When Fulton County property owners got their appraisal notices in the mail this spring, many didn’t like what they saw. Luckily, there’s a process for people who think the county got their property values wrong: they can appeal.
More than 40,000 people did so before an early July deadline.
VIDEO: Previous coverage on this issue
It is the second time in nine months that Fulton County leaders asked a judge to give them a temporary collection order.
Why so many? Remember: Last year, Fulton County increased values for the first time in several years. County leaders then froze most residential property values after owners complained of sticker shock, forestalling most appeals. But this year, no such luck. Hence the high number of filings — more than any other metro county.
If you are one of the thousands that questioned your property value, here’s what you need to know.
Some fixes are easy
For some property owners, the fix will be easy — members of the Fulton County Board of Assessors will notice the second floor that was added in error, or the neighborhood sales prices that are far lower than the presumed value of a similar house. In those cases, appeals will simply be granted.
Cathelene “Tina” Robinson, the clerk of Superior and Magistrate courts, estimates about a quarter of the appeals will be solved that way — with little additional effort on the part of property owners.
The rest will come to her, through the Boards of Equalization she administers. If you live outside Fulton County and have questions about your appeal, contact the clerk of Superior Court in your county.
With the number of appeals filed — 42,686 Fulton property owners are seeking a change — it could be June before everyone gets a chance to make their case. You’ll get notice of your hearing date in the Fulton County Government Center about three weeks before it’s scheduled — before that notice, don’t expect any communication from the county. (And if that date doesn’t work for you? You’ll have the opportunity to reschedule, but only once.)
Board of Equalization
When you go to the Board of Equalization for the first time, what do you need to know?
First, that you won’t have a lot of time. Each hearing takes only 20 minutes, and you’ll only have seven minutes to present your case for a value reduction to the three-person board. To be on the board, you must be a Fulton County property owner with at least a high school diploma and no felony convictions. Board members are chosen by the grand jury, but you can also volunteer to serve a three-year term.
There will be 13 boards each day, hearing 18 cases apiece. The first cases will be heard in September.
If you want to, you can present evidence — appraisals, photos that show conditions that affect your value, sales price data (from the previous year) for similar homes in your neighborhood. You can do it yourself or hire attorneys or agents to represent you, but any representative must have submitted, in advance, a letter authorizing it.
Members of the Board of Equalization will make decisions on the spot. Data from 2016 shows that 17 percent of property owners who appeal receive a decrease and 1 percent see their values rise after appeals. You don’t even have to show up at the hearing to get your reduction, and statistics show it doesn’t really make a difference if you’re there or not. But if you show up, your value is frozen for three years. If you don’t, it is not.
If you’re unhappy with the result after the Board of Equalization hears it, you’re free to appeal again, to Superior Court at a cost of $25.
If your property is worth more than half a million dollars, the rules are a little different — instead of going before the Board of Equalization, you get a hearing officer who has a little more training and experience. They only hear four cases a day, and spend more than 20 minutes per case.
The county has doubled the number of hearing officers, from two to four, and is working through high-value, commercial appeals first, said Marla Robinson, the chief deputy clerk over administration.
That’s because until the number of appeals and the dollar value of those appeals has been reduced, Fulton County can’t get the state Department of Revenue to sign off on its tax digest — the list of assessed properties, and how much property owners owe. (The department still hasn’t approved 2017’s, either, but for other reasons.)