review all cases based on the paperwork only, but board members are human as well, and may respond to a personal appeal (along with your extensive documentation).

Q: Tell me again – what are the 3 steps I can take?
A: Step 1 - an informal meeting with your assessor in which you present your evidence and make your case for a lower assessment. If the assessor disagrees with you, or offers an unacceptable compromise, proceed to

Step 2 – the Board of Assessment Review (grievance board). This is a volunteer board of people who live in the town, and they have the authority to over-ride the assessor. They meet once a year, and have 30 days to make their decisions. But if they don’t give you a reduction, or their reduction is too small, don’t hesitate to proceed to

Step 3 – the Small Claims Assessment Review court. This is held at the county level, and you must either go in person or send a representative. You must also pay a small filing fee, and send copies of your appeal to several places (see below for details). Unlike the town grievance boards, which do not require members to have any actual related experience, SCAR hearing officers usually have some level of experience in assessment and appraisal matters.

Note that there are specific dates for Steps 2 and 3, and if you don’t get your paperwork in on time, you will lose your chance to appeal until the following year. Be sure to check online or with your local assessor for the dates in your town.

Q: Do I *have* to go see the assessor?
A: No. This step is optional. It’s usually a good idea, though, because the assessor has the authority to lower your assessment on the spot (although it won’t affect your taxes until after the next tax roll comes out). But if you are uncomfortable with this step, or uncomfortable with the assessor, you are free to go directly to the review board.

Q: Can I send someone else to go in my place?
A: Yes. You can send someone else to represent you. However, if you are comfortable going yourself, it’s probably in your best interest to do so, as town officials tend to be more responsive to the actual homeowner than to a third party. Again, we suggest bringing a friend for moral support.

Q: What if the assessor says something like “I’ve seen these spreadsheets before and I don’t like this company’s work”?
A: Some assessors resent us for encouraging people to question their assessments. But it’s their job to make sure that each assessment is fair, and to address homeowners with complaints. Many people don’t complain because they don’t know how to produce good evidence, or they are afraid of “rocking the boat”. Keep in mind that it is absolutely illegal for the town to *raise* your assessment because you asked to have it lowered (with one caveat: if you have made improvements to your home without getting town approval).

Tell the assessor that just as you might use TurboTax to help with your income taxes, you have used an online service to help prepare evidence regarding your property taxes. You are not an expert in this field. The format of the data is not important – what matters is the actual data. You expect an explanation for why all of these homes are assessed lower (or sold for less) than *your* home, and why yours should be so much higher. And ask for specifics on each one. Invalidating one comp does not invalidate them all. If the assessor provides you with specific feedback on why they feel your comps are not truly comparable, you can go back to our toolkit and search for other homes that are a better fit.

Also, ask the assessor to provide a detailed description of how they came up with your current assessment – which recent sales it was based on, and what adjustments were made. After all, they didn’t pick the number out of a hat, right? Surely their analysis is as thorough as yours?

But most important, remember clearly that the assessor is not the final word in this matter. Sometimes the assessor is friendly and helpful, and will review each comparable property with you. Other times they can be difficult and defensive, perhaps feeling a need to justify the numbers they came up with. This is the reason why New York State has long had a system of checks and balances on the assessor’s power – first the Board of Assessment Review at the town or city level, and then the Small Claims Assessment Review court at the county level.

One last note here: we were once at a grievance board hearing in Westchester county, and while speaking informally with the assessor, he said to us “Listen, one-third of the houses are under-assessed, one-third are fairly assessed, and one-third are over-assessed.” Assessments, like anything else with an element of random-ness, fall on a Bell Curve. Assessors know this, so don’t feel like you are the lone homeowner asking for relief. At least one person in three has a reasonable case to argue for a reduction.

Q: Any other tips on how to approach the assessor ?
A: Remember that the assessor does not set your taxes. Do not complain about your taxes to the assessor. The assessor’s job is simply to make sure that each house is properly and fairly assessed in relation to all the others, and in relation to the real estate market (and sometimes these are conflicting requirements). You are simply pointing out an inconsistency in the data. The assessor’s job is huge and complex, and errors inevitably creep in.

For best results, use a non-confrontational approach. Focus on the facts, not on emotions. For moral support, we recommend bringing a calm, level-headed friend whom you’ve briefed ahead of time.
(Note: these tips apply equally well to the Grievance Board and Small Claims Court)

Q: How do I proceed to Step 2 (the grievance board) ?
A: If the assessor does not give you a reduction, or you are not satisfied with their offer, hold onto your paperwork until the Grievance Period (check with the assessor or their website for these dates). Then, you need to send the case to the Board of Assessment Review, in care of your assessor. You must also include the 4-page Grievance Form (form RP-524) and sign and date it on page 4 where it says “Part 5: Certification”. You do not need to fill out anything else, and may leave page 2 blank except for the checkmark at the bottom.

At the beginning of the Grievance Period, the new tentative tax roll will be released. It will be made available both online and at the assessor’s office. Ideally, you should update your spreadsheet and forms using the new numbers (use the Edit link in the My Case grid). However, if you submit your case using last years’ numbers, they will correct it for you – they cannot dismiss it for “clerical errors”. In most cases, assessments only change a little bit each year.

You have the option to appear before the board in person, but it is not required – you may simply submit your case by mail. However, we recommend that you go in person if at all possible, both to review your case with them in person, and to put a human face on your grievance. Board members are given great latitude in what evidence they can consider, but often are presented with very cursory arguments, so coming in with a thorough analysis of many homes (preferably with pictures) should put you at a distinct advantage. Also, board members are only human, and may be swayed by personal appeals in a way that paperwork alone cannot do.

Be sure to check with the assessor’s office to determine the exact date, time, and location where the grievance board will be meeting. Some boards take people by appointment, and some take them first-come-first-served. When it’s your turn, you will be briefly sworn in, and then given a few minutes to present your case. The board may ask you some relevant questions, or they may not. They will not make any decision on the spot. Instead, they will meet in private at a later date and review all the cases then, and you will be notified by mail of their decision.

By the way, you may be asked if you have an appraisal of your property to present. Note that appraisals are not required at any step in the grievance process. Many types of evidence are permissible, and that is only one. Our experience is that simply having an appraisal does not guarantee success by any means. Moreover, appraisers can be limited by their professional responsibility to be completely objective, and their analyses are usually limited to 3-5 sales, and are not nearly as extensive as ours. However, if you have an appraisal with a low value, by all means include a copy with your case.

Q: How do I proceed to Step 3 (the Small Claims Assessment Review court) ?
A: If the review board does not give you a reduction, or you are not satisfied with their offer, you are then free to file a petition with the Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) court to review your case. Many tax grievance professionals feel that this is the best place to get relief, as the hearing officers are experienced professionals rather than unskilled volunteers. They may more fully appreciate your detailed analysis. Also, they are very unlikely to be influenced by any town politics. However, only a small percentage of homeowners who are turned down by the BAR proceed to this step.

We feel that is mistake on their part, but can understand why. The state makes you jump through a few hoops to file your petition – you must send a $30 fee, and you must mail several copies of your entire case to various local officials, one of them by certified mail (or in person). However, this is really just a minor inconvenience - just look up the correct addresses and send them out (ask your assessor to be sure). You must also fill out a very obscure form (the RPTL-730), and this surely stops many people in their tracks. However, our system fills this out for you, so don’t let that stop you. Finally, don’t be intimidated by the idea of “going to court”. This is small claims court, which is designed for individuals to present their cases without going through the legal formalities that would be present in a regular court of law. It is more like an informal meeting with you, the judge, and the appraiser. Again, we recommend bringing a friend if possible for moral support, and so there are two of you instead of one. Just like at the BAR hearing, you will be given a short time to present your case, so have it ready and practiced beforehand.

By the way, you have the right to request an evening-time hearing if you work during the day, and in most cases they must grant it. However, if you miss your hearing date, you won’t get another chance (until next year).

There are 3 small caveats about SCAR petitions: you may not use them if the home is not used exclusively for residential purposes or is not your primary residence (assuming they know this), you may not ask for a larger reduction than you requested from the grievance board, and if your home has an assessed market value of more than $450,000, you may not request more than a 25% reduction.

Q: I’d like to add or delete some houses from my spreadsheet of comparable properties. Is that OK?
A: Absolutely – it’s your case, and you can modify it any way you see fit. You know your own neighborhood better than we do, and may prefer to leave out certain homes that we included, or to add certain ones we did not put in. Feel free to do so. You can add or remove properties from your case using either the grid or the map in the My Case tab.

Also, please note that we tend to include many more properties in our spreadsheets than you really need, so taking few out is rarely a problem – you do not necessarily have to replace them.

Q: Why is the property tax system so broken?
A: OK, we admit this is only our *opinion*. But that said, unlike income taxes, property taxes bear no relation to one’s ability to pay. That in itself strikes us as immensely unfair. On top of that, there is no clear-cut method for determining your taxes. Your taxes are based on your assessment, but the process for determining your assessment is opaque and arbitrary.

The assessor – usually just one person – determines your assessment. Rarely will an assessor tell you exactly how they arrived at your number. In fact, they are often determined by outside companies hired by the town who rarely do more than a quick drive-by and run some proprietary computer models they have developed. And even that is not done every year, but perhaps every 10 years, since it is a very expensive process for cash-strapped towns. In the years in-between, the numbers are simply “trended”, which results in slight discrepancies becoming large discrepancies over time.

An assessment, just like an appraisal, is always a matter of opinion – one person’s opinion as to how much your house would bring on the open market. Professional opinions can differ, even in the best of circumstances.

Given the inherent unfairness and arbitrariness of the property tax system, we believe that each homeowner should take full advantage of the grievance process to make sure they receive the lowest possible assessment based on a careful analytical comparison of their home to other similar homes around them. No one should be expected to pay more than their fair share.



Things that may Detract from the Value of Your Home


  • Things near your house
    • Road too close
    • Neighbor too close
    • Heavy or noisy traffic
    • Unkempt homes
    • Foreclosed homes
    • Rental properties
    • Highway
    • Wetlands
    • Bad neighbors
    • Bad neighborhood
    • Cemetery
    • Funeral Home
    • School
    • Power plant
    • Landfill
    • Commercial buildings
    • Farms (pesticides, odors)
    • Airport
    • Fire station
    • Police station
    • Hospital
    • Railroad
    • Noise – dogs, sirens, parties, etc.
  • Features of your property
    • Inground pool – high liability, expensive to maintain
    • No garage or 1-car-only garage
    • Flooding issues
    • Shared driveway
    • Lack of landscaping
    • Bad homeowners association
    • Unusual house for the neighborhood
    • Major repairs needed
    • Bad driveway or sidewalks
    • Bad view
    • Easements
    • Inability to subdivide
    • Caves
    • Lack of sunlight
    • Lack of trees
    • Old trees close to house
  • Interior issues
    • Inconvenient floor plan
    • Small rooms
    • Low ceilings
    • Outdated kitchen or appliances
    • Outdated bathrooms
    • Bad roof
    • Water damage
    • Wet basement
    • Lack of storage
    • Lead, mold, asbestos, radon
    • Old heating system
    • Old electrical system
    • Poor insulation
    • Structural damage
  • Other
    • House bought at height of market but assessment never reduced
    • House bought recently for less than the assessment


Legal References


Quotes from Legal Opinions published by the NYS Office of Real Property Tax Services

These legal opinions address several key issues that affect many of our clients. You should be aware of these points, and some may be relevant to your grievance. Feel free to share them with your assessor, review board, or small claims hearing officer. For the full text of these opinions, visit http://www.tax.ny.gov/pubs_and_bulls/orpts/legal_opinions/index.htm

Disclaimer: TaxTrim LLC does not provide legal advice, and the legal opinions quoted here may not apply in every situation. Please consult an attorney where appropriate.

Appraisals not required:

“... a board of assessment review may not adopt a general policy requiring that owners of residential property submit professional appraisal reports as a condition precedent to reducing an assessment.” (Volume 8, No. 83)


“... the law provides that a small claims proceeding "shall be conducted on an informal basis in such manner as to do substantial justice between the parties according to the rules of substantive law" and that "[t]he petitioner need not present expert witnesses. . ." (§732(2)) (emphasis added). It would be anomalous, to say the least, to require an owner of single family residential real property to expend funds to present a professional appraisal report to the board of assessment review, when such proof is specifically not required for subsequent small claims judicial review. Indeed, any such universal requirement imposed by a board of assessment review could give rise to the inference that the board of assessment review is merely attempting to preclude residential real property owners from seeking administrative review of their assessments.” (Volume 8, No. 83)


“... in many cases knowledgeable taxpayers will be able to furnish a board of assessment review with an analysis similar to that which would be contained in a professional appraisal report. Single family residential property is commonly valued on the basis of comparable sales, replacement cost less depreciation, or both (see, e.g., 9 NYCRR 186-16.5, 16.8). Neither of these valuation techniques is so difficult to understand or to apply as to make it solely the province of a professional appraiser. Although there might be differences of opinion with respect to the conclusions to be drawn from an analysis prepared by a taxpayer, this is no different than when the analysis is prepared by a professional appraiser and does not provide a basis for simply ignoring the taxpayer's proof.” (Volume 8, No. 83)


Assessments of comparable properties:

“... petitioners are specifically authorized to submit proof of “the assessment of comparable residential properties within the same assessing unit" (RPTL, §732(2)).” (Volume 9, No. 11)


“In presenting proof of alleged inequality in assessments, property owners have the right to present evidence of comparable property which they believe is more favorably assessed than their own.” (Volume 10, No. 104)


Selective assessing:

“The practice of selectively reassessing only those properties which are the subject of a recent sale has been reviewed and rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division and the Suffolk County Supreme Court.” (Volume 9, No. 18)


“Utilizing the recent purchase price as a basis for determining the increase in assessed value of a property on which improvements have been made pursuant to building permits, while similarly situated properties which have not been improved are not subject to reassessment, results in a discriminatory treatment of the petitioner by imposing upon him a tax burden not imposed upon owners of similarly situated property" (641 N.Y.S.2d at 85).” (Volume 10, No. 60)


Land vs. building assessments:

“... the components of value for land and improvement may be freely adjusted as warranted by the evidence.” (Volume 10, No. 81)


Increased assessment:

“...the board of assessment review ... may not increase an assessment or affect any assessment not properly before it for review.” (Volume 10, No. 104)


Home inspection:

“It is not the function of the board of assessment review to inspect and appraise property before it for review. Its determinations should be based on the information presented to it at the grievance day hearings.” (Volume 4, No. 30)


“the Supreme Court held that the town did not have a right to send an appraiser to perform an inspection of the premises without the homeowner’s permission and that the requested inspection was an unreasonable search. Citing the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and the opinion of ORPS that an assessor may not enter a private residence without permission, the court held that the requested inspection was unreasonable.” (Yee vs. Orangetown, 2009)


Use of consultants:

“... a taxpayer represented by a consultant has the same rights as a taxpayer representing himself. There is no authority for a board of assessment review to treat complaints presented by taxpayer representatives differently from those presented by taxpayers themselves.” (Volume 10, No. 80)


Defective complaints:

“A complaint is defective if it lacks one or more of the necessary elements (e.g., the complainant's signature is missing), even though it was submitted on the proper form and in a timely fashion. ... the BAR [Board of Assessment Review] may not dismiss a defective complaint without giving the property owner (or his or her representative) a reasonable opportunity to correct the defect.” (Volume 10, No. 80)


“The Court of Appeals has held that amendment of an assessment complaint is permitted "if the change corrects a defect in form rather than adds a matter of substance because the taxpayer's right to review should not be defeated by technicalities." (Volume 10, No. 80)


Requests for additional documentation:

“The BAR [Board of Assessment Review] may not place unjustifiable stumbling blocks before those who seek assessment review. ... Letters requesting additional documentation should make clear that the taxpayer is not expected to produce documents which are not readily available or which are not relevant to determining the value of the property in question.” (Volume 10, No. 80)


Presumption of correctness:

“The value entered on the tentative assessment roll is presumed to be correct (People ex ret. Wallington Apartments, Inc. v. Miller, 288 N.Y. 31, 41 N.E.2d 445 (1942)); however, once a complainant introduces substantial contrary information, the presumption disappears (Richardson on Evidence, §72 (10th ed. 1973)). ” (Volume 7, No. 67)


Repairs vs improvements:

“As a general rule, repairs are not considered as increasing the value of property while improvements normally do. ... only those "improvements" will be assessed which increase the value of the home, and even then, the increase may not be, and often is not, the entire cost of the improvement” (Volume 3, No. 28)


Small claims review for seasonal residences:

“As a remedial statute, then, the small claims assessment review law should be liberally construed in favor of the potential beneficiaries of its provisions. That being the case, we believe it reasonable to include in the class of properties eligible for such assessment review, owner-occupied seasonal residences.” (Volume 7, No. 80)


Alternative grievance day for non-residents:

“Section 508(2) is a mandatory direction to the assessors or the board of assessment review to assign an alternative date to a petitioning nonresident taxpayer who satisfies the requirements of the section.” (Volume 2, No. 111)


Assessor’s relation to review board:

“... the assessor may not be present at the board of assessment review's meetings during which grievances are acted upon.” (Volume 5, No. 75) [Note: this does not apply to public meetings such as the one a taxpayer attends on Grievance Day, only to their private deliberations]