Dear PoP – Real Property Assessment Time

IMG_6616, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

“Since it’s real property assessment time, I have a real property tax assessment issue that might be of interest to a lot of readers and I hope I can get feedback on from those with expertise in this. I recently Zillowed my house only to find out that I have 5 bedrooms (I actually have 3). I know Zillow info. is often inaccurate, so I went to DC’s real property tax database which also said I have 5 bedrooms. I also noticed that my house has been assessed much higher than the neighbors homes I have checked thus far so I’m wondering if the mistake has anything to do with it, all other things being equal. I spoke to my assessor, who told me that property values are determined strictly by the square footage of the house, and since the square footage in the database is correct, the mistake does not affect the value of the house–an answer which neither makes sense nor requires her to actually do any work.

Specifically, I’d like to know what sort of information I need to file a successful appeal based on incorrect property records, and can I receive a refund retroactive to when I purchased the house 4 years ago?”

Hmm, this is an interesting question. It’s actually really easy to file an appeal. I’d go through your original closing documents and see if you have something that says it is a 3 bedroom. Sadly, I don’t think you’ll be able to get a retroactive refund as the appeal process only works for the current year, I believe. Does anyone have any advice on this particular situation?

While we’re on the topic of assessments – how’d you guys do? My assessment went down like $60k. Yet somehow my bill for next year managed to increase. Did anyone else encounter this oddity? I suspect it may have to do with the homestead deduction…

34 Comment

  • My assessment went up $850. But my bill went up because they’re allowed to increase your taxable assessment by 10 percent each year. At least, that’s how I think it works…I’m glad you started this thread, PoP, because I was confused by the city notifications and maybe I can get some answers now.

  • Ours went down quite a bit.

    To the question posted above, I would suggest getting a tax pro or lawyer to help you through this if you plan to go back and get refunds for the last few years.

  • My assessment went down. But I don’t think 2010 bills have been released yet? The assessment is for 2010, but the only bill I have received is for 2009 (based on last year’s assessment) … correct me if I’m wrong? I very much hope next year’s bills will go down to reflect the new assessment …

  • My shit went down. Property is fall’n everywhere. But you knowz I be glad because now I can go down to the Wig Mart and getz myself some golden threadz flowing down my back.

  • Our bills won’t reflect this assessment decrease till they come out in March 2010.

  • Can someone let me know what these newly issued assessment documents look like, or about when they were sent out? Was this something that came from the city or from the mortgage company directly. I don’t believe I have received this yet..

  • The total assessed value of your property is a combination of the assessed land value and “improvements” i.e. the value of the house itself. I’d have to think that the number of bedrooms increases the value of the “improvements”. If you look at the DC real estate database, they have both values for each property. On our street, each home has the same exact lot size and corresponding assessed values. What seems to change is the value of the house itself.

    What’s intersting is all the homes on or block are the same size, but if you take 2 small bedrooms and knock out a wall making them 1 bedroom – your assessed home value goes down!

  • To the original question, defintely appeal the number of bedrooms as it has an impact on you assessment. I had a similar problem right after I purchased my house. They said I had 5 bedrooms and a separate rental unit (I wish!). I appealed to the second level and finally got them to change it after I invited them to inspect my home and tell me where these extra improvements came from. The assessor admitted that in the past they used realtor listings and if that was how it had been listed, the tax assessment office would update their database with that information. So you could be the victim of a past over-zealous real estate agent. By the way, I believe the definition of a bedroom is that it must have a separate entrance from any other room, a window and a closet. Hipchick, do you care to elaborate?

  • PoP, our assessment–like yours–went down 50K, but our tax bill for next year is higher. I couldn’t make sense of why from the letter. Did the city increase the tax rate?

  • Our 2010 proposed value is going to go way up based on the current assessment. Right now we’re sitting at about $351k for current total value and a taxable assessment of $284k. The 2010 numbers are $414k proposed total value and a taxable assessment of $312k.

    Contrast that to my immediate neighbors, whose house is similarly renovated (new everything at a comparable level of fit and finish) but is substantially larger (it was bumped back farther than mine on all three levels) with a large back yard and two car garage. Their CV is about $495k with a TA of $327k, and a 2010 PV of $446k and a TA of $359k.

    I’m honestly not sure what to make of these numbers…

  • I wish my 3 bedroom house was 5 bedroom size

  • Mine went down about 14%, but when I bought five years ago they over-assessed it anyways, so I figure we’re about even. Not sure if my bill went up.

  • If you’ve lived in the house for a few years, then your tax bills will go up, even if the assessed value of your house has fallen.

    As POP notes, this is due to the homestead exemption, which does two key things: 1) it does not tax you on the first $60K or so of home value; and 2) it limits year-over-year tax increases to ten percent. Thus, if the house was assessed at say, $250K when you bought and first paid tax on it around 2003 or 2004, then you have not been forced to pay the full tax value on your house since then. Instead, you got the benefit of the 10% per year increase.

    Indeed, if you look at DC’s assessment database (which is available and searchable online), you will see that many residents are paying still paying about 1/4 of the property tax they would otherwise be paying, because they lived here when their homes were assessed at say, $90K. Even though the homes are now worth $350K or so, the assessment value can only go up by 10%. Thus: Year 1, $90K; Year 2, $99K; Year 3, $110K, and so on. These folks will *never* pay market rate assessments, until about the year 2050. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but that’s how it is done.

  • I just bought my place 18 months ago and my 2009 and 2010 assessments went down an average of about 7.5% per year. This lowerred my tax bills because I didn’t have a lag due to the 10% per year cap on increased tax bills.

    PS – I had that in MD for my old place – i.e. i was paying taxes based on the place being worth ~$80k because the tax increases were limitted to 10%, meanwhile the assessed value of the place was $190k. In that case you could see the assessed value of the home go down, but the tax bill go up.

  • AJS: It’s right!!! (thanks for the info)

  • Hey, that’s my old place in the picture!

  • Mine came down a TON. which is good because now its only 15 grand more than what I paid for it 2 months ago. instead of close to 100 grand (how they reassessed it higher than what I paid for it just a short time ago when prices have only dipped MORE since then. Ill never know. thats DC for you right? ). But after I finish the renovations I have planned for this year it may actually be spot on. also. Zillow. Is a joke. they need to get serious. add about 1000 employees and make the site accurate. as it is now its an excersize in futility

  • I’m interested to hear where assessed values are going up and where they’re going down. We’re on the 3400 block of 13th between Park and Monroe. Our assessed value that will be taxed this year and the proposed assessment for next year will stay the same. BTW, we received our bill and our 2010 assessment in two separate letters from the District last week.

  • Nick, there was an article in the WaPo about this with a neighborhood-by-neighborhood breakdown. Columbia Heights as down 7.4%.–%20Residential.pdf

  • Our assessment decreased 5.6%. We recently paid for an appraisal in connection with a refi. The appraisal came in 10% lower than DC’s value. We are not paying on the entire assesed value anyway because of the 10% increase cap so the actual tax due did go up as one would expect even though the value went down. I live in Mt. P btw.

  • AJS beat me to the punch with his very good explanation of why assessed value can go down and the tax bill still go up.

    My tax assessment went down nearly 80k for 2010, but I think this was in many ways a factor of the gross over-assessment in the last few years. In 2005, I received an assessment more than 250k MORE THAN I HAD PAID 6 months earlier. (This was quite odd to me, since I always assumed “fair market value” would = what I paid in a “fair market.” Go figure.) I appealed it a couple of years, but to no avail. Guess I did not push hard enough. I basically figure I’ll see a 10% increase in my taxes every year until I part ways with the place. My sense is that the city selectively over-assesses on any newly purchased properties to get the tax base up.

  • AJS beat me to the punch with his very good explanation of why assessed value can go down and the tax bill still go up.

    My tax assessment went down nearly 80k for 2010, but I think this was in many ways a factor of the gross over-assessment in the last few years. In 2005, I received an assessment more than 250k MORE THAN I HAD PAID 6 months earlier. (This was quite odd to me, since I always assumed “fair market value” would = what I paid in a “fair market.” Go figure.) I appealed it a couple of years, but to no avail. Guess I did not push hard enough. I basically figure I’ll see a 10% increase in my taxes every year until I part ways with the place. My sense is that the city selectively over-assesses on any newly purchased properties to increase the tax base.

  • dealing with dcra hahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahhahahahahahah

  • Mine went down $50K. Now it’s only $100K more than I paid for it in October.

  • By law, property assessment is supposed to be “fair market value.” How DC gets away with assessing property at 100k more than you paid for it last year is beyond me, and I would argue, illegal. The price you paid is the absolute best way to determine fair market value. Would love to make this argument to the DCAG and mayor and see their reaction.

  • My assessment went down about $7k this year. But last year the proposed assessed rate would have been about $50k more than I had just paid for it a few months before I got the notice. I had heard from many people that DC will automatically deny your first level appeal in the hope that most people will give up. And sure enough, they denied me without explanation, even though I submitted a copy of my HUD-1 settlement form. You have to file a second level appeal to the Board of Real Property Assessment and Appeals to get any sort of rational review of your case. I did that too, and after a year-long wait, they finally reduced it. Don’t give up, and don’t miss the appeal deadlines!

  • I’d also like to raise an issue that may have some relevance. DC has increased the Vacant Property Tax to 10% (Class 3) of the assessed value of the property!!! That’s a $30k tax for a $300,000 assessment!!! I understand the spirit of the increase is to encourage land and property owners to better maintain their properties. Unfortunately this ‘land grab’ extends to owners currently seeking tenants, properties undergoing renovation, and individuals who choose to spend winters in Florida. And yes, I’m aware of the waiver. Should a waiver really be necessary if the property is well maintained??? Non-blighted and utilities paid yet penalized as a slumlord. Shameful, but typical of the DC Govt. Why would anyone want to invest in this city? Surely there are better ways to address blight and revenue shortfalls all while not turning away the very investments that have fed the growth DC has seen to date.

  • Anyone know which is worth more, a bedroom or a bathroom? DC gov states that I have 4 bedrooms and 1.5 baths. We have 2.5 baths and, at most, 3 bedrooms, arguably 2. I’m trying to figure out if it would be worth it to appeal.

  • DCzSlimmest I see your point, but presently vacant properties seem to such a huge problem in so many parts of the city. Everywhere, everywhere, are long abandoned properties who’s owners are waiting for the billion dollar sale. I say punish the vacant owners as much as possible, as the vast majority have simply taken advantage of lax oversight for seemingly decades. Not pretty but there you have it. If we had a similar low tolerance for, say, murder and thuggery, the city would be a better place for it.

  • Are people who say they got their got their tax bill already sure that it’s the tax bill for 2010? Not 2009? I got my assessment letter and also a letter that shows how much I paid for the first half of 2009, and then how much I’ll pay for the second half of 2009.

    My mortgage company and DCRA cannot get their act together at all. I’m having a certain amount held in escrow every month even though the bank paid DCRA so much money at one time that I’ve had a surplus balance for over a year. I can probably pay my remaining 2009 taxes and part of 2010 with the surplus balance.

    I end up getting an escrow refund from the mortgage company when this happens, and that’s cool, but I’m afraid one year they’re going to come to me and say “oh, we didn’t withhold enough, you owe us a million dollars.” They’re just constantly out of alignment.

  • Pennywise… again, I concur 100% if the vacant property is a nuisance to the community. I would not consider a well-maintained vacant apt awaiting a renter in a down market (to say the least) a nuisance to the community. By that logic, an owner who chooses to own an apartment in DC with intentions on spending a few months a year in the city would also be assessed an unreasonable tax. Why not just target the owners of blighted properties??? It would be nice if the scandal-ridden Office of Tax and Revenue would responsibly and sustainably levy taxes to the people of the District of Columbia. Erratic assessments and short-sighted policies may lead to another exodus from the city (DC native so I’m not going anywhere 🙂 Cheers

  • Mine went down over $30K. Thank goodness I have no intention of moving any time soon.

  • To the original poster: call and talk to a supervisor.

    DC had a number of things about my property incorrect in the tax assessment database (including claims of additional bathrooms and a rental unit) and the assessment is based on more factors than mere square footage. Correcting those things brought my assessment in line with similar houses on the block.

    Best of luck!

  • I just opened my assessment – it went down by 40K and is probably 100K less than what the house is worth, so I can’ complain. I’m jealous though of my neighbor who bought his house 8 yrs ago and has a tax bill only 1/3 of what mine is, and his house is assessed for more than mine. That’s what the limits on tax will increases will do for you!

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