Obtain an assessment appeal application from the county Assessment Appeals Board
An assessment appeal application can be obtained from the county Assessment Appeals Board. Many counties now have online appeal applications that can be completed online and printed. The application must then be filed with the Assessment Appeals Board.
File a timely assessment appeal application with the county Assessment Appeals Board
Your assessment appeal application must be filed with the county's Assessment Appeals Board by mail or in person.
Filing deadlines -
Base-year appeal: If you have received a Notice of Supplemental Assessment, or a Notice of Escape Assessment, then the application must be filed within 60 days of the mailing date of the Notice (in some counties the deadline is a little later because the county allows filing within 60 days of the mailing date of the tax bill). If you miss this deadline, then an appeal can still be filed on your new base-year value, but it will have only prospective effect.
Decline in value appeal: If you are appealing the current year's taxes because your property has declined in value (a "Prop. 8 appeal"), then you must file your application between July 2nd and September 15th (for Alameda, Inyo, Kings, Orange, Placer, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Sierra, Sutter counties) or November 30th for all other counties.
Prepare for your hearing
Assessment appeals boards are required to value property at its fair market value. So in order to prepare for your hearing you will need to put together evidence of the fair market value of your property on the valuation date. The valuation date is: (1) the date property changed ownership; (2) the date new construction was completed; or (3) January 1st of the current year (for decline in value appeals).
For valuable properties, hiring an appraiser is usually worthwhile. The appraiser can then testify as to the fair market value of your property to the board. Alternatively, you may wish to obtain a less formal opinion of value, such as a realtor's valuation of the property.
The three accepted approaches to value property are comparable sales, cost, and income approaches. Note: Sales may be used only if the sale date is not more than 90 days later than the valuation date. Comparable sales will have to be adjusted for differences between the properties.
Negotiate with the Assessor's Office
Often, it is possible to negotiate a reduced assessment with the Assessor's Office. After you have gathered your evidence, consider calling the Assessor's office to find out who is assigned to your case. If the Assessor thinks you're right, he may reduce your assessment without the need for a hearing. You can also ask the Assessor for the basis of his opinion. Having the Assessor's comparable sales and/or income approach will help you prepare for a hearing if you can't reach an agreement.
Present your case to the Board
A Board hearing is like a mini-trial. You will be given the opportunity to present all of your evidence. If you have an appraiser or realtor, they will testify as to the valuation of your property. The Assessor may cross-examine your witnesses.
Then the Assessor's appraiser will present his evidence, and you can cross-examine him.
You should always be respectful to the Board and the Assessor. The Board is trying to determine the fair market value of your property based on the evidence presented. Your ability to think analytically and present your case rationally is often the key to success.
Additional resources provided by the author
The State Board of Equalization's website is very helpful: http://www.boe.ca.gov/
The website has a downloadable guide to property tax assessment appeals.
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