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Lower Your Property Tax Bill – A New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep
For many, the start of a new year signals a time to make some sort of change in their lives and become more like their ideal selves. For others, January signals the time to make another kind of change, much easier to make: lowering their property tax bill. The tax appeal process in New Jersey involves a number of steps and using an experienced property tax attorney to guide you through the process will make that New Year’s resolution much easier to stick to.
Since tax appeal season in New Jersey is near the beginning of the year, lowering your property taxes is a perfect New Year’s resolution. Around the end of January each year, every property owner of New Jersey is supposed to receive its annual evaluation. It’s the little green card from the tax assessor’s office. Since all properties in a particular New Jersey municipality are taxed at the same rate, it is the assessment that differentiates one property owner’s tax bill from another and is the true measure of whether a property is taxed fairly or not. The period in which an appraisal can generally be appealed in New Jersey is from the time the appraisal is received until April 1 (May 1 if there has been a reassessment or reassessment).
The first step to understanding if you are overtaxed is to understand how your property is valued.
In New Jersey, your assessment is the value at which your property was appraised at the time of the last reassessment. Although the amount at which the municipality assesses your property changes from year to year, your assessment generally remains the same. Each year, each municipality in New Jersey is assigned an “equalization rate,” which is intended to reflect the current value of properties in a particular municipality relative to their value in the year of the assessment.
You can find your municipality’s equalization ration by calling your city’s tax assessor or county tax board. It can also be found on the New Jersey Division of Taxation website. The “average ratio” is the percentage of the “true value” that your assessment is deemed to be. In other words, divide your assessment by the equalization ratio to get the fair value of your property. This is the number your assessor actually uses to calculate your property tax, not your assessment.
For many people, the decision to appeal their valuation is easy once they have completed the actual valuation of their property. For others, particularly people who have owned a property for a long time and have not thought about buying or selling, the question of whether to appeal an appraisal is less clear.
Here are several rules of thumb to consider when deciding whether to appeal your assessment:
- As your appraisal ages and your equalization ratio decreases, it is more likely that your appraisal will no longer match the true value of your property.
- Conversely, when an equalization ratio exceeds 100% because property values have fallen (as they have in recent years), it means that, on average, properties are overvalued in these municipalities. The owner still bears the burden of proving that their property is overvalued, but an average ratio above 100% is a good indicator of overvaluation.
- When you live in a development or neighborhood where the properties are very similar and prices have dropped significantly, your individual property value has likely gone down and your appraisal and equalization ratio may not have kept pace. rhythm.
- Whenever a property has unique features that make it significantly different from those nearby, there is often reason to justify a reduction in assessment. For example, a very large older home in a neighborhood of smaller, newer homes will often be assessed as a larger home with the characteristics of the surrounding areas. In fact, these homes tend to be harder to sell and often warrant lower appraisals.
The next step in the process for individuals is to decide if they want to work with an attorney in this process. While corporations and other legal entities must be represented by an attorney under New Jersey law, an individual owner can represent themselves. Nonetheless, there are some very good reasons to consider picking one up:
- Many attorneys work on an emergency basis so there are no legal fees unless your taxes are reduced. There are certain fixed disbursements that the landlord pays, but the attorney receives a percentage of the tax savings if, and only if, the appeal is successful.
- A lawyer working on an emergency basis should provide a free consultation and do their own independent research to determine if an appeal is likely to be successful. If a lawyer doesn’t return calls and takes the time to tell you why they think your assessment should be lowered, that’s a signal to look elsewhere.
- Above all, there is the convenience of having an experienced professional handle your case. You don’t have to worry about the rules which can be cumbersome and, frankly, arbitrary. (For example, property tax appeals may be rejected if the petition is not printed on legal paper). You don’t have to testify at a hearing, which is usually unfamiliar and uncomfortable for the landlord.
- Many people think that you will get a better result if you are represented by a lawyer. This additional saving, year after year, more than compensates for the lawyer’s fees.
Take for example the case of Stephen and Rachel Pineles, who decided to appeal the appraisal of their home in Essex County, New Jersey in 2010. “My town hadn’t had a reappraisal in over twenty years old and my assessment was outrageously high compared to the actual value of my home,” said Stephen Pineles. “Having a lawyer to handle the property tax appeal was definitely the right decision for me. I didn’t have to worry about anything. A much better settlement and my property taxes were reduced by over $3700 or nearly 30% of my tax bill.”
As with anything else, there is some risk in appealing your assessment. In New Jersey, if your case fails, you will not get your disbursements back. Also, under New Jersey law, your appraiser has the right to argue that your appraisal is too low. This right is however limited to cases where your property is undervalued by a measure of 15%. If your property’s assessment divided by the equalization ratio is $100,000, the appraiser can only argue that the assessment should be increased if they can prove that your property is truly worth at least $115,000. If your lawyer has done their research and determined that there are good reasons to lower your assessment, this is unlikely to happen.
At the start of the new year, in addition to some of the tougher goals and changes people are contemplating, it may be worth considering trying to lower your tax bill. This could be one of the easiest and most profitable resolutions you can take.
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