So you want to reduce your property taxes?

A brief summary of my short time fighting the MAN in the Deschutes County property tax assessment protest system. A cautionary tale, indeed.

My wife and I saw the writing on the wall at the end of 2010- the market had picked up, rates were low, and the number of quality foreclosed homes was rapidly diminishing. It was time to buy, so we closed on our home in January of 2011. We got a home that had sold for $460,000 in 2006 for a paltry $200,000! The last time it sold for that was in the 90’s. Yep, we feel pretty good about it.

Over the past few years I have had many clients ask me how they could protest their property tax assessment and have them reduced. I’ve taken a class on how to do so, and you will find a sheet from the Deschutes County Tax Assessor explaining how to do so on my website. But I thought there would be nothing better than firsthand experience, so, as my appraisal and home sale price were 10-15% below the County’s RMV for my home (Real Market Value), I filled out the form in November, attached my appraisal and request to drop my RMV based upon it, and dropped it off in person at the Deschutes County Clerk’s office.

Now, the class I took made it sound sooooo easy. If you had an appraisal dated around January 15th of the year in question (taxes are assessed based on January values for the year in question), it should be a pretty good slam dunk. And of course a sale in that same month of the property in question should help as well.

So, I naively waited for my hearing, feeling my case was pretty solid. The hearing was set for March 8th, and on that day my wife and I arrived at the County building to wait for our turn. Each hearing lasts about 20 minutes, depending on the complexity of the case, and you can bring an expert witness such as a Realtor, an appraiser (better), or an attorney. As we sat in the hall, the representation for Deschutes County sat next to us, and told us how the hearing would run.

I had known that we would sit in front of a panel of 4 volunteer real estate experts, as well as a stenographer, but I hadn’t known that at this level of the process we would be opposed by an appraiser for Deschutes County Tax Assessor. We presented our case, which essentially consisted of our sale paperwork and the appraisal. They very, very briefly reviewed my materials, and then turned it over to the County’s representation.

She, of course, had prepared an entirely different appraisal. Her values were much higher, and though I disagreed a bit with some of the comps, the entire thing went so quickly that I really did not have time to review them. It was a whirlwind of figures and addresses, and part of the unfair nature of this process is that the County gets to review YOUR evidence for months, while you don’t get to see theirs UNTIL THE 20 MINUTE HEARING STARTS! How are you going to review a 40 page appraisal in that time? Guess what, you are not. The County official even told us outside the hearing room that she knew the whole process was very unfair, but she had little choice but to fulfill her role.

To make a long story short, the panel liked her comps better than those of our original appraiser. I have little faith in appraisals anymore, as EVERY SINGLE ONE I have had in my transactions over the past two years has come in EXACTLY at the sale price. EXACTLY. Not one single dollar over. It is a dirty business, in my opinion, and appraisers are too afraid of being sued to do anything but comply with the sale price. The fact that they always request and are given a copy of the sales contract BEFORE doing the appraisal, should tell you that there’s something wrong with this situation.

Now, if we wanted to we could take it to the next level, which is a hearing in Salem. Our case was not large enough to waste that sort of time, and we were told it would be many months before we could get an appointment. And of course, that we would surely lose. Lovely.

So, friends, my recommendation would be to make sure you bring an appraiser WITH YOU to your Deschutes County Tax hearing, to be sure you have a chance to beat this system. Your evidence needs to be thorough and extensive. Best of luck, you will need it!

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