Miami Property Tax Appeal – Do Your Homework Now

If you were shocked when you got your Miami-Dade property tax notice back in August, you may have responded by filing for a tax appeal hearing.  If so, you’ll be called by the county to present evidence as to why you think their tax bill is wrong and you deserve a break today…that old McDonald’s jingle is ringing in my head…my age is showing…but I digress.

The County was still hearing appeals for the 2007 property tax year in mid 2008, so chances are no one will be called until mid 2009 for the 2008 tax appeals.  You have time to get all your evidence ready.  But don’t put it off!

By the way, don’t show up at the hearing and state that your taxes are too high.  You see, it’s not your taxes that you are appealing.  Those are based on a formula, so they can’t be wrong.  As a matter of fact, they’re probably exactly right.  What you are appealing is the market value assigned to your home by the county.  If you’re like most people, you think the market value of your home is too high.  Of course, since the property taxes are directly related to the market value, lowering the market value has the effect you want…it lowers the property taxes.  That is what you want, right?

Here’s something very important to remember.  The county issues the tax bill in the fall of each year but it’s based on the market value as of January 1st of the same year.  So they’re not saying that your home is worth that as of the date you get the bill.  They’re stating it was worth that earlier that year.  What that boils down to is this:  you need to present data to the county that proves your Miami home was worth less than they’re saying and it has to be data as of, you guessed it, the beginning of the year!

So what can you do now?  Let me clarify one thing.  Whatever I am going to suggest that you do now will benefit you if you file for a tax appeal for 2009.  Yes, the TRIM notice you will receive in August of 2009 and the tax bill that will be mailed no later than November 1st, 2009.  So you see, if you filed for a tax appeal last year, you have to go back to January 1st of 2008 and do these things in hindsight.

What I am suggesting here will be standing orders.  Do the same thing each year.  Because you won’t know in advance if you’ll need to present the county with any evidence, it’s easier to just keep track of these things in the event you need to use them.  Here are some things you can do to prepare in case you disagree with your tax bill and file for an appeal:

· Make notes of your property’s condition as of January 1st. The county’s assumption is that the home is in good condition. If it’s not, keep proof of that. Have a leaky roof? Need major repairs? Take pictures. Make notes. Save contractor quotes. A home needing repairs is not worth the same as a home not needing them (Ah Duh) so speak up if your house is a dud!

· Keep track of comparable sales in the neighborhood. If your home has 1500 square feet of living space, don’t bother keeping track of the homes with 2500SF. A rule of thumb is up or down 10%. That goes for age of home too. If your home’s been there since 1975, don’t use another one, built 3 years ago as a comparable. Forget the extras such as pool, lot size, screened room, etc. Those things can be easily adjusted up or down. It’s ok to use a house with extras as a comp (or without, if yours has the extra) if the square footage and age are similar.

· Even more important than the actual sale of the home, are extenuating circumstances surrounding the sale. Who knows your neighborhood better than you? Keep track of odd things. For instance, if you see a For Sale By Owner sign and there are flyers attached, you may pick one up. After the house sells, you notice in public records that the house sold for $50,000 more than the flyer stated as the asking price. Hmmm… something fishy going on here. Keep that flyer (date it too!). It may not help, but it can’t hurt. Similar information may be the condition of a home, if you know it. As you keep track of sales, make notes of anything regarding that sale which you think may help your cause.

· I think you should keep track of sales from November 1st to February 28. Those 4 months should provide ample sales data to compare your home against. Again, we’re looking to put a value on your home as of January 1st, so the closer the sale is to that date, the better. Outside of those 4 months, I think is too broad a range to be useful.

· Count foreclosures or not? Ordinarily, foreclosures are not used in the data when calculating market value. But that can change, depending on the market. Because the incidence of foreclosures in most neighborhoods has been so high lately, they make up a large portion of the sales. Keep track of them and note their condition too. Not all foreclosures are trashed. Some are move in ready. You can download pictures as evidence since foreclosures are always listed by real estate agents and on the web.

· How far away from your home can you go to get comparable sales? There are no set rules. It all depends on available sales nearby. If there are none, you have no choice but to go farther out than your own subdivision.

· Check your tax bill to make sure that the land size is accurate. Sometimes it really is as simple as a clerical error. The same goes for square footage of the structure. If there is a huge discrepancy between what you measure and what the county states, go down to the county and ask for “the jacket” for your property. It will have lots of documents (like plans and specifications) that you can review and compare to your own.

Keep this stuff in a simple notebook or a dedicated folder on your computer.Once you set it up, it’s easy to just add to it each year.You may not need it, but if you do you’ll be glad you have it.

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These articles are not intended to give legal or tax advice, and you should consult your attorney or financial advisor for additional information.

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