Andrew Wetzel's Musings

October 8, 2020

How to Appeal Your New Property Assessment

Filed under: Buying,Price,Selling,Statistics — awetzel @ 4:25 PM
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By the end of 2020 Delaware County (PA) will have completed a court-ordered reassessment of over 203,000 parcels including properties and vacant land, all of which is generally subject to taxation.  The purpose is to ensure that taxes are levied uniformly based on “fair market” value.  Other Counties are planning to undertake the same massive project.  Any project this large will have some inaccuracy as it is impossible to visit every single property.  However, property owners will have had several opportunities to question what the County had “on record” as far as their property size and features as well as to question the new assessment associated with their property.  Many will have exercised their right to “appeal” their new assessment.

The new value or assessment is intended to reflect a potential selling price as of July 2019.  Once a total valuation of the entire County is established, the next step of the project will be to determine the “millage” rate to establish the tax revenue due the County, local government and school district.  Property taxes are an “ad valorem” tax which means taxes are assessed based on relative “value”.  Therein lies the point of contention.

I served on one of several re-assessment appeal hearing panels and heard hundreds of appeals.  Many owners filed appeals because they either felt that the recorded property features were inaccurate or because they felt the condition of their property was an issue.  Some mentioned both.  Respectfully, while a significant number of people simply did not show up, many who did attend their “hearing” came unprepared.  While many blamed the County for not providing clear instructions, many reported with reasonable “proof” that their property was not properly valued.  The purpose of this blog is to assist those still in the process or who will be later.

Here is my list of what to do:

  1. Don’t be late.  While some appellants were not familiar with their hearing location, arriving late imposes stress on everyone else as scheduling is tight.  Not showing up forfeits your appeal;
  2. Be prepared to start on time.  The allotted time is short and many appeals are scheduled per day;
  3. Bring documentation to make your case.  This is an objective process; evidence is required;
  4. Bring enough copies for all panel member.  Sharing copies takes time and is a distraction;
  5. Conduct yourself as if this were a job interview.  Personality clashes are a distraction.  The process may be overwhelming and emotional enough without any needless distractions;
  6. Understand that the County and the hearing panel did not initiate the reassessment;
  7. Be prepared to clearly prove either that the assessed value is too high for your property or that its “condition” prevents you from attaining “fair market value” if you were to try selling it;
  8. The best way to present “market value” is a full appraisal using the correct time frame.  Trying to use Internet valuations, bringing random MLS printouts or verbally presenting what you think you know is likely a waste of time:  you need to tell the panel the specific assessment you can prove to be correct;
  9. The best way to present the property “condition” as an impediment to your attaining full, fair market value is pictures.  Trying to describe the condition, expecting the panel members to look at your cell phone or presenting unsubstantiated repair estimates is likely a waste of time;
  10. Interact respectfully.  Present your documentation, speak loudly and clearly to make your case, answer any questions honestly and honor the time frame.  Many people may not be comfortable speaking up for themselves and may need to practice or consider bringing an attorney.  While many say that the expense of an attorney or an appraisal is prohibitive, what is the cost of an inflated tax bill?  The hearing panel is not your enemy and is there to hear you but not to make your case for you.

While there is no doubt that this process can be confusing if not overwhelming, arriving at the appeal unprepared and complaining that you did not know what to expect or how to present your “argument” does not help you.  The hearing is not meant to be an extended conversation and the hearing panelists are not there to make your case by doing research during or after the hearing.  The good news is that appeals can be filed every year as the market changes.  The process may be the same so these guidelines will likely not change.

Different Counties may have different guidelines. When in doubt, please call your elected officials and/ or seek legal advice.

This is not intended as legal advice and it is solely my opinion based on my experience.

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