If you own a home and ever spend much time with your neighbors, invariably you’ll end up talking about property values and property taxes.
People love talking about how their house went up in value but they also hate how their property taxes are so high. Sorry pal, you can’t have it both ways! 😂
If property values go up, property taxes go up to!
In Howard County, our property taxes are ~1.442% (county, state, fire, and ad valorem). Hefty compared to some, light compared to others.
We recently received a property tax assessment notice from our state’s Department of Assessments and Taxation. Like many properties across the country, we saw an increase in our assessments.
This was the first time that the property value went up significantly. We expected this because we did some renovations during the pandemic and our home got a little bigger.
I don’t know what’s a fair assessment or not but when there was an opportunity to appeal, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot right?
Note, we live in Howard County, Maryland so your county and state may have a different process and deadlines but many areas follow similar procedures.
Table of Contents
Starting the Assessment Appeal Process
The appeal process is straightforward and you have 45 days to file a formal appeal.
My notice was dated 12/29/2022 (though I didn’t get it until a few days later). I had until February 12th to decide what I want to do.
Fortunately, you can do it all online through this form but you need to have your assessment notice. They ask for your notice and control number. (located in the box in the upper right)
First, you can request the assessment worksheet for your property as well as an area sales analysis. This is what you’ll be appealing, so you need the worksheet to decide on what grounds to appeal it.
At the start, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to file an appeal but you can ask for the documents without filing an appeal. It’s nice to be able to see how they determined the value of your home.
I requested the worksheet and analysis on 1/3/2023 and received them via email on 1/21/2023.
Reviewing the Reassessment Worksheet
In Maryland, the Residential Worksheet for Reassessment is a straightforward document that explains how the State of Maryland’s Department of Assessments and Taxation arrived at its assessment.
The first three pages covered our house. It includes every aspect of our home and includes the rate at which it’s valued. (this PDF explains the worksheet and what each of the values means)
The final two pages included comparable sales in the last few years.
It’s pretty detailed and, in our case, correct. There were no errors in it. Boo.
Call Your Real Estate Agent
If you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed, or just to get a second opinion, call your real estate agent. He or she will be able to help you because they go through this process all the time. They know how it all works and they may even have a good relationship with the supervisor who will review your case.
And don’t feel guilty using their time too – who do you think you’re likely to call when it’s time to sell your house?
Some websites suggest you can hire a third party to handle it in return for a percentage of the money saved. I don’t think this is necessary – if your agent won’t help, consider getting a new agent next time. But I did the process myself and the first phase of the process wasn’t difficult.
Should I Appeal?
In thinking about whether you should appeal, there are a few considerations.
Are there any errors? This is likely the easiest thing to get fixed.
For our specific situation, I thought there was one inaccuracy based on what I saw in the real property database. In the database, it listed that we had 6 full bathrooms (3 fixtures or more) and one-half bath (2 or fewer). In reality, we only have 4 full bathrooms and one-half bath. That’s two extra bathrooms.
Each full bathroom is worth $5,000 in Maryland.
But the reassessment form had the correct number of bathrooms. And each bathroom is only $5,000 in value, which is not much.
After errors, you could contest it on the basis of comparables. This is where you compare the assessed value of your compared to the fair market value of homes in your area – or what the county included in your reassessment worksheet. If there was a recent shift in the market, which a lot of areas experienced as interest rates increased during the past year or so, you could make the case that your value is lower too.
This would require you to get comparable sales figures and do a bit of research. The county’s area sales listing only included sales as recently as December 2022 (and only one sale in December, and I doubt only one house sold in all of December). If you want to go this route, you’ll want more data and your real estate agent could help you with that.
Can you contest any of the multipliers? Once the total dwelling base value is added up, there are three “dwelling value adjustments:”
- County Multiplier – which is applied to all homes in a county
- Quality Factor – which the assessor determines (1-9 score)
- Neighborhood Adjustment – which is applied to all homes in a “neighborhood”
I doubt you can contest the 1st and 3rd multipliers but what about Quality Factor?
What is the Quality Factor?
Ours was a 6, which meant the multiplier on our dwelling value was 1.37x. A 5 is a multiplier of just 1.17x – so a 20% difference!
I emailed the Department of Taxation to understand better how the quality figure is determined because that’s probably my best approach.
On the same day (Thank you Braxton!), the Assistant Supervisor of Assessments sent me a document explaining the CAMA Residential Cost Grades (which our state uses as Quality Factors). CAMA stands for Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal and it’s what is used by government agencies across the country to determine this aspect of appraisals.
Here is what is listed for Grades 5 and 6:
- Grade 5 – Dwellings in this grade generally include individual designed mass-produced homes in better subdivisions. These homes are built from designer plans, using skilled craftsman and standard to good materials throughout. There is exterior ornamentation and interiors are well finished (Good).
- Grade 6 – Dwellings in this grade generally include those designed for individual homeowners using good quality materials throughout. The construction is supervised by a competent builder. These homes may be built in better than average developments. In the construction of this grade of homes there is more emphasis on detail of both exterior and interior refinements (Very Good).
In the listing of sales on the final two pages, I started looking at some of the homes rated with a Quality Factor of 6 and they seemed comparable to my untrained eye. These were larger homes with brick exteriors, similar finishes inside, and constructed in a similar time frame.
The ones that were rated as a Quality Factor of 6 or 7 were much newer, much grander, and likely had some interior features not fully captured on Zillow.
The only differentiator that may apply to our home is that ours is not a “mass-produced home” in the sense that a neighborhood of Toll Brothers homes is mass-produced. Ours was built in the 1980s from a plan that the homebuilder purchased.
I emailed the Assistant Supervisor of Assessments to ask whether I could appeal on those grounds and he said I could!
Good afternoon and you’re welcome. Yes you can appeal on those grounds and your argument for grade classification will be considered by the Assessor. The Assessor will have the capability to pull assessment data from the community at large and determine if your house was graded fairly in comparison to others. Just in case you are unfamiliar, I’ve attached a document on the Appeals process over all.
Written, Verbal, or Video Appeal?
There are three options for an appeal – written appeal, phone hearing, or video hearing.
The simplest approach is written but you can request a telephone or video appeal.
I filed a Written Appeal (which seemed easiest) stating basically what I wrote above:
Our home was determined to have a Quality Factor of 6 when I believe it should be more accurately considered a 5. It was built in 1980 based on a widely available blueprint by Avril Shull, so while it is individual in the area (as far as we are aware) it is not custom designed for an individual homeowner. It was based on a mass produced design. Given the list of comparable homes near us, including one that recently sold in the neighborhood, I believe our interior and exterior are more closely aligned to Grade 5 homes.
I filed this on January 26th and there is an 8-12 week backlog.
I received a response on April 10th! It was about 74 days later and right in the middle of the estimated 8-12 week wait time, so not bad at all.
Our Appeal Was Approved! (kinda)
The county sent back a two-page letter explaining their findings, the first of which is probably just a form letter sent to everyone who appealed. It explained that it was the final notice and that the assessment was on page two.
The Final Notice of Assessment showed us the Appealed Value, or what the county would’ve considered our market value had we not appealed.
Then they showed our Final Market Value, which is what we’ll be taxed on.
We had a reduction of 10.86% off the Appealed Value!
If you recall from earlier, I appealed based on the Quality Factor and that’s a calculation on the dwelling alone. In the Appealed Value and Final Market Value, our Land value did not change. Our “Buildings, Other” went down by 13.98%.
If you recall the Quality Factor multiplier, it was 1.37x for a QF of 6 and 1.17x for a QF of 5.
0.20 of 1.37 is about 14.5% – so pretty close but not exactly what our reduction was.
It doesn’t appear that they read the notes of my appeal, fully agreed we were the lower quality factor, and lowered it accordingly. They also didn’t give any explanation for what changed but the Final Market Value is lower than before, which is nice.
With the new assessment, you can now appeal again if you want to.
There are three “levels” to the appeals:
- Supervisor Level – this is the level I just went through and secured a 10%ish reduction.
- Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board – You go in front of a board of local residents and make your case.
- Maryland Tax Court – This is the final step and is still an informal administrative hearing where you present your case in person (no written hearings).
There are no fees to each of the levels and you are not expected to need representation.
At this point, I feel that I’ve won a pretty solid victory by getting a nice, but fair, reduction in the Final Market Value that will save us thousands of dollars. Since there were no errors and it seemed to accept what amounted to a Quality Factor reduction, I got 99% of what I wanted.
If I wanted to go to the next level, I suspect I’d need, a minimum, to get a full appraisal of our house which would cost us a few hundred dollars. And I’d have no assurance that the appraisal would come under the assessment.
With the win under our belt and having spent very little time and zero money, I’m satisfied.
I’m going to put this one in the win column and not pursue additional appeals.
💡My takeaway from this experience – always contest your property assessment. It doesn’t hurt to learn about the process and give it a try, especially if there’s a big jump. You could save yourself a lot of money in the process.
Have you appealed a property tax assessment? What happened?