By David Cruz
When the Great Recession hit — fueled by the burst of the real estate bubble — it was all the rage for property owners to appeal their tax assessments, peaking at 116,000 in 2012. But that number has been falling steadily — down to 49,000 last year. And that’s meant that a lot of homeowners may have been missing out on the opportunity to save on their real estate taxes.
“We’ve had a number of constituents come to our office complaining about their property tax bill and it turns out that the assessed value is not accurately reflective of the true value of their homes so they’re over-paying property taxes,” noted Assemblyman Raj Mukherji.
Real estate experts say many property owners, particularly those who haven’t had their properties assessed in years, should take advantage of their right to appeal their assessments. But, up until now, towns have never really encouraged that knowledge among property owners. But new legislation, co-sponsored by Mukherji, requires municipalities to highlight that fact in their annual assessment notifications to property owners.
“New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country as it is, but nothing’s worse than finding out that you had the right to challenge your property tax bill and it gets lost in the fine print,” he said. “If we bold print the text and make it a prominent disclosure that property taxpayers have a right to challenge that assessment — because it could be wrong; it could be outdated; it could be inaccurate — they have a right to challenge it but they have to file that by the April 1 deadline.”
Real Estate Appraiser Tom Stack’s family has been handling tax appeals for 100 years. He welcomes the new law, which is obviously good for business, but also because it — in theory — encourages property owners to make that call.
“Typically, when you request me to review your assessment, I will first pull the assessment from the county tax board website,” he said. “I will look at the assessment and I will apply the ratio, if the assessment ratio for the municipality is under 100 percent.”
I know what you’re thinking. Huh? Assessment ratio? Yeah, simply put, it means your property’s level of assessment should be as close to 100 percent of your property’s true value. But, that’s rarely the case, and in Hudson County, for instance, that ratio is closer to 30 percent. Meaning, if you do appeal, especially if you’ve never appealed your taxes before, you’re likely to win.
Firms like Stack’s charge a flat fee — between $500 and $700. Others work on a contingency. Either way, most firms won’t take the case unless they’re pretty sure you can win it.
“There’s no charge for the review,” he said. “We do our homework; we make sure that the appeals are going to be productive because it doesn’t benefit anyone to file a bunch of appeals they eventually have to withdraw.”
Two important things to note. 1. Don’t try this yourself. Although you certainly may, Stack says it’s a process that can get technical and reaching out to a pro is the best way to avoid mistakes. And 2. the deadline is April 1. No exceptions. So, if you miss it you’ll have to wait until next year.