How-to Monday: Assessments and appeals
If you have a house, you have a property tax bill. Any day now, a third of Maryland property owners will be getting letters about a reassessment of the value that helps determine that tax.
You may have it in hand already, if your mail person is swift: The state Department of Assessments and Taxation sent the 728,185 notices out on Friday. The parts of the Baltimore area that are being reassessed this time 'round are northwestern Anne Arundel; the middle section of Baltimore City; the north and middle parts of Baltimore County; northeastern Carroll; the middle part of Harford; and both southern and western Howard. (You can find maps HERE.)
There's always some anger and frustration when new assessments hit, but the odds of furious screams are much higher in this time of slumping sales and soft prices. Why, you might wonder loudly, doesn't your new assessment reflect the fact that prices are stagnant or in some cases falling?
Because it's a three-year assessment cycle. Individual cases will vary, but average sales prices in the Baltimore metro area are up 20 percent since November 2004 -- at least as measured by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, keeper of the multiple list.
Of course, the assessors say residential values increased 96 percent in the middle section of Baltimore City over those years, and -- while there's no quick way to track the same areas by sales -- MRIS says prices in the city overall jumped 35 percent. So it doesn't hurt to check out your home's reported value to see if it makes sense to you. If you think you've been overassessed, you can appeal.
The key is to show why your house is worth less than the state says it is, not to argue that the taxes are ridiculous. (That's an argument for the elected officials in your jurisdiction, the ones responsible for tax rates.)
You'll want to arm yourself with information about sales of comparable homes -- or assessments of comparable homes, should the state put a different value on your property than your neighbors'. The state will give you assessment worksheets for similar homes for a dollar each, and the assessment worksheet for your home for free, said C. John Sullivan, director of the assessment department.
You can do your own research at the state's website, too: Go HERE for the handy property search page, where you can look at recent sales or pull up records on individual properties.
Go HERE for more information about the appeal process.
One thing to keep in mind: If you're an owner-occupier, your tax increase is capped by the homestead credit. (Depending on where you live in Maryland, the increase in the amount of assessed value you're taxed on is limited to anywhere from 2 percent to 10 percent. Click HERE for a list.) If you've been in your home for many years, the value you're actually paying your taxes on is probably lower than your total assessed value -- possibly quite a bit lower. So you could win an appeal but see no difference in your tax bill.
Speaking of the homestead credit, remember that this is the first time you'll have to apply for it. Those who are being reassessed should get an application with the assessment notice. All those homeowners who are not being reassessed yet will get the application when it's their turn in the three-year cycle.
The deadline to apply isn't exactly a tight one.
"We don't want people to panic over this," said Sullivan, whose staff will check applicants to make sure they're not getting the credit on more than one home. "They have until 2012."