A couple of weeks ago, I submitted a guest column to Inside Toronto (aka, East York Mirror), a community newspaper. They invite this sort of thing and I thought the subject was relevant and even helpful.
Friday afternoon, I heard a thud on my front door. It was the delivery boy tossing the newspaper against my house. I didn't mind because when I turned to the Editorial Page, there was my name followed by :
"You should have received your property tax assessment notice by now. This contains the amount that you should have been able to sell your house for effective January 1, 2008. If you haven’t reviewed this value, you might want to do that quickly. The deadline for appealing your assessment is March 31st and since your property taxes will be based on this amount, it’s kind of important.
As a former tax assessor and a local Realtor, I probably have a bit more knowledge about the process than most but I confess I find the data intimidating. It makes me wonder how the general public will work their way through this maze of information, much of it personal and private, and draft an effective appeal.
A few weeks ago I asked the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) for the list of the comparable sales they used to establish my assessment. I received it yesterday. At first glance, I can see that these houses are quite similar to mine. For example they’re all detached two story homes with similar lot frontage. They all share the Renovation Code, “B” whatever that means. They all share the Renovation Year, “1990”. I do know what that means and I don’t believe that to be correct. They’ve listed the square footage of the houses (did they come by and measure the exterior when I wasn’t home?) and the basement area. That I find a bit puzzling given they’ve never seen the inside of my house.
However, I understand that in order for MPAC to assess thousands of homes, they have to average, generalize and adjust for differences on a very large scale. This isn’t easy and with it comes errors and disparities.
I had a few questions so I called the 800 # they gave me on the cover letter and spoke with a very nice young man who was not an Assessor. He was a communications officer and he was helpful. I only had to wait on hold for about 5 minutes. From our chat, I learned that I have nothing to lose should I make an appeal. If they for example determine my assessment is too low, he assured me they will not increase it. Also, if I am to convince the Assessor that I am over assessed, I have to prove one of two things:
1. that I would not have been able to sell my house for the assessed amount on January 1, 2008,
2. or, identify a neighbour’s house that is virtually identical to mine that is assessed less than mine.
This all takes quite a bit of time and research. If you can do it before March 31st, that’s great. If not, why not file the appeal and work on the details later? It might involve asking your neighbour to let you see their house. Perhaps you could call your Realtor. They may have seen the comparable houses given they were recent sales. You might even be inclined to walk the neighbourhood looking for other houses just like yours and then comparing the assessments. Regardless, if you succeed in getting your assessment reduced, you taxes will also be reduced and a house with lower taxes is worth more than a house with higher taxes. "