Two firms team up to handle tax appeal flood
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
With another flood of tax appeals expected for 2009 in the weakened residential market, a condo data analyzing firm and a longtime property tax appeal company are teaming up to handle appeals on behalf of homeowner and condo associations.
Brickell-based CondoReports.com, a Web site that offers information and analysis on condominium buildings and markets in Miami-Dade, finalized a partnership with Miami-based Property Tax Adjusters Inc. last week.
Using data and analysis compiled by CondoReports.com is to help the tax adjuster group "pinpoint over-assessment and make a case for why the assessed market value is higher than the actual market value" of the property, said Adam Cappel, CondoReports.com president.
Gary Appel, principal of Property Tax Adjusters, who has handled appeals for 15 years on behalf of condo associations in areas such as Fisher Island and Williams Island, said he was impressed with CondoReports.com's expertise and data and analysis capabilities.
"We thought the combination of their knowledge and data, combined with my company's experience on the appeals process and expertise, could be a good combination to benefit our clients," he said.
There's work out there for the team as the number of tax appeals in Miami-Dade has grown in the past year.
For the 2008 tax year, property owners appealed assessments on 102,000 pieces of property, a huge jump from the 64,000 for which assessed values were appealed in 2007, according to the county's Value Adjustment Board.
For condominiums, a Florida statute allows associations to appeal tax assessments on behalf of all condo owners in the association, especially because some owners aren't full-time residents and may be away when it's time to appeal.
The association contracts with the appeal group to process the tax appeals of all condo owners in the association seeking an appeal.
The work includes gathering information from unit owners such as recent assessments and conditions of the structure and common areas to present the most compelling appeal, Mr. Cappel said.
With many property owners unfamiliar with the process and the evidence necessary to obtain a proper reduction, he said he expects many associations to seek help.
If the association appeals on behalf of multiple unit owners, he said, it pays a smaller filing fee, $5 per unit, than the $15 individual fee.
Under the partnership, the group is to represent condo units valued at $300,000 and up, since the fee it collects is a percentage of the reduction it gets for the unit owner.
Handling appeals for lower-valued condos wouldn't compensate them adequately, Mr. Cappel said.
Both Mr. Cappel and Mr. Appel clarified that property owners who choose to appeal, on their own or through an association, should pay property taxes by the set deadline and wait for a refund if the appeal succeeds.
"Property owners still have to pay taxes but hopefully can obtain a refund," Mr. Cappel said.
Mr. Appel says only owners who pay their taxes by November, the first set deadline, receive a 4% discount.
Owners are to get truth in millage, or TRIM, notices this month and have 25 days from the notice's mailing date to appeal with the county if the owner disagrees with the property's estimated value.
Delays in the appeal process are expected.
With about half of last year's 100,000-plus appeals yet to be heard, it's expected that the county's Value Adjustment Board is to continue its 2008 hearings before beginning to hear 2009 appeals.
The independent board makes the call on all appeals with the help of special magistrates — professional appraisers and attorneys — who hold hearings and issue recommendations to the board.
Mr. Appel says having more magistrates hear 2009 appeals — about 11 more are to come onboard — should speed the appeals process.
But, he says, property owners shouldn't be surprised if the process takes longer than expected, perhaps more than a year, because the load of appeals keeps growing and magistrates need time to properly handle each case.
"The 2009 cycle will go through the end of 2010," he said. "That's the reality. They are still conducting the 2008 cycle."
In the meantime, Mr. Appel says his team, along with the CondoReports.com analysts, is to work on putting together 2009 cases.
With more taxpayers expected to ask for a review of their estimated assessments, he anticipates staying busy and says the partnership gives his company access to more substantial condo and market data to present at the hearings.
"We anticipate a bigger work load this year."