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She fought Ada County over her property-tax assessment and won. You might too. Act fast

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Posted at 3:16 PM, Jun 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-27 20:24:22-04

This article was originally written by Sally Krutzig for the Idaho Statesman.

When Stacey Devereaux’s property tax bill came this month, she knew something wasn’t right.

The assessor had used sales data from other homes in her area to calculate the value of hers. But Devereaux’s home backed up to a busy section of Parkcenter Boulevard, making it more difficult to sell than homes in the interior of her neighborhood. She quickly gathered together a list of home prices — what agents call comparables — and appealed her assessment to the Assessor’s Office.

An assessor agreed to come inspect her home. She pointed out the noisy traffic and the parts of her home that were not updated. He dropped her value by $96,000. It saved her $900 in taxes.

“I’ve appealed my property tax twice, and both times I had to jump through hoops,” Devereaux said by phone. “I had to show them comps. And fortunately, because I’m a real estate agent, that information is easily accessible to me. But because Idaho is a non-disclosure state, that isn’t public information. So very few people have good access to sold-property information.”

Few Ada County residents bother to appeal their property tax assessments. They know values are rising rapidly everywhere in the Treasure Valley. But Devereaux’s diligence shows that the assessor’s calculations aren’t perfect, and an appeal is sometimes justified.

If homeowners want to appeal, they need to move fast. The deadline is 5 p.m. Monday, June 28.

SOME HOMEOWNERS DISCOURAGED FROM APPEALING

Devereaux believes her next-door-neighbors’ experience is a cautionary tale on the importance of understanding the appeals process.

The county had assessed her neighbor’s home at $637,000 as of January 2020. The neighbors later listed it for sale at $650,000. But despite the Treasure Valley’s hot market, it was no easy sell. Traffic noise and the need for landscaping scared off buyers.

After 94 days on the market, the neighbors accepted an offer of $580,000 in September.

For this year’s assessment, designed to reflect actual market value as of Jan. 1, Ada County did not take that sale into consideration. Her neighbor’s home was assessed at $692,000.

“What’s shocking to me is even though they had that sales data, they ignored it,” Deveraux said.

After her successful appeal, she recommended her neighbor do the same. The neighbor called her the Assessor’s Office and was told not to bother.

“She called them and was told the $692,000 was going to stick, even though that wasn’t her purchase price,” Devereaux said.

WHEN TO APPEAL

Property tax bills are calculated by multiplying the assessed property value with the local tax rate. Assessors calculate the value of a home by looking at what similar homes in the area sold for and by visiting homes. Assessors must inspect 20% of all homes in the county in person before calculating its value.

“We do the physical inspection on the exterior, but don’t often have the opportunity to go in and do an inspection on the interior,” Assessor Robert McQuade said by phone.

When few homes are fully inspected, assessors can miss individual considerations. The two biggest things homeowners should consider when deciding whether to appeal is if their home has unique features that could lower its value, and if their home needs updating, Devereaux said.

Properties may have unique features, like traffic noise, that affect value. Updated homes are worth more than ones needing work. So if an assessor is using a renovated or landscaped home’s sale price to assess an unrenovated home, it could skew the results.

“That’s when they really need to get a professional to look at that and say, ‘Well, you know, this house is exactly like yours three blocks away,’” Devereaux said. “Everything is identical but that house has been updated and yours hasn’t. And both of your assessments are the same.”

McQuade agreed that, though not common, some homes are not correctly assessed the first time.

“In some cases, yes, that would be true,” McQuade said. “In other cases it would not. In most cases, we have the evidence that yes, this does deserve some additional depreciation.”

APPEAL NUMBERS DROP

Ada County has seen fewer residents appealing assessments so far this year. McQuade said appeal requests are down 35%. Just 214 appeals had been filed as of Friday.

Last year, 584 people appealed their assessments. The office received 975 appeals in 2019 and 534 in 2018.

Both McQuade and Devereaux blame the decline in appeals on the hype around the housing market. McQuade theorizes that residents’ bills are lower than they expect after seeing so much news about Boise sale prices. Devereaux thinks homeowners like seeing their property values increase.

“Psychologically, people are just excited that their assets are going up in price,” Devereaux said. “They don’t consider that maybe, because their home hasn’t been updated, it really isn’t worth as much as the assessor says.”

HOW TO APPEAL

If you think your property has been overvalued, here’s how to start your appeals process:

Contact a real estate agent: Devereaux suggests homeowners may know a friend, family member or agent they’ve used in the past. If all else fails, homeowners could call a different local agent to ask for help.

Real estate agents can access information about home sales that is not available to the public. Agents will look for homes that are in the same area with similar features and lot sizes. Those comparable sales can be used as evidence in the appeal.

Talk to your assessor: Obtain your Ada County appraiser’s contact information. Each home is assigned a specific appraiser who can alter your assessment without a hearing.

You can find the email address on the Ada County Assessor’s Office website. Click on “Property Search and Online Maps.” Search for your home using your address. Once you’ve found your home, go to the blue button near the top that says, “Email the appraiser assigned to this parcel.” Through an email, you can explain to your appraiser why you believe your assessment is incorrect.

The appraiser may come inspect your home.

File an appeal: McQuade said it’s important the Assessor’s Office receive an appeal request by Monday’s deadline. An appeal form can be filled out though the Ada County website.

Attend an appeals hearing: If the county appraiser doesn’t give you what you want, the Ada County Assessor’s Office may set an appeal hearing in front of McQuade’s staff and the Ada County commissioners. At your hearing, you will have five minutes to make your case. Bring as much information as possible to show why you think your home has been overvalued, including comparable sales and photos of anything that needs updating.

The Assessor’s Office staff will then make a three-minute presentation on why staff members believe they valued it correctly. The commissioners will deliberate and make a final decision on whether to uphold or lower the original assessment value.

Further appeals: If you think the commissioners made the wrong decision, you can file another appeal through the Idaho Board of Tax Appeals’ website within 30 days.

Still torn on whether to appeal? Of the 584 people who appealed their property assessments last year, 244 were successful. With a 42% success rate, it might be worth a shot.

Sally Krutzig covers Treasure Valley growth and development. Have a story suggestion or a question? Email Krutzig at skrutzig@idahostatesman.com.