With home values expected to reach homeowners in the Northwest before March 5, representatives from the city’s Office of Property Assessment were on hand in Chestnut Hill Tuesday to explain how property taxes would look in the coming year.
The panel, which was the most recent in a line of discussions about the city’s forthcoming Actual Value Initiative hosted by the Chestnut Hill Community Association, was something of a spiritual successor to its city council panel in 2012, which left several attendees with more questions than answers.
“It was clear at our last meeting … that our discussion could only go so far because we didn’t have the people putting this tax issue together [at the panel],” CHCA president Brian Tilley said. “This office represents that process.”
“An Assessment is Not an Appraisal”
According to Richie McKeithen, the city’s chief property assessor, the main factor in property assessment is location.
"[It’s] the driving force behind assessments in the city,” he said.
Philadelphia is broken into 650 geogrphical mapping areas, which McKeithen described as “small pockets of activity” that the assessment office use as a tool to determine assessed values of a given home.
Sales are a big factor in coming up with a number.
“We look at comparable sales taken from the last five years,” he said. “We break down residential, then we look at what time of property is there, be it a two-story, a three-story, a single family, a twin, and break out those types of properties from the last five years.”
Additionally, McKeithen pointed to things like garages and central air as other factors in determining a home’s value.
“We look at a whole host of characteristics that hint at what your property might actually be worth,” he said.
The process is based on market values for area homes sales and area home attributes, but McKeithen made a point to stress that, even with all the data the assessor’s office looks at, it is not an exact science.
“An assessment is not an appraisal,” he said. “We’re not going to be as meticulous as [a realtor] might be when we try to find home value, but we do go through some of the same things an appraiser might go through.”
Up, Down, or Stay the Same
Once home values are mailed to homeowners on Feb 15, residents still have a chance to change their assessed home value, though it might not be the best idea, according to McKeithen.
“We do offer something called a first-level review, which is a one-on-one conversation with an evaluator to find out what [our office] used to reach its assessment of a property.”
McKeithen said that the first-level review is more of a conversation and a sharing of information than it is a chance to get a property value, and ultimately, a final tax requirement, lowered or changed.
“Three things can happen with a review: it can either not change, you can get a value reduction or it can go up,” he said. “You are appealing because you think your value is too high or too low. What I do not recommend is that you file a review just to see what you can get off your property value. This is all based on actual data and we could end up adding value to your home.”
McKeithen said the review is less about trying to get out of a payment and more about “an opportunity to get a good understanding as to what an assessment isn’t accurate.”
Tax assessments for the 2014 tax year will be sent to homeowners sometime between Feb 15 and March 5. Homeowners who want to request a first-level review have until March 31 to make their request. Homeowners looking to apply for the homestead exemption have until July 31.