Several of our clients have been calling the office to discuss the new preliminary notice of tax assessment change they have received in the mail recently. Did their property really increase that much in value in the last year? Certain areas in Tompkins County seem to be especially hard hit, reflecting a focus by Assessment Department staffers. Last year, owners of large parcels of land noticed a sizable hike in their assessments. This year, Fall Creekers are really feeling the pinch.

The mandate of the Tompkins County Assessment Department is to set the assessment value at the current market value for every property in the County. As such, those who have recently purchased can expect that their assessment will change to closely match their purchase price.

If you feel your assessment is not a fair reflection of the value of your property, the first course of action is to educate yourself about the assessment process, and the procedure for contesting. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance offers a helpful primer on their website:
including a link to the form one needs to fill out and submit to file a grievance:

Similarly, our local Tompkins County Department of Assessmeas a very informative website that includes a chart of the yearly property tax cycle:  

As you can see, this process repeats itself regularly, and any fluctuations in property value are not likely to go unnoticed. The assessed value of your home is based on recent sales of properties near yours with similar characteristics. As real estate professionals, Jill, Hilda and I have access to a high volume of sales data and have visited many of the properties in these reports. We invite your calls and will gladly discuss your property and local trends. If there are multiple comparable properties that have sold that support the higher assessment, it is probably not productive to make the argument that your assessment is unfair.

At this time of the year, property owners whose assessments are poised to change will receive a letter from the Tompkins County Assessment Department. If your assessment is not changing, you will not receive such a letter. Please keep in mind that your assessment may be too high even if it is not changing.

In a nutshell, there are two possibilities to pursue an adjustment if you disagree with your preliminary assessment. The first, with a March 28, 2014 deadline, is an appeal. This is a local, fairly informal process in which you either make an appointment by phone (607-274-5517- appointments are available from March 17-March 28) or submit written materials to a Valuation Specialist, explaining why you believe your preliminary assessment figure is out of line. You can also submit your appeal online using this form:

If, after the Valuation Specialist has made any adjustments, you still believe that the specific qualities of your house would not yield the suggested return in today’s market, you may wish to move forward with a formal grievance. Your wisest strategy is to argue for a reduction based on the condition of your house and the quality of finishes. Take photos of the house at its worst to include in the grievance application. If applicable, photograph old heating units, old roofs, unfinished projects, windows with plastic over them, older kitchen cabinets or appliances. Keep in mind that someone from the Assessment Department may want to visit the house to confirm the conditions you describe.

The window of opportunity for filing a grievance on your assessment is fairly narrow; from May 1 until the fourth Tuesday in May (in 2014, from May 1st – May 27th.) 

One can also call the Tompkins County Department of Assessment at 607-274-5517. The staff are very polite and helpful to those calling with questions; they will gladly snail mail you a copy of the Grievance Form.

On the fourth Tuesday in May, Grievance Day, the Board of Assessment Review meets to hear assessment complaints. This is a less intimidating experience than one might expect. Complainants present their case for assessment reductions to a small and friendly group of Assessors and expert volunteers.

If you file for an appeal, the Assessment Department suggests that you will receive notification of your results on or around May 1, 2014, and the final day to file a formal Grievance Application is May 27, 2014. 

At Carol Bushberg Real Estate, we realize that significant changes in your assessment can come as a surprise, and we are happy to help demystify the process and support you in any way that we can.