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How to Defend 2011 Property Tax Appeals in Allegheny County.

Allegheny County property tax appeals.

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This article will provide recent home-buyers with some tips and strategies in defending 2011 Allegheny County property tax appeals filed by the school districts.

Tip 1: Make the School District meet their burden of proof.

In assessment appeals, a recent sale is not enough alone to change an assessment. According to Pennsylvania assessment law, a recent purchase price can be ‘persuasive’ but is not ‘controlling’ of market value, especially in Allegheny County, where in 2011, we are still under the 2002 base year system.

In 2011, property owners in Allegheny County are still allowed to use the 2002 base year, meaning, what was the value of the subject property as of January 1, 2002?

If a school district files a 2011 assessment appeal, they cannot rely simply on the recent purchase price. Instead, they must use a valuation method in order to change the assessment.

There are only 3 types of valuation methods recognized to change assessments.

  1. Sales Comparison Approach
  2. Cost Approach
  3. Income/Expense Approach

For most residential appeals, the comparable sales approach is the gold standard. The school district must use comparable sales in and around the 2002 base year. If they do not, then they have not met their burden of proof and the assessment should remain unchanged.

If the school district fails to provide any evidence using one of the 3 valuation methods described above, the property owner should draw attention to the lack of a valuation method being used, and ask that the assessment be sustained (unchanged).

If the school district does provide comparable sales from or around the 2002 base year, then it is important to review the county data on those sales to identify key differences. Pay special attention to the location, size and quality of the comparable sales. Lazy school districts can provide very poor evidence when scrutinized.

It is also relevant to notice the assessments of any properties offered by the school districts. Do not be afraid to cross-examine the school district on the accuracy and relevance of their evidence.

I would strongly caution property owners about appearing on their own behalf as you can be mutually cross-examined about your recent purchase price including information about mortgages, appraisals, and/or any improvements to your own property.

If the school district does use a valuation method, then you must be prepared to present your own case.

Tip 2. Focus on Comparable Sales from the 2002 Base Year.

If the school district meets their burden of proof, it is important to present superior evidence to contradict the evidence offered by the school district. Focus on comparable properties that sold between January 1, 1999 and January 1, 2003, that are similar in size, year built, grade, condition and proximity. Like images definitely help.

I would recommend providing as evidence information from the Allegheny County Real Estate Website including ‘General Information’ page, ‘Building Information’ page, as well as a copy of the ‘Image Page’ for any comparable properties that you may be using as evidence. It is also relevant to print and provide the ‘Previous Owners’ page if indeed the comparable property has transferred ownership since the 2002 base year.

Presentations of evidence should focus on the written material and should be brief. The hearing officers at the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment and Review (BPAR) are experienced and licensed real estate professionals and appreciate brevity in presentation of assessment appeals.

Ironically, and almost comically, niceness and kindness still affects property assessments. Property owners should avoid anger or frustration at all costs. Present your evidence in an organized and efficient manner focusing on the value of the subject property as of January 1, 2002.

It is also relevant if closing costs were included in the purchase price, or if unique circumstances warranted paying premium value for the subject property.

These 2 tips are certainly not all of the information you will need to defend 2011 property tax appeals in Allegheny County, but hopefully will provide some helpful suggestions.

Below are some additional articles that may be useful:

If you have any questions at all, including a no-obligation free consultation, please feel free to call or email (npf@pghfirm.com) Noah Paul Fardo, Esq. (direct # 412.802.7080).

About Noah Paul Fardo

Noah Paul Fardo, Esq. is a Pennsylvania trial lawyer and the managing partner of Flaherty Fardo, LLC. His legal practice focuses in medical malpractice, personal injury, business litigation, and property tax appeals. You can find him on Google+.

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