What if your business was overcharged for its electricity, natural gas, or perhaps new computers or furniture? Most of us would take a look at our bills, determine where the mistakes occurred and then take the needed steps to resolve the discrepancies. But what if your business is being overcharged for its property taxes by thousands of dollars each year? Is there a course of action to fix this potentially costly problem? The answer is yes.
Each year, typically in February, the county assessor releases “postcard” valuations for each property in the county. In some cases, these valuations exceed the properties’ market value. The problem that we see in Arizona is that many people do not take notice of their property taxes until the county treasurer’s office mails its annual tax bill. But in Arizona, you cannot protest your taxes — only the postcard valuation. Therefore, the time to review your property taxes is when your values are mailed in February, not when you receive your tax bills in October.
What does this mean for local business owners?
Without protesting a postcard valuation, a business owner’s taxes may be substantially higher. In many cases, they need not be. If a business owner paid $4M for an office building last year, on average, the owner will owe approximately $100,000 in real property taxes. However, if the county assessor values the property at $7M based on its computerized mass appraisal, and the business owner does not protest, the owner’s taxes may exceed $175,000.
Why would my property be overvalued?
Over the past several years we have seen significant changes in commercial values, with prices quickly rising in 2005 and 2006, and falling over the past couple of years. Today, however, there are signs of hope. According to William Spart, senior vice president of Wells Fargo Bank, “some submarkets and property types, including apartments, are showing signs of firming up.”
These drastic changes in the market over the past several years have made it difficult for county assessors to determine property value. It is not feasible for the assessors to separately analyze the unique characteristics of each and every parcel. Therefore, the assessor must rely on a blanket formulary approach that attempts to classify buildings and land into various categories to produce a valuation.
The positive is that many people, including Pete Bolton, executive vice president and managing director of Grubb & Ellis, says he believe that we are at the bottom of the market. According to Bolton, the “market has definitely stabilized and we are seeing five to seven main groups, including the FDIC, national banks, CMBS special servicers and others slowly releasing property to the market with market values bouncing along the bottom.”
What if I recently acquired my property?
In Arizona, real property is assessed on an annual basis by the assessor’s office of the county, where the property is physically located. Property tax values are released around February prior to the tax year. While existing owners of real property are required to file all administrative protests within 60 days of release of the postcard values, Arizona has special rules for new owners.
Under Arizona law, new owners have the ability to either take over the old owners’ appeal or if an appeal was not filed, they can typically appeal their valuation to the County Superior Court until Dec. 15 of the valuation year. If the prior owner did not appeal the current year taxes (prior year’s postcard values), you may be able to appeal these taxes as well.
For more information about property taxes, visit wwptax.com.