Property assessment notices hit Buckhead mailboxes in June, and many homeowners were surprised by what they found. One of our readers had the taxable value of their home more than double to over $18 million! To get a better understanding of the process, Buckhead.com sat down with the Chief Appraiser of Fulton County as well as an attorney who specializes in property tax appeals. Read on for more information on how the process works and click here to search for your assessment online.
The average home in Fulton County saw a 15% increase in value in 2023, and assessed values went up 12% on average in the City of Atlanta compared to 2022, according to the Fulton County Tax Assessor. Despite the increase in average assessed property values, Fulton County Chief Appraiser Roderick Conley told us that 2023 is not considered a “catch-up” year.
Conley explained that numerous factors affect a property’s assessed value. “A combination of property characteristics, such as year built, square footage, bathroom count, and story height, along with the market, but it’s the market as of January 1 of the tax year.” The last part of his statement is important- the assessed value is based on the market and other factors during the PREVIOUS year. Any market fluctuation during the first half of 2023 would not have a bearing on this year’s assessments.
Jacoby Elrod, tax appeal consultant with Campbell & Brannon, notes that this is one reason some homeowners may not agree with their assessment. “Some people might argue that the market has softened a bit [in 2023]. But while inventory was low [in 2022], sales were still pretty strong in general.” Elrod continues, “And so when we’re looking at 2023 values, the county’s using 2022 sales comps. The way that process works is not the most responsive, maybe to the market, since it’s using the previous year’s data. It’s not going to respond to this spring’s market trends, for instance.”
Elrod said that higher than expected assessments seem to be more common in 2023. “We see that every year with some properties that will increase three and even four times, but it seems like this year, it’s just been a bit more widespread. It just seems to be hitting people harder than they expected, and maybe than it did in the last couple of years.”
Sometimes a home’s value may jump dramatically from one year to the next for good reason. If an assessment appeal is taken before the Board of Equalization, the assessed value is frozen for that year and the following two years under the 299C provision, regardless of the ruling on the appeal. 299C is the area of the state code that provides for the three-year property value freeze.
Once that value freeze has expired, Chief Appraiser Conley explains, the homeowner may be surprised the following year. “After that period of time has expired, that value comes off. It’s not an appreciation of that one year from year-to-year, it is actually a culmination of those three years.”
Remodeling, finishing a basement, or building additional square feet can also add to a property’s value. Mr. Conely and his team use mass appraisal techniques to value each property annually, and they try to complete a detailed review every three years to confirm the condition, square footage, etc., and synchronize the value with the market.
A home’s purchase price may be considered the market value the year following a sale, but that is not necessarily the case. Conley says, “You do have the ability to seek the transaction value. For example, if your property sold in 2022, [the appraised value may be] the transaction value or no higher than the transaction value for that following year.” Any remodeling or additions that are completed before the year’s end can cause the appraised value to be higher than the purchase price. Elrod says the county is not required to use the sale price as the assessed value, “But they can increase it to that, as long as they’re also increasing comparable properties in the neighborhood within a reasonable value and keeping uniformity of assessments.”
Elrod finds it difficult to make broad conclusions about how assessments typically turn out. “I’ve seen a few increases that are big, but are supported. But then I’ve also seen a lot of increases that are large and are just not supported by any data or the market.”
Property value more than doubles
Buckhead business leader Robin Loudermilk received a surprising assessment this year for his home along West Paces Ferry Road. The property, known as Villa Juanita, was last purchased in 2016 for $7.2 million. The assessed value has hovered around that price each year since the sale, including a value freeze at $7.2 million for 2020-2022. Mr. Loudermilk was “shocked and bewildered” to find his property assessed for $18,097,200 in 2023. Loudermilk said the price was “at least double what I thought it would be.”
Villa Juanita was professionally appraised twice within the past eight months for $9.75 million. With two appraisals in hand, Loudermilk says “We’re already in the appeal process, and we’ll see how it comes down.”
The most expensive home sale in Atlanta’s history, $18.1 million in 2021, is in the same neighborhood. Oddly enough, that record-setting home’s value was just over $9.5 million in 2023, according to the Fulton County Board of Assessors.
Chief Appraiser Conley emphasizes the importance of the appeal process in situations where the market appears to be significantly undervaluing or overvaluing a home. “That’s why the appeals process is so good. When someone may think we’re incorrect, whether it’s the characteristics or just the overall evaluation, you bring those things to our attention and we’ll take a look at it.” Conley and his staff want to make sure they have the correct data for accurate assessments. “There’s are lot of benefits of bringing those things to our attention. We want to make sure that the information in the data is correct, as relates to the characteristics. Then we can have a discussion as to the fair assessment of the value.”
The appeal process begins by visiting the Fulton County Assessor’s Office online. The deadline for 2023 appeals is July 24, 2023. While a homeowner can go through the appeal process on their own, there are benefits to hiring a professional like Jacoby Elrod and his colleagues at Campbell & Brannon. Even though most of the information you need for your appeal is public record, Elrod and his firm pay for additional information, such as FMLS data, that most folks don’t have access to. Elrod adds, “From my experience, the benefit of having a professional [file the appeal], or at least assist, is just knowing what to present, and how to be efficient with it.” The homeowner only gets a 10 minute hearing before the Board of Equalization (BOE), so it is definitely helpful to know exactly what to say!
Many homeowners think that simply filing an appeal grants a value freeze under the 299C provision, but the home’s value is not frozen automatically. Elrod says he perennially fields calls from frustrated homeowners who thought their value had been frozen. “They appealed the previous year, they were successful, and thought they were going to have a freeze, but it turns out, they just accepted the county’s initial value. And that did not freeze the value.”
As long as the appeal goes to the BOE, whether you win or lose, the value of your property is frozen for three years. Elrod says the homeowner can attend the BOE hearing, or simply respond to the BOE’s letter in the appropriate manner to initiate the value freeze. When you receive a notification from the BOE containing a hearing schedule, and you believe your property’s value is reasonable, reach out to the county appraiser requesting a value agreement. Make sure the value agreement mentions the 299C provision before you sign it, and your value freeze will apply.
Chief Appraiser Conley adds, “The 299c provision can also be applied should the appeal be resolved informally with staff prior to forwarding the appeal to BOE.”
Should everyone appeal?
Elrod says many taxpayers across the state appeal their assessment every three years just to have the value frozen because “that gives the homeowner a bit more knowledge and more stability knowing what their taxes are going be based on in the two years following appeal.”
That doesn’t mean that every homeowner should file an appeal. There is a chance your property value could go up if the county doesn’t have current data about square footage or other improvements on your property. County appraisers do not have the right to enter your home for an inspection, but they can walk the property to take measurements and inspect your home.
The county has 180 days to respond to an appeal according to the state code. Fulton county receives so many appeals that they are often granted an extension period. The Board of Equalization begins scheduling hearings in the early fall, and hearing dates may run into spring of next year.
What to expect after filing an appeal
Elrod describes what to expect while a homeowner is waiting for their appeal to be heard, “While the property is under appeal consideration, the default is for the temporary tax bill to be sent out. That’s also known as an “85% bill,” because it’s based on 85% of the current year’s total value, or 100% of the previous year’s total value. So essentially, the county is trying to provide some relief, in case there was a giant increase. For instance, they would use last year’s bill, just to keep the homeowner from being liable for a big bill they weren’t expecting right now. And then once the appeal is complete, the county would issue a revised final bill for any remaining amount to you. Or they would issue a refund check, like a lump sum refund.”
Time is of the essence when it comes to appealing your property value assessment. Elrod emphasizes, “The most important thing if you’re considering appeal, is probably just go ahead and get an appeal filed while the appeal window is open. Because if you miss that deadline, the county will not work with you. A taxpayer can always file an appeal on their own behalf at first, and then hire a firm like ours or another tax rep to come in and represent them later down the road if they feel like that is necessary.”
Homeowners are also advised to double check the homestead exemption on their assessment letter. Make sure your homestead exemption is listed on your notice, and confirm that the amount has been calculated correctly.
If you are interested in professional assistance with filing an appeal, Cambbell & Brannon charges a $500 administrative fee to handle your appeal, plus a 25% contingency on the first year’s tax savings. This covers all filings, valuations, and correspondence with the county, plus representation before the Board of Equalization. The contingency only applies to any savings during the first tax year, and the homeowner does not pay additional fees for subsequent years of the value freeze.