Friday, August 17, 2012

My day in Court

If you remember back to this post, and this one, I finally got a court date and the ability to contest my property tax value for the 2011 year.

After getting lost and parking at the parking structure for Jury Duty, eventually I walked the three blocks down to the "old" court house and found the location of my court room.

I got there really early because I wasn't sure about traffic and parking, so I had plenty of time to kill. I found the court room and I noticed that i was case number 48 on the docket list... my heart sank. I was going to be there for a long time....

But I was glad I wouldn't be going first.

When they commenced the court, there weren't 48 people in the room to my relief, but after roll call I realized I was going to be last for my type of case... But I learned some valuable things while waiting.

Apparently you can contact the Assessor who has been assigned to your case before the court hearing to try and make a deal. (I will remember this for future years, considering I didn't know I would actually have to fight against someone and not merely just present my findings to the panel-- but this is key. You can get the addresses of the places they are going to bring with them to the court so you can argue why they aren't good or realistic).

You don't get an answer that day. They are only going to decide to either throw your case out, or investigate it in closed session based on the facts you and the assessor have stated.

So, in order to move everyone along as fast as possible, the people who were an automatic yes (they cut deals with the assessor) were sworn in and agreed to the statements provided by the assessor and then left on their merry way.

Since I didn't contact the assessor, I got comfortable and waited the 3 hours for my name to be called since I was last on the docket for appeal and there was one guy after me who had previously requested a continuance.

The court room was really pretty looking... no wonder they
were filming a TV show outside. Apparently the building
will be an insane asylum for some TV show soon...
Hey man, only in California!
But I did learn a lot of good questions to ask and how the system works.

You should try and bring 3 comps with you... I brought only 1 comp (which was actually on the assessors paperwork to start out with...) and a copy of my home sale price showing that the unit that i wished to compare to mine was an upper unit with an identically floor plan and remodeled kitchen.

You want to bring 3 comps that are in the correct time frame.

  • You can go as far back as you want (even out of the year your contesting), but you can only go 90 days ahead of January 1st of the year you are contesting. Which meant March 30, 2011 for me). 

You should find out if the assessor viewed the homes they used in the comps. (9 times out of 10 they haven't and they are unaware of the condition and most people made arguments that the assessor choose remodeled places when there's was not-- and brought pictures of their homes and the homes the assessor choose.) For me, this wasn't an issue because my place (while crap when I bought it) is a lot nicer now and was similarly inline with the conditions of the unit that did sell.

Be polite
There is no need to bite the hands of the people who are going to decided to lower your value or not. No need to yell and call people "air heads" and if they only used half their brain they would know my "home isn't worth half this much."

So I sat and watched people use "comps" outside of the time frame, bring no evidence what-so-ever, and be really mean to the panel... some appeals got dismissed and some people got their appeals put in the "decide in closed session pile"

But lets fast forward three hours to where its just me and the last guy in the room, the assessor, and the panel of people who will decide our case.

They skipped me.

I don't know if people of my age and height that they expected me to be ill prepared or whatever, but the chairman of the court was trying to cut the guy a break and do him a favor so he asked for his case first over mine.

And oh man, was he a baboon. He accused the assessors office of not doing their job and went wayyyyy off in left field. So off in left field that if I tried to describe it you all would be confused. It was like someone trying to tell you that cats have always been the inhabitants of Mars... (ya, that crazy)

After his case was tossed out, they called me up, swore me in, and my case started.

When they asked the assessor what she thought my home was worth.... and then me... the judge looked at the assessor and said, can't we just make a deal (it was about a 6k difference). His comments helped clear the air and tension for me since and I said I hoped so cheerfully and the guy smiles and looked toward the assessor. She said that while she would love to agree with me, she couldn't get her boss to sign off on it because she couldn't base a comp off one unit and needed 3... so with that, the chairman had the assessor present her case since the unit is owner occupied.

The units she tried to use for my comparisons were:

  • 2011-$115,000 Single Bedroom, exact model and square footage. (the property I was going to beg the court to weigh more heavily upon)
  • 2011- $166,000 2 bedroom unit (comped $8,470 in square footage, and discounted $10k for a second bedroom) Taxable value $148,000
  • 2010- $169,000  2 bedroom unit (comped $8,470 in square footage, and discounted $10k for a second bedroom) $151,000.00
Some how they took all that and claimed my property was worth $136,000 and because that amount was larger than $120,000, they raised my value to $120,903.00 for tax purposes.

Then it was my turn.

I presented a copy of my sale information on my condo and a more detailed printout of the 2011 $115,000.00 unit. I argued that the units were identical in square footage, bedroom, and location (both upstairs with units on both sides). I even argued that the conditions were similar since it had a remodeled kitchen that had been expanded.

I Then argued that the different between a 1 bedroom and a 2 bedroom unit was more than $10k, especially in a condo Association. I said that a 2 bedroom unit is more desirable because you have more time before you outgrow the size and space of the unit and it allowed for built in flexibility since you could always get a roommate if times got tough. I also brought up that for landlords, 2 bedrooms are easier to rent because people have a roommate option, and therefore that adds value to a property. I was also a little smart and said if the difference between a 1 bedroom and a 2 bedroom was 10k, no one would buy a one bedroom model because it wouldn't make sense in the long run.

I also went into detail about how I agreed with the assessor that the $115k unit was a very good representation of the value of my property and i asked the court not to allow me to be penalized because in the almost 3 years that have passed since purchasing my condo, only 1 other one bedroom unit has sold and it is the comparison that I and the assessor would like used. I ended asking them to please rely on it as an accurate comparison for valuation of my homes worth.  

All three judges/panel members agreed to hold my case for further review.

They said I would get a notice in the mail for a few weeks with the decision.

A week later it was in the mail...

I won.

But that's not the end of it. Apparently my new property value will not automatically roll over and i will have to petition the larger increase to my property value for the 2012 year.

Apparently between January and April 30th you can call and request an informal review to avoid a court challenge... but since I missed that, I'll have to re-file to change tax year 2012... but since I won my case for 2011, most likely when i call the assessor assigned to my case (now that I know I can call), i should be able to get an approved deal and might now even need to show up in court to contest value.

So, moral of the story, be kind, play by the rules, and give it a whirl!!!!

Can't wait to send my $50 rebate check to my mortgage and save me some interest.

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