As you will recall, I was appealing the tax assessor’s valuation of my old house because I felt that the house had been undervalued for tax purposes. Since that would actually increase the taxes in my new house (I explain that here) I decided to appeal the valuation. The hearing was just a few days after my mother had passed away, so I will admit that I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been.
The hearing was in front of a magistrate. One thing that I felt was unfair about this is that the magistrate was an employee of the tax assessor’s office in another county. Since all of the counties in the state use the same methods and computer software, I don’t feel that the magistrate is an unbiased individual.
Still, I thought that I presented my case pretty well. I pointed out that my house was valued at $154/sf, but every house in my neighborhood sold for $195 to $210 per square foot, even using the assessor’s office’s numbers. Even at the low end, my house was undervalued by a significant margin.
That’s when the excuses started. The assessor claimed that they were permitted by law to subtract the customary costs of sale from the fair market value and then they began pointing out that the other houses that had sold had features that my house didn’t- one had a pool, one was a corner lot, two others were on the edge of the neighborhood, etc. This, according to them, made my house less valuable.
By the end of the hearing, the magistrate and the assessor were both explaining to me that I just don’t understand real estate. Keep in mind that they were all government employees whose judgement means nothing, because they don’t invest in real estate. They merely tax those who do. I was able to show, using the assessor’s own data, that the assessor’s office is consistently 15-25% lower than actual market value. That didn’t matter, I got lectured about how TOP MEN used computers to value this property, and the methods are used all over the state.
So I thought I had lost. I resigned myself to getting screwed by the tax man.
Imagine my surprise when I got the magistrate’s decision. I didn’t get a total win, and I didn’t even get as much as I hoped for, but I did get something. The magistrate recommended that my valuation be increased from $154 per square foot to $164 per square foot. Not great, but the increase will lower my property taxes on the new house by about $400 per year. In total, the deductions from Save Our Homes portability decrease my property taxes by about $3000 a year.
Do I like paying $750 a month in property taxes? No. That’s why I fight to keep my taxes as low as I can, and this hearing cost me $25 plus a few hours of my time. Property taxes and the 6 percent sales tax are the only taxes we pay here in Florida, so it’s just something that we have to live with. At least we don’t have personal property taxes or income taxes. Still, I often wonder what it is we get for that tax rate.