How do I appeal my real estate taxes?

Before we discuss how to file a property tax appeal, lets first understand why this may be necessary. What is a “Property tax/County assessment?” An assessment is NOT:

  1. An appraisal - it is at best a rough estimate, and lacks all of the precision of an appraisal.

  2. Equal to the properties market value - many counties in the region we cover are working off assessments from pre-1990, and have little to no relationship with the market value of the homes they have assessed.

  3. Performed by certified appraisers - while counties can, and often do hire organizations/individuals with this experience, there is no requirement for this to be the case.

These facts alone should cause anyone pause before trusting that their tax assessment is accurate. Further, these facts explain why so many county assessments differ wildly from the actual market value of the home. So how is an assessment performed, and where do the errors most commonly occur?

  1. Data from across the region is compiled to estimate contribution of amenities.

    • In areas where data is abundant, this can result in reliable data. However, in rural areas, where data is limited, calculations based on limited data produces errant results. In the Indiana County reassessment of 2014-2015 this was the source of a great deal of error. Land values were miscalculated using non similar land sales and resulting in land assessments in rural parts of the county being assessed as if they were in the more developed areas where more land sales were available.

  2. Inspectors review the outside of the dwellings, and take notes.

    • While the exterior is an important part of the home… its certainly not all of it. In the case of Indiana County, inspectors with no real estate experience were given a few hours training and sent out to inspect. This resulted in nearly every property in Indiana County with an unfinished attic above their garage being reported as having an “apartment.” This led to additional assessment to the property for nothing more than a storage space.

  3. Assessors put this general data (with all of the errors that come from limited inspection) into a one size fits all algorithm that spits out a number.

    • Garbage In - Garbage Out. If any part of the information gathering process is in error then the algorithm will produce increasingly errant results. If the data on the specific property is in error, then the results will be errant. If BOTH are in error then the results will multiply the errors.


So, how can home owners who feel that this process has produced an inaccurate result appeal their assessment and therefore the taxes based on it?

  1. Get a copy of your tax card. This is a public record that you can request and ask for someone to explain. If there are factual errors (garage apartments that aren’t there, too many bedrooms/baths, basement finish that doesn’t exist, etc), you can ask that they be corrected. In these cases the assessor may ask for photographic evidence.

  2. Beyond this, if you feel that the final assessment value is inaccurate, it will require an appraisal to file an official tax appeal. Annual deadlines differ from county to county, so be sure to contact your assessment office and ask about the process/timeline. This will require that a professional, specific valuation of your property be provided as evidence that the non-specific, possibly non-professional assessment is in fact wrong.

Town and Country Residential Appraisals provides services for assessment appeal purposes for Indiana, Allegheny, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Butler, Cambria County, and would be glad to serve you.