Property taxes lowered – for a fee
When an official-looking notice appears in the mail promising to lower property taxes, chances are it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
South Like Tahoe property owners have been receiving notices from a private agency called California Tax Appeal. The letters look like official documents and give examples of comparable properties which are assessed at a lower value. For a fee of $49.50, the agency will appraise your property value and provide an application for an assessment appeal.
The problem with the deal, according to County Assessor John Winner, is that “If you believe your assessment exceeds current fair market value, you may request a review (yourself) from the Assessor’s Office at no charge.” He went on to say that much of the information included in the letter is not comparable to the homeowners’ property.
“They merely take the square footage of your house and look for other properties in El Dorado County that have sold, regardless of their location or their comparability.” Winner stated. “There are properties in El Dorado Hills that are being compared with properties in South Lake Tahoe.” Another example listed 10 comparable properties, the closest was 20 miles from the subject property, the farthest was 65 miles away.
California Tax Appeal was unavailable for comment. The first phone number gave a recorded message. The second was disconnected. The company claims to be a member of the Better Business Bureau.
“(The letter) is valuable in the sense that it calls the issue to people’s attention,” said Assistant County Assessor Tim Holcomb. However, he went on to say that paying a fee for something that can be done without one is not reasonable.
“It’s like paying someone to buy your groceries for you.” he added.
The service of reassessment has always been available to the taxpayers of El Dorado County. Property tax laws require the County Assessor to appraise property at their Proposition 13 base value, or their current market value, whichever is lower.
“What truly disturbs me about this type of solicitation is that many people will pay a fee and not receive the type of information needed to give a true and fair estimate of current value” Winner said.
If anyone believes that the current taxable value of their property is more than it would sell for on the open market today, they are encouraged to contact the County Assessor’s office at (916) 621-5718.
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