Speaking of San Francisco property tax changes and assessments, this coming Monday, September 17, is the deadline for property owners who believe their property’s assessed value is greater than its market to file a case with the Assessment Appeals Board in an attempt to reduce their property tax bill.
The assessed values for nearly 20,000 San Francisco properties were reduced last year.
San Francisco Property Tax Rate Set To Drop 0.23 Percent [SocketSite]
San Francisco’s Assessment Appeals Board [sfbos.org]
Assessed Values Drop $2.4 Billion In San Francisco, Appeals By 9/15 [SocketSite]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by sunnyvalesteve

    Would love to hear from other Socketsiters who have appealed assessments. My assessment was raised $30K this year. In July I had my place appraised for a refi and the appraisal came in at approx. the amount of my 2011 assessment – in other words, $30K less than the current assessment against which I must pay 2012 taxes.
    What are my odds of a successful appeal? Is it worth the $60 filing fee and hassle to possibly reduce taxes by $350?

  2. Posted by p3p

    I have appealed numerous times for several different properties over the years. I have been successful every single time. Of course, I was being reasonable, had proper comps, etc.
    Every time but once, I reached an agreement with Assessors office without having to go to the actual Appeals Board. One time I made it as far as an “officer hearing”, but we reached an agreement in the hearing room before the hearing actually took place and the hearing was just a formality to confirm our mutual agreement.
    If you are being reasonable and can back up your claim with concrete documentation, you should go for it. Just be aware that they are very much behind, so your appeal probably won’t even be looked at for a year or two. But if you eventually prevail, you will get a refund in about 8 months further after that. So, the process is slow as molasses, but it does work, it just gets confusing sometimes which year you’re dealing with.

  3. Posted by p3p

    I should also add that it is not publicized much (they don’t even have form for it, you just have to write them a letter), but if it ends up that your assessment gets adjusted to what you claimed, then you are entitled to get half of your fee refunded back ($30). So figure that into your pro/con calculations.

  4. Posted by geekgrrl

    We bought our home at a lower price than the previous owners bought it but the first year we lived in it, our property taxes were still based on the previous owner’s purchase price.
    We paid the property tax but appealed the assessed value supplying documentation of our purchase price and area comps supporting a lower assessment. We got the assessed value lowered to what we asked for, (which was very reasonable), and eventually were sent a refund check for the amount of property tax we overpaid that first year about 10 months later.
    The process does work.

  5. Posted by SocketSite

    UPDATE: There is currently a backlog of 7,729 cases yet to be closed with a total of 5,563 cases processed last year.
    And while down from a 24.5 percent increase in 2010, and a 16.4 percent increase in 2011, the average value of a one-year reduction in assessed value increased 3 percent in 2012 according to the Assessor-Recorder’s office.

  6. Posted by Willow

    If you have worked with a particular assessor in the past, email that person directly with a list of your three comparables. If it’s reasonable you will most likely get your appraised value adjusted downward often by-passing the Appeals process altogether.

  7. Posted by grrr

    We know for a fact that the assessor’s office knowingly sent outrageously wrong assessments to many homeowners in order to meet a July mailing deadline (letter dated July 18). They then promised to mail revised letters in a week or so. This may’ve affected our entire 300+ unit SoMa condo bldg. (we are currently assessing the scope).
    Evidently, one-bedroom owners did get a revised, reasonable assessment in a new letter in August; however, two-bedroom owners did not, forcing everyone to pay the non-refundable fee and take time to file an appeal.
    In phone calls we made, the assessor’s office admitted these were wrong (commonly the amount was up 40% more than last year….and even higher than original purchase prices!!).
    So, while Ting’s office is patting themselves on the back in the press for having to deal with so many appeals, they, it seems, knowingly gave outrageously high (automated) assessment estimates simply in order to make a mailing deadline – and are, in fact, responsible for forcing owners to appeal and the massive number of appeals that are backlogged.
    More so, it seems they may make $$$ off of people that will pay the full price and others that will pay the non-refundable fee to appeal, then have to pay the FULL AMOUNT and wait up to two years for the appeal to happen (even then, the City collects interest $$$$ on that over-payment).
    Enough of this BS from the SF assessor’s office. This unreported situation is negligence, or incompetence or, frankly, criminal, and an investigation needs to happen ASAP.

  8. Posted by grumpy

    grrr, you are absolutely correct. I had my property increase over 19%. The office of tax collection said that my appeal from 2 years ago had been denied, so that was behind the increase. I left Ting a very nasty voicemail, he never called back.
    My main beef is that he has just given himself license to put out incredibly wrong assessments, and the oneus is on the home owner to pay $60 bucks and get a realtor or lawyer to fill out the appeal form for you. The increase for me will be $1,500 bucks, but I’m just going to pay it as it’s a no win situation with this City and the kooks that run it. Two years for them to get to it. What a bunch of assholes, Ting being the main one, hides behind the power of his office.

  9. Posted by Sabatini

    I don’t know what the fuss is all about. This year the assessments were kept at the previous (reduced) level. In previous regimes you had to appeal every year.
    I’ve had multiple properties re-assessed many times and have never paid, nor have I ever had it rejected. These were informal appeals, not the formal process. Sometimes it was even over the phone with the assessor.
    Plan ahead and it’s remarkable easy.

  10. Posted by p3p

    Sabatini, apparently it must vary from place to place. In my case, they did not keep the assessment at the previous level. For some reason they raised it by 1% (half the maximum amount allowed by Prop 13) over the prior year, using the prior year’s inflated value (which I just successfully appealed). So, of course, I am appealing yet again.
    This whole property tax scheme is so stupid, basing a tax on something that is inherently difficult to exactly quantify (property value), and that creates a natural incentive for government to over-estimate the value, and requiring every individual property owner to fight city hall every year by themselves. And spawning an entire government department (Assessment Appeals Board) just to handle the constant conflict. There’s gotta be a better way for local governments to get their revenue.

  11. Posted by Schaetzer

    Yes, Phil Ting sucks. And you should remember this when deciding on your vote for the Assembly seat he wants. It seems that we get one political hack after another in this office. Before him, there was Doris Ward, who was even worse. I note on his campaign website he has a long list of endorsements, but Gavin – who appointed him to the office – is not one of them.
    Regarding the deadline he was shooting for on mailing out the notices, if the county assessor elects to mail out assessment notices before August 1, then the deadline for filing an appeal is September 17. Otherwise, the deadline is November 30. Go figure. By mailing out the notices by August 1, even with erroneous amounts, he considerably shrinks the window within which you can appeal your assessment. In the Bay Area, Alameda and Santa Clara County also have September 17 deadlines. All the rest have November 30 deadlines.
    In our case, the assessed value was increased from $815K to $1.025M, which is more than we paid for the property in 2007. I went in to talk to an appraiser in the assessor’s office to get more info for the appeal. The appraiser was quite sympathetic, but at this late stage could do little concrete before the appeal deadline. They are supposedly “reviewing” my request now, but I still must pay the $60 to appeal, just to know I’m covered.
    By the way, regarding p3p’s comment above, one reason the assessor is willing to settle at a lower valuuation before the appeal goes to hearing is that the assessor bears the burden of proof for single family residential property in the appeals process. Since their “valuations” are based on mass appraisals, they have nothing like a property-specific appraisal to support their valuation.
    There are no more area appraisers in the assessor’s office, as there once were. This also means there are no more area experts with respect to questions of value.
    Disclosure: I’m a commercial appraiser. Even though I have regular exposure to this convoluted system, even I got blindsided this year by the gross overvaluation. I’m guessing lots of other folks did, too.

  12. Posted by ncyder

    We clearly think the system is rigged in favor of our starving city government. The city appraiser appointed to us was clearly bias toward reaping in as much taxes as possible. We went through informal and formal review and they used a HIGH floor 2 bed room with panoramic water view as a comp for our 1 bedroom LOW floor unit facing a construction yard. Hello??? We argued that was absolutely not a fair appraisal. They did not heed our argument and stuck with a high appraisal $100K more that our 3 comps. We were fuming. I hope some slaps a class action can be on the city for bias rulings.

  13. Posted by bgelldawg

    @p3p – do you have a citation for the authority for the $30 refund?
    How long did it take for you to actually receive the $30 after you sent in your letter.
    I filed an appeal and waited more than a year for my hearing. I can understand that they don’t have the staff to do it sooner, but they could cut down the number of appeals if they got the first appeal done before the next tax year assessment.
    I went to hearing and won big time, in spite of the City’s rep pressuring just before the hearing to take their final offer or it would be off the table. If you have your comps lined up and documentation of how your place is different from the comps the city used, don’t cave in.
    What I can’t understand is how it takes them a year to cut a check. That is ridiculous. Nine months after my award, I haven’t received my refund. No one answers the phones in that office – believe me, I tried. I finally took a day off from work and went in there in person. I was able to get an answer right away with no waiting, but the answer was that it takes them nine months or longer to cut the check because of a backlog of awarded refunds.
    With that kind of delay, I cannot imagine that sending them a letter asking for a refund of half of my filing fee would get me any kind of a response, but if I did write such a letter, I would want to be able to cite the code section that says I am entitled to the refund.

  14. Posted by ncyder

    In reading the varying results, it seems the system works for some and absolutely fails for others. Perhaps this is due to the different the appraisers assigned to each property. I can surely attest this. The appraiser that was ahead of my case was quite negotiable with the homeowner. However the appraiser appointed (best described as male in his 40’s) to our district presented inflated comps of Mission Bay which he was not willing to reduced even with clear evidence his comps out of line. Others in the building who appealed had the same negative experience. I am curious if this is the same appraiser who deliberately inflated the comps for SOMA since we are district neighbors.

  15. Posted by p3p

    My comment about the refund of half the fee was due to the following text on the Assessment Appeals Board’s page at sfgov.org:
    Half of the hearing fee will be refunded to you if the value is lowered to the opinion of value you stated on your application form or by 30% or more of the current assessment on the roll for the year under appeal. You must request this refund in writing within 30 days following the date of the Board’s decision.
    However, now that I read that more carefully, I realize that this may be applying only to the “Hearing fee“, and not the “Administrative Processing Fee“, which are two different fees, the former only occurring if you go to the full board (rather than just a “hearing officer”.
    If I have misled anyone, I sincerely appologize.
    In my haste/ignorance, I wrote the letter, not wanting to miss the deadline, but have received no response as yet, which I didn’t think was unusual, since this whole process always operates in extreme slow motion.

  16. Posted by bgelldawg

    @p3p, thanks for the clarification. I won my hearing, but not sure if the reduction met the qualifications for the partial refund. The 30 day deadline expired more than half a year ago, my bad for not reading that fine print, or reading it and forgetting it.
    You did all of us a great service by bringing this to our attention and I thank you for it.
    I would recommend that anyone attending a hearing take a letter with them requesting a refund of half of the hearing fee, along with a copy of the letter. After the hearing, walk across the hall to the Assessor’s office, hand the letter to the receptionist, and get your copy of it date stamped. Then make a note to follow up on it 16 months later if you haven’t heard back.
    Seriously, someone should file a class action lawsuit demanding interest for any awarded refunds that the city holds for more than 90 days. Regardless of how many refunds they have to process, how long can it possibly take to cut a check?

  17. Posted by lulu13

    It makes me feel better (and worse) to read so many accounts of similar problems with the SF Assessors Office. I’ve been battling with them for 4 years straight about my assessment and finally hired a law firm to handle my appeals after 2 years of informal appeals.
    I live in District 10 and my property values are at an all-time low yet due to foreclosures and violent crime but the City says our house is worth $115K more than we paid for it and $220K more than it’s currently worth. (Yes, we are underwater.)
    I’ve been bounced around there and finally got in touch with Michael Jine, one of the supervisors. He had no explanation for why my house didn’t get the appraisal we were legally entitled to (because of a reduction the previous year – won by the law firm).
    We’ve been told it will be 6 more months until we get our refund for 2011 tax year from the Tax Collectors office. Now we’ve overpaid for 2012 because the Assessors Office didn’t mail the revised lower tax bill (also won by the law firm) to our lender (we pay taxes thru an escrow account).
    It sounds to me like this is a systemic issue affecting tens of thousands of San Franciscans. Does anyone know how to get one of the local news agencies to do a feature on this? Like maybe Michael Finney, 7 on Your Side?

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