1. Accepting Your Property Assessment As Is
By nature, property tax assessments are highly detailed, which leaves room for error. Just because you received something in the mail from the government, does not mean it’s accurate. By not hiring an experienced property tax consultant, you could be losing thousands of dollars every year because of a mistake you did not know to look for had indeed existed in your records.
2. Not Looking at Your Property Record Card
It certainly seems to be one of the most basic principles: look at your property record card to make sure all of the information is accurate. However, this is by far the number one sin we see on behalf of clients, and it’s the most avoidable mistake. Property owners need to verify all information on the property card is accurate: from the size of the lot and the building, the building height, and the actual age of the property versus the effective age, etc. Strive to be your best detective here, and look for unforeseen land mines, because unfortunately, clerical errors do happen. In fact, they happen often. Ask yourself: If you don’t know what the county Property Appraiser has based the estimate on, how can you accurately fight it?
3. Not Working With the Property Appraiser
If you believe your Property Tax Assessment is wrong, don’t begin the process of contesting it by shooting yourself in the foot. For the most part, working against the Property Appraiser won’t help you. State laws say the Property Appraiser has a right to ask you questions about your property. Alternatively, state law does not require you to answer those questions outside of a hearing. But think about it -- is creating a contentious relationship going to help you achieve your end goal? If you refuse to provide the Property Appraiser with any specific information or data about your property, then you are, in effect, forcing them to make assumptions. They will then have no choice but to use marketplace data rather than the preferred actual data for your property. We promise, nine times out of ten, if you own an income-producing property and are asked to provide your rent roll, your profit and loss report, a breakdown of your expenses (and if higher than the market rate, an explanation of why) -- hand it over and save your fight for down the road when it matters. This is where it’s crucial to hire an experienced property tax consultant to be sure the information you are providing is the most beneficial to receive your reduction.
4. Don’t Get Personal
It’s simple: take the emotion out of it. All too often the taxpayer takes a potential over-assessment and immediately makes it personal. However, the Property Appraiser is just doing his or her job. We had one client whom, upon receiving a property assessment he didn’t agree with, went to the county Property Appraisal office and exchanged heated words with the assessor. We’ll let you decide how well that went over (see item number two above). While First Coast Consultants was eventually able to smooth over the initially soured relationship, it took quite some time and a lot of extra work. Keeping it professional and not personal will only help you before the Value Adjustment Board, if it ever gets to that point.
5. Don’t Compare
One property never, ever equals another. Never. Don’t assume your hotel or shopping center is immediately getting ripped off after hearing of another similar property receiving a lower tax assessment. A number of critical factors could be different: the actual lot size or building size, the rent rolls, expenses, profit and loss report, or your occupancy report. The Property Appraiser is considering a number of varying factors when determining your assessment, including: national, regional, and local data. Sometimes two similar properties can have expenses that don’t match up. In this field, we can promise you, one size does not fit all.
6. Not Providing or Keeping Accurate Records
This is another avoidable mistake that can really cost you in the end. If you don’t keep accurate records, you will never be able to accurately fight a property assessment believed to be inaccurate. Plain and simple. Or if you provide inaccurate information to the Property Appraiser, you are wasting time for both parties. The Property Appraiser can and will double check the information provided. For example, if you own an office building, the Property Appraiser can verify the listed income by checking sales tax records with the Department of Revenue. If a business reports sales taxes that don’t equal income, it will throw up a major red flag. By that point, if the Property Appraiser believes you are not being truthful, they will more than likely no longer cooperate.
You can easily avoid these mistakes and an untold number of others by hiring an experienced professional. Joe Vaine, the President and CEO of First Coast Consultants, has more than 30 years of experience specializing in ad valorem tax consulting work. Vaine is a Florida Licensed Real Estate Broker since 1973 and carries the unique distinction of also being ta State Certified General Real Estate Appraiser in Florida. Vaine has performed appraisals of income and industrial properties for major insurance companies, banks, and developers before local county property appraisers in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.