What To Do If You Disagree With Your Assessment
FIRST AND FOREMOST: IS YOUR ASSESSMENT FAIR?
All property owners in New York State are eligible for formal review of their properties' assessments. There are two levels of formal review: 1) administrative review via the Grievance Process – Board of Assessment Review (BAR) conducted in each assessing unit, and 2) judicial review via a Supreme Court trial or Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR). In order to pursue judicial review a taxpayer must first go through administrative / Board of Assessment review.
This section includes information about the grievance process, as well as SCAR. For information on going to trial in a proceeding typically called a "tax certiorari", it is recommended that you contact a private attorney.
Before pursuing formal review of your assessment, you should first determine if you are assessed fairly. This involves the following preliminary steps:
Step One: What is the Assessor's Estimate of the Market Value of Your Property?
To determine if your assessment is fair, you will first need to check the tentative assessment roll. The assessed value of your property and the assessor's estimate of your property's market value are listed on the tentative roll. Market value is generally defined as the price a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for a property in its present condition with neither buyer nor seller under pressure to act (such as career relocation, death of a family member, divorce, financial pressures, foreclosure, pre-foreclosure or “short sales”, etc.). In most cases, the market value listed on the roll should equal roughly the price for which you could sell your property.
For purposes of assessment rolls and tax bills, a property's assessed value is calculated by multiplying its market value by the uniform percentage of value (which is also on the roll and sometimes known as the level of assessment). Alternatively, you can calculate the assessor's estimate of your property's market value by dividing the assessed value by the equalization rate.
Step Two: Develop Your Own Estimate of the Market Value of the Property
A number of factors may affect a residential property's market value, including:
- External characteristics - 'curb appeal', home condition, lot size, popularity of an architectural style of property, water/sewage systems, sidewalk, paved road, etc.
- Internal characteristics - size and number of rooms, construction quality, appliance condition, demonstrated 'pride of ownership', heating type, energy efficiency, etc.
- Supply and demand - the number of homes for sale versus the number of buyers; how quickly the homes in your area sell, and
- Location - desirability for a particular school district, neighborhood, etc.
The most common way to determine the market value of a residential property is to use the sales comparison approach. This is the primary method used by professional appraisers to determine the market value of residential properties.
To determine an estimate of a property's market value, arm's length comparable sales are used. ("Arm's length" refers to a market value sale between unrelated parties.) By examining recent sales of at least three properties in a similar neighborhood that are comparable in building style, size and construction, one can begin to get a good understanding of a residential property's market value. However, it is important to consider the circumstances of such sales -- perhaps the seller was desperate to "unload" the home, or the buyer paid much more than the asking price because there were other interested parties. Market value and sales price are not always the same.
Comparable sales should include characteristics similar to a given property, such as lot sizes, square footage, house style, age, and location of the dwelling. A new three-bedroom Cape Cod house may not be comparable with an older three bedroom split-level ranch, even if they are on the same street.
Since it may prove difficult to find an exact comparable sale, allowances must be made. To arrive at an estimated market value, dollar adjustments are made for differences between the property being valued (also known as the subject property) and the comparable properties that have sold.
For an example of a comparable sales approach to determining market value, you may wish to view the online pamphlet “How Estimates of Market Value are Determined for Residential Properties” (see end of this segment for further guidelines & web-link)
The following may be sources of comparable sales in your community:
- Local assessors' offices should be able to provide the sales history of a particular house, neighborhood, or style of architecture. Some assessors also provide lists of recent sales that one can browse and compare to the assessment roll.
- Some municipalities choose to provide local sales and assessment information online.
- Some private companies provide comparable sales online (some at a nominal cost); search for them using keywords such as "comparable home sales" or "comparable sales". In addition, one may wish to try searching "real estate database - New York State" for additional property information.
- Many local newspapers are good sources of real estate information; they sometimes list sales reports in the real estate or business sections.
- A real estate agent may be willing to share his or her expertise and sales history information.
Step Three: If You Find That Your Assessment is Too High
Generally, if your assessment reflects roughly the amount for which you could sell your property, then your assessment is relatively fair. If you feel as though your property's assessment is too high, you should discuss this with your local assessor…Bring any proof you have to support your case. Alternatively, you might determine that your property is assessed based on its market value, but the rest of the community is assessed at a lower level of assessment. Again, you should discuss this with your assessor and bring any proof you have to support your case.
Often, an informal discussion between a taxpayer and the local assessor can result in a sharing of information beneficial to both parties. If such a discussion does not result in a reduction in your assessment, and you still feel as though your assessment is too high, you have the right to formal review of your assessment (aka grievance).
If You Are Assessed Fairly, But You Feel That Your TAXES Are Too High
Assessors DO NOT determine your property taxes; the assessor's job is to value your property in order to help ensure that the taxes collected will be distributed fairly among all taxpayers. If you feel as though your assessment accurately reflects the market value of your property, but you still feel that your property taxes are rising unfairly, you may wish to address this matter with the taxing jurisdictions - School Board, County Legislature, City Council, Town Board, Fire District and other special districts - that levy taxes in your community. The assessor cannot assist you with tax matters, but only with matters pertaining to the assessed value of your property.
[The above steps and process courtesy ORPTS]
Please note that the market data used for any given year is that sales used for said period are from July 1st thru the following June 31st. This makes sales for any given roll year anywhere from 6 to 18 months old…The Office of Real Property (ORPS) mandates this because there has to be a “Snapshot-in-Time” in order to calculate the next year’s assessment so that the budget can be calculated. For example, for tax year 2012, market data that was used is from July 1st 2010 through July 1st 2011. So, when you received your Town & County tax bill in January and your school tax bill in September 2012, the assessed value reflects this time-frame (July 1st 2011 - July 1st 2012). It is also important to know this when selecting sales comparables to see if your assessment is in line with the market at that time. As an example, this means that if you want to contest your assessment for 2012, you need to use market data / sales from July 1st 2010 through July 1st 2011 and so on.
The following web-link explains the difference between Assessments vs. Taxes
If you’re interested, the Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) has some on-line videos, produced New York State explaining how the assessment process works, how properties are valued, the job of the assessor and other such pertinent information so you have a basic idea of what we do and how the process works. These videos are available on-line at the ORPTS website at: