Answering questions about property taxes

My recent column on property tax returns generated quite a few good questions on the topic of property tax reduction in Georgia. Here are some of the best:

Q: You have suggested that a smart homeowner file a “property tax return” (Georgia PT50-R) in January. But I called the tax assessor, and he said there was no reason to file a return because I will get a “notice of assessment” in late spring, and then I can protest the amount and appeal later. Is he right?

A: The information you received is essentially correct. However, in my experience, the sooner I begin the review process with the tax assessor’s office, the greater the likelihood of getting a meeting with my assigned appraiser and presenting my case for a reduction.

As the spring arrives, the tax assessor’s office gets extremely busy, and it is more difficult for the personnel to meet with each individual.

The property tax return simply tells the county that you are requesting a review of your property value before Notices of Assessment are mailed out in April or May.

Q: I saw where property values in Georgia were up about 5 percent in 2014. Doesn’t that mean that I am wasting my time by pursuing a reduction in my property tax?

A: The figure you saw was an average of all values, but not an indicator of any specific neighborhood or area. That means it’s important to take each case on its own merits rather than applying a percentage across the board.

The county is charged with estimating what your home might have sold for if it had been on the market on Jan. 1 of this year. And there are many factors that have likely affected your home’s value during the 12 months preceding New Year’s Day.

For example, if a nearby major employer, such as General Motors, decided to close the plant and let all the workers go, it would not be unusual to see a large number of homes quickly come up “for sale.” If that happened, supply and demand might dictate that prices might fall in the period after the closure.

Likewise, if several of the employees who were let go were unable to find work, they might be forced to go through foreclosure or bankruptcy. Any event which causes an excessive inventory of homes can cause a decline in values.

Q: I have heard that agents rely on county appraised tax values to determine how much homes are worth when listing them for sale. If that is so, aren’t I injuring my chances of getting a good price by seeking to lower my tax valuation?

A: Only a rookie agent would waste time trying to rely on county tax valuations in estimating real world values. Instead, a good agent will always offer to perform a competitive market analysis (CMA) which attempts to estimate probable selling price based on recent sales of comparable homes located near the home in question.

In most cases, the county tax assessors have never been to visit your home. I have found the county records to often be in error. You should not be concerned that there is any harm being done to you by seeking a reduction in your property tax.

Q: If I honestly believe that my home is worth significantly more than it was assessed at last year, is it smart to file a property tax return?

A: In that circumstance, I would leave well enough alone. Then simply wait until you receive your notice of assessment for 2015, probably in April or May. Then you will have an opportunity to do nothing or protest the valuation. If you do nothing, the county will assume you agree with its assessed value and the matter will be settled for another year.

Q: My county tax commissioner allows us to file our property tax returns online. Is that safe? How will I know that they actually received it?

A: You needn’t worry about the security of the county’s computers or your data being misused. Property tax data is all public information in the first place, open for anyone to inspect.

But what should concern you is that when you file online, you should get some sort of indication that your communication has, in fact, been received. So when you file online, it’s a good idea to wait a couple days to allow for data entry, then call and confirm that you are on the list of appeals.

If you have unwisely waited until the last minute to file your documents, it is best to send by certified mail or deliver to the tax assessors office by hand.

Q: What deadlines are we facing?

A: All property tax returns in Georgia must be postmarked no later than April 1, 2015. Then once you receive your notice of assessment, you will have 45 days from the mailing date to protest. Once the assessor makes a decision and notifies you, you will have 30 days to Appeal to the Board of equalization.

On my website at Money99.com, you can download my 2015 Special Report titled “How To Lower Your Property Tax In Georgia.” In the report, we look at the new Georgia laws surrounding property taxation and how they can benefit owners. It also contains a current PT50-R form and contact information for the Board of Tax Assessors in every county in Georgia.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

John Adams is a real estate broker, investor and author. He answers real estate questions every Sunday at 3 p.m. on WGKA-920 AM. He welcomes your comments at Money99.com, where you will find an expanded video version of this column.

X