As the rush of the summer housing market begins to fade, the Hall County Tax Assessors office is looking at those sales prices to determine 2020 tax values and still reviewing appeals from 2019 tax bills.
It’s a yearlong process to assess the 78,500 properties in Hall. Tax assessments are sent out in the spring, the deadline to appeal was May 28, and tax bills are issued in the fall.
It’s also an ever-changing market, but the office is required to set values as close as possible to what properties are selling for, which requires both watching sales and keeping up with improvements or changes made to properties.
One way to stay updated on property changes is through building permits, according to Chief Appraiser Steve Watson.
“As these permits are issued to a property owner — I’m going to build a pool, or I’m going to remodel my house or I’m going to build a house — we collect those permits from those municipalities in the county and we distribute them to the (appraisal) staff,” Watson said.
And when a lot is developed, it goes up in value significantly. For example, a home at 6828 New Fern Lane in Flowery Branch’s Sterling on the Lake was unoccupied as of July 18. The county tax record website shows that builder D.R. Horton bought the lot in 2017 for $75,000. But now that a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home sits on the property, it is valued at $358,600. And it’s listed for sale with an asking price of slightly less, at $354,772, according to Sterling on the Lake’s website.
Changes such as renovations, demolitions or the addition of new features like swimming pools can change a home’s value. If a permit was never filed for those changes, or the Tax Assessors Office never received or processed the change for whatever reason, an appraiser might also notice it when they’re out in a neighborhood, Watson said.
“The other way is simply appraisers being out in the field and knowing their area. If they see some construction going on on a piece of property that’s not been permitted, or they don’t recall it being permitted, they’ll do the appropriate follow-up to make sure that they get that on the records,” Watson said. “Sometimes when we go out and make field inspections as a result of a permit being issued or an appeal being filed, we find either unreturned improvements or unpermitted improvements that we also pick up at that time.”
The county has six residential appraisers and two appraisers for commercial and industrial properties. Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services, an appraisal contractor, also does some work for the county, so people may see a GMASS vehicle in their neighborhood.
Values are based on numerous criteria, including square footage, improvements and sales of similar properties in the area. If there have not been recent sales nearby, the county can use sales of comparable homes that are in the same general area of the county, Watson said.
“We would use a similar neighborhood to determine the values in that particular neighborhood because the lack of sales does not necessarily mean that the homes have not increased in market value,” he said. “But if you have properties that are just alongside the road in the county that are not in a ‘planned subdivision,’ we simply use similar sales to a property that are like that in that particular area.”
But with 78,500 parcels in the county getting assessment notices every year, appraisers can’t see every property every year. Property owners should check their property record to see what the county has on file — those records determine what the tax bills will be.
Those records are available on the Hall County website, and people can also request a property record card from the Tax Assessors Office. People can view the record for any property, not just their own, so they can see the assessments of comparable properties.
Online records show sales in the neighborhood and general area, so taxpayers have an idea of what is used as a comparable property when appraisers are deciding the value. Properties used as comparable properties in the assessment process can also be requested from the Tax Assessors Office.
Sales from the previous year are used to determine the value of the home.
“It’s almost a year-round process because we’re just constantly looking at sales activity. Right now, we’re looking at what properties are selling for in the year 2019 because it is the sales that occur in 2019 that will determine the valuation we place on the property in 2020,” Watson said.
The market is constantly changing, he said.
“The ultimate goal of the office every year is to simply be consistently as close to fair market value as possible. The market never stops moving,” Watson said.
How the appeals process works
Notices for real property, which includes homes and land, are mailed out by the second week in April each year. Appeals should be sent in writing to the Hall County Tax Assessors Office within 45 days of the date on the notice. This year’s deadline was May 28.
The county sends a revised notice. Taxpayers can accept this value or appeal to the Board of Equalization, a group of community members appointed by the grand jury. Taxpayers have 30 days from the date of the notice to decide.
The Board of Equalization will hear from the taxpayer and the county, then decide on the value. These meetings are open to the public.
Taxpayers can accept the Board of Equalization’s decision or appeal to Hall County Superior Court. They have 30 days to decide.
A settlement conference will be scheduled, and the taxpayer and county will again try to reach an agreement.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the taxpayer has 25 days to certify the appeal and pay a $25 fee to send it to court. The case will be put on the docket.
Have a story about your property?
Contact Megan Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-718-3411 to discuss your appeal process for a future story in The Times.
Both the county and private appraisers have to spend some extra time with lake properties. Several factors determine how lake properties in Hall are valued, including where on the lake it is located, whether the home is eligible to have a dock and how much lake frontage the property has. In Forsyth County, which also has lake property, whether the home is on a large or small cove or on the main body of the lake is considered in valuing the home.
Unlike in Hall County,shoreline is not a factor in Forsyth.
“Items that go into determining a lake property’s value include lot size, location, zoning and use,” Forsyth County’s chief appraiser, Mary Kirkpatrick, said in an email. “Location includes deep water, cove and point lots. Shoreline frontage is not used in calculating the value of lake property.”
Making an appeal
This year, 3,124 appeals of assessments have been filed, most of those for residential properties, Watson said. That is about one in 25 properties in the county.
Appeals start with the Tax Assessors Office, which after review will send a revised notice. People can accept that new notice, or they can appeal to the Board of Equalization. The board will hold a public meeting to decide on the value, but taxpayers can take it a step further and appeal to the Hall County Superior Court. A settlement hearing will be held first, but if an agreement is not reached, the case will go to court.
In 2017, Hall County had 2,728 appeals, about 3.5% of the parcels in the county at the time, according to the Georgia Department of Revenue. More than half the appeals were handled in the first step of the process — 1,183 made it to the Board of Equalization, then 63 ended up in Superior Court.
Hall had more appeals than neighboring Forsyth County in 2017, when Forsyth had 1,855. Those appeals accounted for about 2.1% of the parcels Forsyth had at the time. The majority of Forsyth’s appeals were settled at the first step of the process as well, with only 258 going to the Board of Equalization in 2017 and seven making it to Superior Court.
Taxpayers who have appealed and settled with the Board of Equalization or Superior Court should request a 299C form, which will prevent the county from increasing their property’s value for the next two years.
Property owners can get a better idea of what their property may be worth by getting a private appraisal. Mary Thompson, owner of Lanier Appraisal Service, said having the property appraised can give a boost to a taxpayer’s case if they are appealing their assessment.
“The assessors don’t want a person to come in and say, ‘I think you over-assessed my property’ … unless they have some good information in hand,” Thompson said. “(Property owners) should get an appraisal and then bring that to the assessor to make any type of an appeal, and then they have something that is negotiable.”
Private appraisals usually start at about $350 to $400 but can cost more with larger properties, she said. While a county appraiser will likely not come into the home unless the homeowner requests a visit, a private appraiser can come in and look at the features of the home and measure the square footage, which Thompson said can be inaccurately listed in county records.
“Two of the other big indicators are quality — quality of upgrades and quality of construction overall. We look at the outside, we look at the inside, and condition,” Thompson said.
The upgrades in the home determine its effective year built, which may differ from the year the structure was actually built. Both the actual year and effective year built are included in the county’s property record and factor in to the assessed value.
“Let’s say the home is built in 1980 as the year built, but they have done quite a bit of renovations inside the house, inside, outside, new flooring, new appliances, updated the bathrooms, everything else,” Thompson said. “An appraiser might come in and actually effect that to the year 2000. They could actually cut many years off the actual year built to an effective year built because they’ve done so many updates and renovations.”
Getting it right
Property owners can request a refund if their property has been assessed based on incorrect information.
“For instance if the square footage of a house is incorrect, that is a fact,” Watson said. “If our records show that the house is 3,000 square feet and in actuality it is only 2,500 square feet, that would be an error of fact and a refund may be due.”
If there has been a clerical error and the refund will be less than $1,000, only the Board of Assessors needs to approve it, Watson said. If there is not an obvious clerical error, or the refund would be more than $1,000, the Hall County Board of Commissioners needs to vote on it, and the Board of Assessors makes a recommendation.