I meant to post this earlier, but my brain was on a serious hypomanic/obsessive cycle and I had to put everything away that was making me think about things like this. Now that I'm better, I have to share this!
So, you may remember how I was talking about our outrageous property tax bill...
We went to the county tax office on Tuesday. We checked in and waited. Our "informal" meeting was with a lovely young woman with a sweet gold tooth with a cross cutout in it. Sa-weet! She was very nice, looked at my killer three-page spreadsheet that I put together, looked at all the info I had and basically said she couldn't change it. I'm not sure why--my theory is that they can't change a figure if it's too large.
We were scheduled for a formal hearing with a review board next week, but the woman from the informal hearing said we should ask if they'd do it right away if we wanted. Um, yeah. When we went back to the check-in desk they said oh yes! No one is here! So, we went and sat back down again. And looked around and it really was almost empty. It was about 5:15 at that point.
We were escorted into the formal hearing. There was an assessor/appraiser, henceforth known as the ASSessor and three review board members. We were sworn in again and had to speak up because it was all being recorded, which totally freaked me out, but I was trying to stay calm.
The ASSessor looked in the system and showed the houses that they used to compare us. They were larger, had more bedrooms/bathrooms, had more square footage--living and land, etc. Then they do this bizarro math so they can compare these in terms of bizarro square footage. Seriously, it makes no sense. And I really tried. So, we explained that:
1) The houses were closer to Memorial Park, as in land values increase as you're closer to the park. I bet our house would cost $100K more if it was next to the park. About 3/4 of a mile from where we live now. I am not lying here. It's nuts.
2) Market prices for homes in our area (and any other) take more into account than just square footage. The dirt under our house is ridiculously expensive.
The guy said we couldn't compare our house to the one next door because it is much, much smaller and it has less land. Our house has more land because we're the ones who own the shared driveway. My estimate is that our driveway, or the dirt under it is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. Yes, 40% of the value of our house is the dirt. Did I mention that we're near downtown and about a half mile from the most amazing park?
But back up and remember the bizarro math they were using to compare our house to "comparable" properties in other locations, more bathrooms/bedrooms, but they couldn't do the bizarro math with the 2 houses in our subdivision that sold this past year. Arrrrrrrrrrgh!
So... I gave some info from my spreadsheet and the dude started comparing things. And rounding up on everything that benefited him and rounding down on everything that benefited us. There was one point where I contradicted him about something. Twice. Until he conceded that 1900 is 400 less than 2300. Not 300.
The reviewers were much calmer and were taking notes and asked a few questions. I gave them our info and we repeated that market prices in our neighborhood are stable, but not skyrocketing, and that in our neighborhood, you can get a LOT more for your house if it has 3 bedrooms--even if you have less square footage. True story.
I also showed trends in our neighborhood over the last 5 years and how these increases were completely unreasonable. And ultimately, our appeal was, we love our house, but if we put it on the market today, there is no way that we'd be able to get 10% more than we paid for it 2 years ago.
It was hard to not take some of this personally and not get too adversarial with the ASSessor. I coached myself to say "the appraisal is" and "the county says" rather than, "you're a jackass and I'm glad you're behind that computer monitor otherwise I would spit at you." Ryan's feeling is the county is losing money because of the market and repossessions and other things like that. So, they've jacked up everybody's rates in the hopes that people won't fight them. But they got greedy--for example, a house in our subdivision sold at the beginning of the year had a "market value" that was 5% higher than its sale price. What?!? Did it lose value in the first week of the year? Did it gain value retroactively? Why not use the freaking SALE PRICE? So...
The final determination was a 4% increase rather than a 9.5% increase. Still more than we wanted them to knock off, but it was 5.5% and that's not bad. In fact, we were talking with friends who did the same and got a whole lot less. Granted, they live in a much different neighborhood (more established vs. our "transitional" one). So... yay for us!