When Ben Anton got an assessment for his three-unit property, he knew something was wrong.
As a broker associate at Lauer Realty Group, he realizes that homeowners are almost always disappointed by their new, higher assessments.
But he had already suspected his assessment was off last year, and when it went up another 10 percent for 2018, it “got a little bit ridiculous,” he said. He suspected his value was off by $50,000 or $60,000, which could mean a difference of over $1,000 in property taxes.
So this year, he felt it was worth his time to challenge the rate. After working with the assessor's office, an appraiser left a voicemail on his phone. He returned the call, where he listened in suspense for the appraiser to tell him the new assessment.
He had to “wait for it,” Anton said. "It was like a game show.”
But it was exactly what he wanted to hear: his assessment went down from $377,000 to $317,000.
Earlier this month, the city of Madison released their preliminary 2018 assessments, and most of them went up. The average value of a single-family home hit an all-time high at $284,868.
Anton’s situation, a major assessment decrease, may be a dream come true for the Madisonian cringing at their higher assessment, but it’s not the norm. Last year, just 145 property owners successfully changed their single-family residential assessments the way Anton did.
But residents still have time to question their numbers this year. How do residents know if their assessment is accurate? And if it isn't, what can they do about it?
Where can I find the new assessment of my property?
Your assessment notice was mailed to you, whether or not the assessment changed from last year.
“Estimating the market value of your property is simply a matter of determining the price most people would pay for it in its present condition,” the city assessor’s website says.
My assessment feels wrong, but I’m not sure.
Anton said local real estate agents should be more than happy to doublecheck an assessment.
He “cannot imagine a single real estate agent worth their salt” who wouldn’t “engage in conversation and help the person understand the value of their home.”
It only takes a few minutes for them to pull up the necessary information, and you’re going to be better off after a conversation with someone who’s in the game, he said.
Okay, my assessment is definitely off. How do I challenge it?
First call your appraiser or visit the assessor’s office. Until May 2, residents can participate in the “open book” period to discuss and review their property values.
The appraiser may not have had all the information, like a newly finished basement or other home issues that could affect an assessment, said Jo Ann Terasa, assistant assessor for residential properties. The appraiser will see if the nearby sales support the assessment, and will sometimes discuss a property inspection. Property owners have the right to refuse an inspection, but Terasa said an inspection "will allow the appraiser to verify and update our information."
“We welcome the opportunity to review any and all information provided,” the assessor’s website says. “The best evidence of value is the recent sale price of the property or the sale prices of comparable properties.”
Anton took advantage of the open book period, and walked into the assessor’s office, where he said the staff seemed eager to have a conversation.
The appraiser presented what he considered comparable sales in the neighborhood, which Anton then countered with his own knowledge of those properties. For example, Anton knew that one of the “comparable sales” was a recently remodeled, much nicer property. The appraiser also asked Anton for documentation of the rents he had received, and later, called him with the news of the lower assessment.
But if property owners still aren’t satisfied, they can file a formal objection. Residents must tell the assessor’s office orally or in writing that they intend to object by May 7 at 1:30 p.m. Additionally, they must file an objection form with the assessor’s office before May 9 at 3:30 p.m.
The assessor’s office will ask to go through the property, investigate the data and do a single value review of the property. At that point, Terasa said, the appraiser is “starting over, not looking at the assessment we’ve had.”
The Board of Assessors ultimately decides whether to correct or change the assessment, and property owners will receive a letter with the assessment decision. Property owners have 15 days to reply if they want to appeal the decision to the Board of Review.
At the Board of Review, the assessor’s office and the property owner present their evidence in a formal hearing. Generally, only about 15 cases proceed to this stage, Terasa said. Property owners can appeal that decision to the Circuit Court of Dane County.