GIMME SHELTER- Value judgment: Property assessments, and how to appeal them

Roosevelt Barbour Jr., Charlottesville City Assessor


Q: How is my property value assessed? And can a property owner appeal an assessment?

A: You've heard it before, but it's really all about location, location, location. Houses located downtown are valued higher, then as you branch out towards the outskirts of town, those values will drop. Aside from location, views are considered very valuable, in addition to the obvious factors of size and finished interiors.

In all cases, uniform standards and fair market value are applied to appraisals. In some cases, assessors will have different opinions of the value of the house. When this happens, it will come to me, as the City Assessor, to make the judgement call based on our records. 

It's important to remember that even if new factors become apparent in the appraisal, such as a refinished basement that was not taken into account, the appraised price will not change once it has been set until it can be reassessed the following year. Of course, this causes some concern among homeowners, and when this occurs, they can always appeal.

Once the assessments are mailed, a property owner has 30 days to appeal the assessment, by either calling or visiting the assessor's office at City Hall. They can speak to an appraiser, review the data used in computing the assessment and, if necessary, schedule an inspection of the property. 

After this, should a dispute still exist, they can appeal to the Board of Equalization, a three-person body appointed by the Circuit Court, which is composed of City property owners who have a firm knowledge of local real estate.  The Board may affirm, reduce, or raise the assessment, if in their opinion such adjustments are necessary to equalize the tax burden upon all citizens. If property owners are dissatisfied with the Board's decision, they may appeal to the Circuit Court.

Because it's currently a buyer's market, with sale prices down and many foreclosures in the area, it's taking longer for houses to sell. Consequently, as sale prices go down, asking prices are skewing closer to actual assessments. In the past, sale prices have been 15 to 17 percent above the assessed prices, but over the past year, sale prices are only going 2 to 4 percent above the assessed price.

As a result, this has led to a decrease in appeals, as people are wising up by going to the Assessor's office, checking our records for the fair market value of their home, and making offers with their brains rather than their hearts.