In this day and age, as life is slowly getting back to normal and financial concerns increase as the COVID-19 pandemic finally starts sputtering out, there’s one thing on every homeowner’s mind- how to save a hard-earned buck.
One excellent way to do that for Nassau and Suffolk County residents is by grieving their property taxes; that is, challenging the assessment of your home’s value that your local municipality has determined in an effort to lower your property taxes. But doing so is a long and complicated process, and one you should never do by going it alone; instead, engaging the services of a qualified, knowledgeable firm experienced in such matters is the way to go.
Heller & Consultants Tax Grievance, based out of Rocky Point with satellite offices in Deer Park and Farmingdale, first opened their doors for business in 2007, and service clients in both Nassau and Suffolk County. Owner Adam Heller has been kind enough to share with our readers some important information regarding grieving your taxes, including 11 sure-fire tips that you should always stick to every year, which you’ll find below.
Heller notes the incredible prowess of his firm when it comes to successfully grieving the taxes of residents and putting their hard-earned money back in their own pockets.
“When it comes to the cases that we take to court, we are successful 9 out of 10 times,” he said. “The typical savings you can expect if you successfully grieve your taxes is anywhere from between $1,500 to $3,000 a year. And currently, Heller & Consultants holds the record in both Nassau and Suffolk County for the highest reductions, bar none.”
The amount of money you can get back from a successful tax grievance varies wildly from home to home, but Heller is quick to point out that there was literally no risk involved for any homeowner when engaging his services; if the taxes are successfully grieved, his company charges 50 percent of the first year's savings. If the taxes are not successfully grieved, then Heller doesn’t take a dime.
“You literally can't lose by grieving your taxes,” he said. “And some people are afraid that if they attempt to grieve their taxes, that their taxes will go up in some way. But New York State law prevents that from happening, your taxes cannot go up because you filed a grievance.”
One segment of the population that should be grieving their taxes the most – but often don't actually know that they should – are first-time homeowners; according to Heller, the first time you buy a house is actually the most important time for you to actually grieve your taxes.
“With new home buyers, typically their home is already over-assessed. So when they purchase the home, we can use that purchase price as evidence for their case in court. It's like having the murder weapon in a murder case...you have a much stronger case. But if they wait 2 or 3 years to do an appraisal, they're going to lose that perfect evidence in court.”
Heller also noted that it is vitally important for residents of Nassau and Suffolk County to understand the respective differences when it comes to grieving their taxes; in Suffolk, residents can only grieve their taxes every other year, whereas in Nassau it can actually – and should – be done on an annual basis.
“Unfortunately, Nassau is a real mess right now,” Heller said. The county recently reassessed all of the homes and the businesses, and pretty much all of the assessments the county did were inaccurate. As a result, we currently have a record amount of cases in court now in Nassau County.”
The tax grievance process is a lengthy and complicated one; Heller notes that it can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months, from beginning to end, so if you make a habit of grieving your taxes every single year, you'll often find it becomes a cumulative process, with each year's grievance overlapping with the next one. But ultimately, the result is the same: your hard-earned money awarded back to you, where it belongs.
“We work hard to get our clients the maximum amount of money back that we can, each and every time,” Heller said. “It's actually in our best interest to do so, because the more money we save the client, the happier they are, and the more we make as well. So it's a win-win situation for everyone involved!”
To find out more or apply to grieve your property taxes, please visit hellertaxgrievance.com.
With that – courtesy of Heller & Consultants – here are 11 sure-fire tips that you should always adhere to if you’re planning on grieving your taxes:
To begin the grievance process, you are required to file a formal complaint with your municipality. This complaint must be filed by the appropriate deadline. Each municipality has its own filing deadline. It is not a uniform timeline set by the state. If you miss the filing, your municipality will most likely not make any exceptions, and you will now have to wait a whole year before you can file again. Pay close attention to these deadlines each year and plan to file your grievance accordingly.
Do not negotiate a grievance based on your neighbor’s tax bill:
This is one of the biggest mistake’s an individual can make when negotiating with an assessor; trying to make the argument that their neighbor with a similar home is paying less in taxes than they are. While this sounds like a valid point, an assessor will not accept this argument. This is because a tax bill is affected by several different factors. Does that neighbor have a history of successfully grieving their taxes and reducing their assessment every year they qualify too? If so, their assessment being reduced will not have any impact on your assessment, even if your homes are identical. Your neighbor may also qualify for certain tax exemptions such as Enhanced STAR, Senior Citizen, or Veteran’s exemptions that you may not qualify for. Finally, your neighbor may not have had any updates or renovations done to their home which could potentially trigger a reassessment with your municipality. These factors alone make it impossible to utilize this argument in court.
A tax grievance case is built on “arm’s length” market trends:
Your assessment is what your municipality believes your home to be worth on the current market. To determine if that figure may be accurate, you need to closely examine arm’s length transactions in your area. Arm’s length is a term which refers to a buyer and a seller acting independently without any undue influence on the sale. Foreclosures, short sales, and relative sales are examples of purchases which have other factors at play than simply the buyer and seller negotiating for the fairest price. While these sales tend to be lower, and look to help your case, an assessor will quickly discredit these sales in court. Research the history of sales in your area thoroughly so that your evidence is not discredited.
Location, Location, Location:
As most people know, when it comes to real estate, location is key! You can change just about anything with your home, but you cannot change the location. Comparable sales should be within the closest proximity to your home as possible. Do not ignore same street sales, even if they are high, and strive to choose sales with similar external obsolesces. External obsolesces are those factors which surround your home and possibly impact your value in a negative way. Examples of this would be a home sitting on a major through way, backing a commercial property, or within proximity to a fire station. Usually, a homeowner has little to no control over these aspects. One more important factor to understand is your sales must be in the same school district. This is Long Island after all, and one of the biggest factors considered when deciding to settle down, is what school district your home is located in.
“Bracket” your sales:
As we all know, we do not live in a perfect world, and this also applies to the world of assessment. It is usually uncommon to find home sales that are identical to yours and when you do, it may not even be an arm’s length transaction. You may own a 2500 SQF home, but everything around you is either much larger or much smaller. This is where you need to “bracket” your sales. Bracketing your sales refers to showing the median value of your home based on sales that are the most like your home on both the high and low end of different features. For example, your home may sit on half an acre, and there are no homes within a reasonable distance to compare this to. To counter this and prove your value, you bracket homes based on their lot size, choosing comps that have a quarter acre and comps that sit on 3 quarters of an acre. Bottom line, choose comps that show a range in your value and characteristics if you cannot find sales that are identical to the features of your home.
Make Adjustments to your comps:
While we know not every home is “cookie cutter”, when preparing to argue a case, “adjustments” in terms of a dollar figure will need to be made to better represent the value of a home that may not be identical to yours. Adjustments can be made to just about any difference in the features of your home. A home that is comparable to yours but has a larger lot size will we need to be adjusted down for the additional square footage to show the value of that difference. The dollar amount needed for adjustments should be researched and determined based on the locale and desirability of your area. Other features that may call for adjustments would be for external obsolescence, Waterview/front, and amenities just to name a few.
Pay close attention to the tax status date range you should be working in:
Each municipality outlines a tax status date range for the assessment of your property. What this means, is that your assessment for any given tax year, is determined based on the market sales during a specific time range. For Example, your municipality may say, your homes assessment for a particular tax year, is reflective of January 1st, of 2022. This would be the tax status date. The range of this tax status date would normally be the full year before that date, the year 2021, and the year following that date, all of 2022. It is important that sales fall within this date range that you present in court. You can only go out of this tax status range only under special circumstances, in cases when comparable sales are very limited.
Do not discuss features of your home that are not on file with the assessor if they may potentially add value:
You should only argue the features that are file with the assessment department to avoid any possible chance of a reassessment or update to your property card if these features may add value. You are not penalized for grieving, but the assessment roles need to be as up to date as possible. Take time to research your property record, so you can argue accordingly.
Do not be so quick to accept the first offer that is presented to you:
Assessors may take advantage of the fact a homeowner may not understand the homes true market value and may try to entice you early on with a low-ball offer. Examine closely and scrutinize every offer along the way to make sure you are only settling on what is truly fair and accurate.
Be respectful with you assessor:
One of the most important aspects of the grievance process is negotiating with your local assessor in supreme court. The importance of building rapport with the other party involved cannot be stressed enough. Building respect while being firm and confident in your position can only stand to benefit you. Your assessor will appreciate the courtesy you show, but understand, they have a job to do which is defend their assessment roll and consider the entire tax paying base.
Be realistic with you requests:
Finally, and most importantly, you must be realistic with the request being presented to your assessor during negotiations. If your home is assessed at a market value of 500k, and you know based on your analysis of comparable sales your home could sell for 450k, do not argue that your home has a value of 300k. Be respectful of your assessor’s time and only look to negotiate an accurate figure. In some cases, you may even find your home is fairly assessed. It is not worth your credibility to argue an unrealistic value. Integrity in the process can go a long way.
To find out more about grieving your taxes, visit Heller & Consultants at https://hellertaxgrievance.com.