A review of boards of review

Here’s what you need to know about the process

By MARY DRIER
For the Huron Daily Tribune

UPPER THUMB — It’s that time of the year for board of reviews.

Legal notice after legal notice on township board of review meetings are published in newspapers this time of year. But not everyone understands what a board of review actually does.

“A board of review meeting gives a property owner the opportunity to challenge the assessment on their property, the possibly of having an assessment changed, and also to ask questions about their assessment,” explained Huron County Equalization Director Walt Schlichting, who was Tuscola County’s equalization director.

Also, it’s a time for those eligible for exemptions to give notice.

“There is a hardship exemption for those who are low income, which is based on income and assets,” Schlichting explained.

Also, the Michigan State Tax Commission is now allowing disabled veterans’ property tax exemption under Public Act 161 of 2013, which provides totally disabled military veterans an exemption from property taxes on their primary residence.

The exemption not only covers disabled veterans, but spouses of veterans who are, or were, 100 percent disabled.

Previously, a veteran could qualify for a property tax exemption only if he or she was receiving assistance for specially adapted housing.

One of the ways someone can show their is to show property assessment is too high is collect information on what similar homes in the area sold for as a way to show market value. (Courtesy photo)

Under the disabled veterans exemption, any veteran who is 100 percent disabled — including un-remarried spouses receiving Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMP-VA), a widow or widower, or a veteran receiving Individually Unemployable (IU) or received Specially Adapted Hosing Grant from the VA — is now exempt from property tax.

However, those who want to use that provision must file their proof of status with their local township assessor or tax board to become exempt from property tax.

Boards of Review and assessing process

Assessing is to reflect half of a property’s market value. It’s a board of review’s responsibility to weigh all factors and determine the value of a property, and then set the assessment.

For those who plan to protest their assessments, they should bring documentation with them, Schlichting said.

If someone wants to claim their property assessment is too high, they should collect as much information as possible on property in the area that is similar to theirs. One of the ways to do that is to show what similar homes in the area sold for as a way to show market value.

The appeals process can be daunting for someone unfamiliar with it, but it is not difficult if is properly organized. Gather facts and documentation that comparable homes have sold at lower prices than your appraisal, or copies of the appraisal you received through a private firm. Before an appeal, discuss the valuation with your assessor.

An assessor will be willing to adjust your appraisal to correct errors, saving both you and them the hassle of going before the local board of review.

If you must proceed with the formal review process, you must follow the relevant deadlines.

Each city and township has a formal board of review, which typically meets in March or early April. Boards must also meet in July and December to correct any errors.

If a property owner misses the deadlines, it will be a missed opportunity to appeal the assessment upon the property tax bill.

To find out the deadlines, contact your city or township assessor’s office to verify the filing dates, or legal notices in area newspapers. By law, the office must provide you with the forms necessary to appeal. Be sure to ask any questions you have about the form and what information is required.

Assessment methods

An assessor doesn’t necessarily have to visit a property for the assessment to change.

Primarily, any change in a person’s home value is a reflection of inflation in the housing market. An assessor makes a direct appraisal of a property only periodically, or on a small portion of properties each year. Studies of property sales in the neighborhood are often used to establish a base value for all properties.

“That’s why it’s particularly important for you to double check the appraisal records from your assessor’s office when preparing your appeal,” Schlichting explained. “You may find that your appraisal was based on assumptions which you might be able to prove are false, which would help your case.”

Some of the assumptions could have:

• Valued a home above the actual market value or valued a home significantly above identical or similar homes in the area;

• Made an inaccurate structural appraisal; or

• Made an error in the appraisal computation.

Many factors go into a property appraisal, including age, size, quality, type of construction of the house, number of bathrooms, size of the lot, the surrounding neighborhood and the usual market price of similar homes.

Those who recently purchased a home for less than the value placed on it by the assessor, and similar houses in your neighborhood have sold for less than twice the amount of your state equalized valuation, could cause an assessor to misvalue a property.

You have the right to review your property record with the assessor without filing an appeal. Typically, an assessor will correct an error without requiring an appeal. If you still have concerns, your first step should be to determine the actual market or true cash value of your property and compare it to the assessor’s judgment.

The state equalized valuation, which is listed on bills and on notices of assessment increases, is exactly half of the assessor’s judgment of your property’s actual market value.

To challenge an assessment, a property owner must build their case and have documentation. Some ways to do this include using the internet and searching public records of home prices in the area. That could provide a good starting point to make a determination.

Talk with a real estate agent or loan officer at your financial institution. They may be able to help you find recent sale prices for houses comparable to yours in size, construction, age, location and style. Some real estate firms may be willing to provide an estimate of the market value of your home for a small fee.

A professional appraiser will likely carry the most weight, but due to the cost, going that route might not be worth it, unless there are substantial savings.

Michigan law requires that appraisal records be available upon request from your assessor’s office. They should check to make sure that the recorded dimensions of both the house and lot are correct. The appraiser may have also missed defects that reduce the house’s value, including settling or shifting of the foundation. Also, unfinished attics and basements may be marked as finished in your assessment, inflating the value of your home.

Normal maintenance and repairs are not considered in the value of the property.

Those who sit on the board of review can correct a mistake if one is made, and make adjustments and approve exemptions. While the board of review has the authority to make adjustments, they also have to be able to justify their action.

It is the board’s job to make sure everyone is fairly represented.

“All property must be assessed at 50 percent of true cash value, and the purpose of the board of review is to ascertain that this has been accomplished,” Schlichting said.

The board will review the information presented and make a determination. If they agree an assessment should be changed, it must be endorsed by a majority of the board.

On showing sufficient cause, the board shall correct the assessment on any particular property to make the valuation relatively just and equal. Assessment review by the board of review shall be completed on or before the first Monday in April.

The board of review consists of three members appointed by the township board. The township supervisor serves as board of review secretary, but not as a voting member.

The first step in trying to appeal an assessment is to go to the board of review. A property owner cannot appeal an assessment to the Michigan Tax Tribunal unless they first go the board of review. This must be done by the end of July. For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/taxtrib.

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