The Tale of the Tape & Accurate GLA

The Coyle Group - Living Space GLA Tape - AppraisersDid you ever wonder where the square footage in the Public Records or MLS comes from? Well, it can come from a number of places.

The square footage found in the public records is typically from the county Assessor’s office. This information, while official, can be quite dated and inaccurate, especially with older homes that may have had additions. This data was likely collected at the time of the county’s last reassessment, which in some cases was decades ago. For instance, Montgomery County hasn’t done a reassessment since 1998. Prior to Philadelphia’s recent reassessment the City had not done a countywide reassessment in over 40 years! Even with the 2013 revaluation, the Philadelphia Assessor’s office did not physically measure every property. Many were inspected using aerial photos and measuring software.

The MLS is a different animal. There are basically three sources for square footage that can be cited in the MLS, all of which are subject to inaccuracies. The first as mentioned above is the Assessor’s office. The second is the Listing Agent and the third is the Seller of the house.  Often, Agents and Sellers will ballpark, estimate or even guess the square footage of a house.  Some will lump in finished basement space or enclosed porches as overall square footage. I’ve even seen garages included as living space.

There are also inconsistencies in the methodology used by the three sources. In some of the counties surrounding Philadelphia the square footage listed in the public records will include finished basement space in the Gross Living Area (GLA). Then, under that number they will then report the amount of finished basement space. The correct way to examine these numbers is to back-out the finished basement space from the Total Square Footage and what you’re left with is the more accurate representation of the true GLA. For more information on how finished basements affect the overall GLA read our previous post on the subject Finished Basements & GLA

Certain housing styles like Split Levels and Cape Cods can also add to the confusion of the home’s true square footage. There are actually established standards for measuring homes that are put out by the American National Standards Institute. (For a copy of these guidelines send me an email request)

For agents in particular getting the square footage wrong can be a real problem.  Misrepresentation of a home’s square footage is the most common reason why real estate agents get sued. We had a case last week where the agent assumed the square footage in the public records (1,728SF) was incorrect. She assumed that the addition off the back was not included because “the house just felt bigger”. So she estimated that the addition made the house around 2,000SF and for good measure included another 300SF for the partially finished basement.

The Coyle Group - Living Space GLA - Philadelphia Appraiser

As it turned out, the square footage in the public records was pretty accurate at 1,728SF. After measuring the house our appraiser arrived at 1,724SF. That’s about as close as you’re going to get. The finished area in the basement was closer to 242SF. All in all, the agent misreported the GLA of the house by over 570SF. That’s the equivalent of a 20’ x 28.5’ room. Big difference.

What I would suggest is if you are not going to measure the house yourself hire someone to measure it for you.  Most appraisers will measure a property and provide you with a sketch for a fee. The measurements will be more accurate and will give you something to hang your hat on when listing a property. For more information on the home measuring services provided by The Coyle Group call us at 215-836-5500.

The Coyle Group’s team of Philadelphia appraisers is a leading provider of appraisals for Estate/Probate, Divorce, Bankruptcy, Tax Appeal and Pre-Listing appraisals in the greater Philadelphia Metro Area.  If you need a guest speaker at your next sales meeting, please give us a call.  We would welcome to opportunity to speak to your group and field any appraisal related questions you may have.  For more information please visit our website at www.TheCoyleGroupLLC.com  You can also contact The Coyle Group at 215-836-5500 or appraisals@coyleappraisals.com

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Philly AVI Confusion

TCG - City of Philadelphia

 Ever since the new assessments were released by the Philadelphia Office of Property Assessment (OPA) last month, our phones have been ringing off the hook with property owners wanting to engage our services.  Believe me, I’m not complaining.  It’s a great problem to have. 

However, more times than not, especially with residential callers, I suggest a “wait and see” approach.  The fact of the matter is that the OPA is trying something completely new this year…the First Level Review (FLR).  The FLR was established as a way for property owners to dispute the assessment without having to go through the appeal process.  In the FLR, the property owner can file documents (including photos and recent appraisals)  that state why they feel their property is improperly assessed.  That will initiate an informal review by the Office of Property Assessment (OPA).

Here’s where the confusion sets in.  Most homeowners that call us are under the impression that the FLR is an appeal, which it is not.  As stated above, it is an informal review conducted by an OPA Evaluator that could result in the assessment being lowered, increased or remaining the same.  

The most important part of initiating a First Level Review (along with any photos, additional documentation and appraisals) is to do so by March 31, 2013 or 30 days from when you received the Assessment Change Notice.  So, it is very important that you check your Notice and know when it was received.  That being said, it is not always necessary to submit an appraisal along with your FLR .  It may help your case, however, your case may be strong enough on its own merits without having to incur the expense of an appraisal.

The “Wait and See”  Approach:  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t like to turn away work.  But, what I suggest to property owners is that they file the FLR citing their reasons and rationales, and then “wait and see” what the results are.  If they get a reduction, great!  They did so without having to put out $350-450 for an appraisal.  If they didn’t get a reduction or maybe got an increase, then they can file for a formal appeal with the Board of Revision of Taxes.  This is when having a full appraisal of the property completed will be best investment.   Now, if a property owner is insistent upon having an appraisal to file along with their FLR paperwork, I’m more than happy to oblige. 

So be sure to get your First Level Review paperwork in by the deadline.  If you are not sure of your particular deadline, check your Notice or call the OPA at 215.686.9200. 

As a side note, if you decide to move ahead and get an appraisal to submit along with your FLR or appeal, I strongly recommend having a full appraisal with interior and exterior inspections. The main reason is that with a full inspection, the appraiser instantly has more accurate information about the subject property than the assessor, who rarely has the opportunity or time to inspect the interior of a property. Right off the bat, the appraiser has a superior understanding of the subject’s interior condition, actual size and knows if there is any damage. Why wouldn’t you want to have better information than your opponent (the assessor)?  In my opinion, Drive-by appraisals or BPOs don’t cut it when appealing your tax assessment.  You may save some money but, you get what you pay for.  If your appraiser and the assessor appear at the appeal hearing with the same information based on an exterior inspeciton and public record data, guess who’s going to lose?  Hint, not the assessor.

If you have any questions about your Assessment Notice or if you need an Residential or Commercial Appraisal to submit along with your Assessment Appeal, please feel free to contact The Coyle Group at 215.836.5500 or appraisals@coyleappraisals.com

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Tax Appeal Deadlines 2012

It’s Tax Appeal Season, again.  If you haven’t already started the process, you better hurry up! The deadlines are approaching quickly.  In some cases, the deadlines have even been bumped up.   If you miss the filing deadline you miss your opportunity to reduce your assessment for another year.   No excuses, no second chances.   In fact, not filing on time could cost a property owner thousands of dollars in unnecessary taxes.

The deadlines for the counties in the Philadelphia region are as follows:

  • Berks County, August 15, 2011
  • Bucks County, August 1, 2011
  • Chester County, August 1, 2012
  • Delaware County, August 1, 2012
  • Lehigh County, August 1, 2012
  • Montgomery County, August 1, 2012*
  • Philadelphia County, October 4, 2012

* Please note that Montgomery County moved the traditional September 1st deadline up a full month to August 1st, which is keeping in line with the other counties in the area.

If you not represented and are filing an appeal this year, we strongly recommend filing in person at the county assessor’s office. When delivering your documents be sure to request a receipt from the clerk. This creates a paper trail that shows when you filed and who took receipt of your documents. If you are mailing your documents send them certified mail, so that there is a record of them being received. The counties receive thousands of appeals each year and sometimes things fall through the cracks.

When filing be prepared to pay any necessary filing fees. The fees will vary from county to county. For any fees that pertain to your specific county we recommend visiting the Assessor’s website or calling their office.

You should also note that if the filing deadline falls on a weekend the assessor’s office may move the deadline to the following business day. Again, this is something you should verify with your county’s assessor’s office.

The appeal filing must be completed with appropriate documentation and fees no later than the end of business on the deadline date. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t file days or weeks prior to the deadline.

If you have any questions about tax assessment appeals please contact our office. We will be glad to assist you.  Please feel free to call us at 215.836.5500 or email appraisals@coyleappraisals.com

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Bucks County Raises Taxes

December 22, 2011:  In an article posted today on the www.phillyburbs.com  website, Staff Writer, Gary Weckselblatt, writes about the decision of the Bucks County Commissioners to increase taxes by 5.7%.  In return, the county plans to spend slightly less in the new year than it did in 2010.

The increase is the first in six years.  The county spending plan of $461.8 million will be funded by upping the county millage rate to 1.258.  Also, implemented will be a hiring freeze and potential staff reductions.

While the increase is not as drastic as those implemented in neighboring counties, it will cause some residents to seek relief.  Given that property values in Bucks County are stable at best (declining in some areas), many property owners will likely turn to appealing their property tax assessments as a way to stave off the increases and, perhaps, lower their tax burden.

The Up Side…this is a good time for property owners to explore assessment reduction.  Reducing your assessment will effectively reduce your tax burden. 

When appealing your assessment it is imperative to have the best sales data available, to support your case.  Having an appraisal of your property completed by a State Certified Real Estate Appraiser to submit with your appeal will give property owners the best chances of winning a reduction. 

Property owners may also want to hire a tax assessment reduction firm to represent their appeal.  There are many firms that specialize in assessment appeals as well as a number of attorneys that make it part of their overall practice.  Typically, they will take care of filing the appeal and will represent you at the hearing.  They will usually work on a contingency basis, meaning they will not receive a fee unless you get a reduction.  Their fees are usually a percentage of the reduction.  When looking for someone to represent you, be sure that they have experience with tax appeals and that they have a proven record of success in front of your particular Board of Assessment.  All the Boards are different and knowing that your representative has had success in front of your Board will only make your case stronger.

To read the full article, visit the following link.  Bucks Spends Less, You Pay More

If you have any questions about tax assessment appeal or property value , please feel free to call or email The Coyle Group at 215.836.5500 or appraisals@coyleappraisals.com 

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Bucks & Chester County Tax Appeal Deadlines Approaching

The deadline for filing a tax assessment appeal in Bucks and Chester Counties is quickly approaching.  August 1, 2011 is the final day that assessment appeals can be filed with the Assessors Office for Bucks and Chester County. 

So, if you are thinking about filing an appeal, now is the time to act.  You will need to fill out a appeal application and submit it to the assessor’s office along with the appropriate filing fee.  In Bucks and Chester Counties the filing fee for a residential property is $25.

In an assessment appeal the burden of proof is on the property owner.  If you are going to represent yourself, you will need all the documentation necessary to support your case.  You should bring pictures of your property, including any damage or detracting features.  You should have information on comparable sales in your neighborhood.  You can get this from the public records, from a real estate agent of from websites like Zillow.  However, I would not recommend Zillow since the values the site produces can be grossly inaccurate. 

Having a current appraisal of your home completed by a certified real estate appraiser specifically for the purpose of the tax appeal is probably your best alternative.  An appraisal completed for any other purpose such as a refinance could be rejected by the Board at the hearing.  The cost of the appraisal can easily be offset by the savings from a successful appeal.  Some appraisers will even attend the hearing with you (sometimes for a fee) so that they can answer any questions the Board of Assessment may have about the appraisal while hearing your case.  Remember, appraisers cannot advocate for you.  You will have to be your own advocate.  The appraiser can; however, answer questions about the appraisal done on your property.

If you elect to have someone represent you at your hearing (either a professional tax appeal firm or an attorney), they will take care of the application process, obtaining an appraisal and representing you at the appeal hearing.  In some cases, this can really work in your favor.  These professionals know the system and can advocate on your behalf.   We work with a number of tax appeal firms and would gladly provide recommendations if you need one.

If you are not sure whether or not you have a case for an appeal, please feel free to contact one of the appraisers at our office.  We will take a look at your situation and give you an indication as to whether an appeal would be worth your while. 

But hurry…time is running out!

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Assessment Appeals 101

Spring only officially began less than a week ago but, it’s not too early to start thinking about appealing your tax assessment.  Sure, you might think “the deadline for filing an appeal is still months away”…”there is plenty of time to work on the appeal in the Summer”…”geez, it’s not even Memorial Day, why worry about an appeal now?”  

Well, you would be surpized at how many people do begin thinking about their property tax appeal this early in the game.  It ususally occurs to folks when they receive their real estate tax bill in January and February. 

It’s this time of year that we receive hundreds of phone calls and emails from property owners who what to know if appealing their assessment is feasible.  One thing we’ve noticed is that many property owners have a fundamental misconception about their property taxes and how to go about appealing them. Most people think that they can appeal their taxes. Unfortunately, we can’t appeal our taxes. Sorry, folks, no such luck.

However, it is your right as a property owner to appeal your assessment. Your assessment is the underlying factor upon which your taxes are calculated. Given that most properties are taxed on an “ad valorem” basis, meaning the tax is based on the value of the real estate, your assessment should represent the current fair market value of your property.

Now, most counties in the Philadelphia metro region (including Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, Chester, Berks, Lehigh & Northampton) have not been reassessed in years (it’s very costly to do a countywide reassessment). What this means is that the assessments may present an inaccurate representation of current fair market value. Now, as a means of trying to keep the assessments current with the real estate market, equalization rations have been developed in an attempt to make the assessments echo the current market. These ratios don’t always succeed in reflecting the market, especially the turbulent markets of the past 3-4 years. As a result, the assessment of a given property may be over stated, which translates into taxes that may also be overstated.

So, it stands to reason, if real estate values are declining your assessment should mirror those declines…right? This is done by filing a tax assessment appeal with your county board of assessment. Along with filing the necessary appeal paperwork, it is your responsibility to demonstrate that the assessment does not reflect the current fair market value of your property. The best way to do this is to present an appraisal report to the board at the time of your hearing.

Appraisals should be completed by a state certified appraiser (or licensed appraiser depending on the state) who is familiar with your area. In Pennsylvania, for instance, only a certified appraiser can provide an appraisal of your property. Anything completed by someone other than an state certified appraiser is not an appraisal.  Real estate agents and brokers cannot provide appraisals in Pennsylvania.

The deadlines for filing a tax appeal are usually in Bucks, Delaware and Chester Counties August 1, 2010 and September 1, 2010 for Montgomery County.  If you reside in any other Pennsylvania counties, please check with your county tax assessor’s office to confirm your county’s deadline. Remember, if you miss the deadline, you miss the opportunity to appeal and will have to wait another year (paying the same high taxes).

For more information or to see if you are a candidate for tax assessment appeal, please contact The Coyle Group. 

Note:  Be sure to visit our site from time to time over the next few months as we present a series of posts that relate to Tax Assessment Appeals and property tax reduction.

The Coyle Group provides appraisals for tax assessment appeals in Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, Chester, Lehigh, Berks and Northampton Counties.  Call us at 215.836.5500 for more information.

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