Finding Comps for your Tax Grievance

Daily Gazette Archives

Author(s): KATHLEEN MOORE

Gazette Reporter Date: April 17, 2009

Section: B: Local

Thousands of city residents are scouring sales data and studying theirneighbors’ houses in the hopes of proving that their own home is notas valuable as the city says it is. There are just six weeks untilGrievance Day, and for many residents, the learning curve is provingto be quite steep.

About 1,200 residents have protested their reassessments so far, buthalf of them had no data to prove their case, Assessor Patrick Mastrosaid.

Instead, many residents who bought their homes in recent years triedto argue at informal reviews that their assessment should be reduced15 percent because the national average sale price for existing homeshas fallen 15 percent in the past year.

The trouble is, that’s a national average — not Schenectady’s average.For local reassessments, assessors look even closer, comparing housesales in the same neighborhoods and sometimes on the same street.

“The biggest obstacle I see for taxpayers is they don’t understand theprocess. They don’t understand valuation,” Mastro said. “People arehaving a hard time understanding purchase price.”

But as residents prepare for the formal battle on Grievance Day, May26, city officials are urging them not to turn to professional appraisersfor help. They said some are unscrupulous scam artists just trying toget money from desperate residents.

“It’s just looking to make dollars off people,” said city consultant JohnPaolino. “There is no need at this time to have taxpayers go out andpay hard-earned dollars for an appraisal.”

A residential appraisal typically costs $300 to $500.

Mastro was quick to say that many appraisers are trustworthy but saidhe has seen a number of fraudulent appraisals during the informalreview process.

Mastro is considering reporting those appraisers to the Department ofState, which could pull those workers’ licenses.”

I have received a number of appraisals that may be subjected to that.I’m still going over that,” Mastro said. “I’ve already reviewed someappraisals, and it was clear the appraiser willfully took the assignmentto challenge the assessment. I’m not oblivious to reality and whatpeople will do to make a couple hundred dollars.”

He said those appraisals compared the customer’s house to houses thatwere clearly dissimilar.Making mistakes of that nature ruin the entire appraisal. Residents turn to appraisers to sift through the hundreds of property sales in Schenectady and find the few houses that are nearly identical to their own. Determining precisely what counts as a “comparable sale” is sotricky that some appraisers say residents can’t do it on their own.”

I don’t think they’re going to have the expertise to do it,” said real estate appraiser David Fontana, who recently rented a large Erie Boulevardsign for a day to advertise his company, Armstrong Appraisals. Themessage read: “Fight your tax assessment!”

“Anyone can choose comps, but you have to choose the right comps,” Fontana said. “I’ve seen many people go in and the assessor says, ‘Youdidn’t choose true comparables.’ “But Mastro said residents don’t have to pay to fight their reassessment.

They can look at the list of house sales for free at the city assessor’soffice, choose their comparables and take their data to the Board ofAssessment Review for free.

He warned that an appraisal, even one that supports the resident’sargument, won’t always persuade the board. Fraudulent appraisals will not pass muster, he said.

Fontana thinks a proper appraisal will carry weight with the board. Headded that he, too, wants the state to pull the licenses of appraiserswho do shoddy work.

“Some people are out there not doing as thorough a job as theyshould,” Fontana said. “I think it’s important to get references, checkthe Better Business Bureau, check their license.”

Licenses can be found in a search on the Department of State Website, www.dos.state.ny.us.But Fontana said appraisers are also being pressured by Schenectadyhomeowners who want to be assured of a lower assessment.

“I’m getting a lot of phone calls where people say, ‘I’m not going topay for an appraisal unless you tell me what the value is first,’ “Fontana said. “We can’t do that. We can look at it and say, ‘You havea case.’ ”

Reach Gazette reporter Kathleen Moore at 395-3120 ormoore@dailygazette.com.?

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