Attention procrastinators: if you have spent the winter avoiding the thought of your rapidly rising real estate taxes, do not despair. The deadline for filing a tax appeal in Essex County is April 1, or May 1 for towns that have undergone a recent revaluation.
One Maplewood homeowner, who wanted to remain anonymous, admitted to feeling paralyzed about taking the first step. “We haven’t done anything yet about appealing,” she said. “It seems so overwhelming.”
But although time is running out, it is definitely not too late. “As long as the appeal is filed by the deadline, it is fine,” said appraiser Craig Smith, who is still accepting clients who wish to appeal. Smith charges a $600 flat fee, which includes the appraisal, filing the appeal and testifying on the owner’s behalf in court. (Smith can be reached at 973-714-9248).
Smith, who works all over Essex County, emphasized that high taxes alone are not a reason to appeal. “If your assessed value is higher than your market value, that’s the key,” he said. A 10-15% variance between market value and price means a homeowner should probably go ahead with an appeal.
Basically, filers must demonstrate the market value of their property as of October 1 of the previous tax year. They can utilize various items of supporting documentation, including an appraisal and comparable sales. According to the application: “The most credible evidence is recent comparable sales of other properties of a similar type in your neighborhood.”
“It’s not complicated, but it’s a matter of whether you have the time to do it yourself,” said Michael Schneck, an attorney who handles appeals throughout Essex County. “You have to appear at the hearing, and you could be sitting there for half a day,” he said.
Like many real estate attorneys, Schneck charges clients a contingency fee. In other words, if he succeeds in lowering your taxes, he will get 50% of your tax savings for the first year after the reduction.
There is also the filing fee, which ranges from $5-150 depending on your home’s assessed value, and the appraisal fee, which ranges from $500-700. Schneck also noted that if the appeal is not successful at first, he will challenge the decision at the next level of the court system.
He warns people to pay close attention to those filing deadlines: “Your application has to be at the County Tax Office with the filing fee by the deadline – not postmarked by then.” Schneck will accept clients until March 25 who have to file by the April 1 deadline.
For those who wait until the last minute, Schneck had this to say: “If a client calls me on April 1, I tell them to get into their car and drive to the County Tax Board in Orange. Go to the 5th floor and file your petition. Then send a copy of the filing to your local tax assessor.”
Finally, make sure to keep paying your taxes during the appeals process. If you are not current on your real estate taxes by the hearing date, your case might be dismissed.