Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How I Reduced My Property Taxes

          I don't know if you've noticed that there has been a marked decrease in my posts and this is a result of being unemployed, ergo, bloggable moments have come few and far between.
          When one is jobless, every little decrease in expenses helps and that's what happened to me on February 25th at a hearing. No, not a criminal, or civil, or divorce,  or small claims court hearing, but a property tax assessment hearing. Last year, I applied for a reduction in my property taxes because I noticed that in my depressed area of the city, the property values were going down in contrast to the other parts. Sure enough, when I checked the comparable sales in just my condominium building, I was being assessed as much as 40% more. So I filled out an online application from the Los Angeles County Assessor's Office and sent my appeal with the links for the comps that  found. A couple of months afterwards, I received a response in the mail saying that to proceed, I would have to report to the community building of Chace Burton Park in Marina Del Rey for a hearing with an appeals officer. I had to bring along evidence in the form of 3 comparative sales in my immediate area. I found some of these comps from the Assessor's Office website itself, but relied on a realtor friend, Nancy D. (Ask me if you have a property to buy or sell and maybe I can refer you to her. And yes, she is the same Nancy D. who drove me to and from my colonoscopy last year.), to provide me a more professional presentation.  I printed out the requisite 3 comps and was ready to face the music. Big thanks to you for all your help, Nancy!
          I planned on at least an hour drive from Long Beach to Marina Del Rey based on a 42 minute estimate by Google Maps. I also programmed the destination on my Tom Tom GPS as a backup, then left home at 8:45 for my 10:30 a.m. appointment. Based on past experience with GPS where it didn't send me on the most direct route, I followed Google's suggestion first and took the surface streets. I went through Long Beach, Carson, Gardena, Manhattan Beach, Culver City, LAX, and finally, Marina Del Rey. Everything worked well until I started looking for Mindanao Way which I couldn't find, and was quite ironic since I come from the Mindanao area of the Philippines, hahaha! That's when I had to rely on GPS which correctly guided me to my destination in the last couple of miles.  Having checked out the Chace Burton Park Website beforehand, I was able to find the parking area quickly, and even though the website said that there was a $5.00 fee, I didn't see any signs indicating it nor did I see an automated ticket dispenser or any parking lot attendants. I parked hoping that I don't see a ticket when I returned. My arrival time was 10:10 a.m., so it took much longer than expected.

          I walked the short distance from the parking lot to the park's community center and my first order of business was to find the nearest bathroom. Woe is me with the tiny bladder! Next was to find the community room and I correctly assumed that the one full of people was it. The lady inside asked for my appointment card then proceeded to swear me in, you know - to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. Then the waiting began. I turned on my tablet to read the news and before it can even boot up, another lady called my name and asked me to follow her. I actually had her verify my name to make sure I was whom she called because I was there before the 10:30 appointment. We approached a table where another lady was waiting. I started to present my evidence then was told it wasn't necessary because they had already done it for me. All they asked me was if I agreed with the new assessment which I originally presented to them in my application months before or if I disagreed. Well of course I agreed!  The second lady signed off on it and bad-a-bing, bad-a-boom, that was all there was to it! 5 minutes waiting and talking, tops! I was escorted back to the front and was given a copy of my new assessment. What's supposed to happen next is that the assessor's office is going to make the change and that I will be refunded part of the taxes I already paid. Next year, if there are further reductions in the comparative sale in my area, I will have to apply again. Assumptions: the first lady was probably the hearing officer and the second lady what the assessor's office representative.
          One more bathroom use for the road then I headed back to the parking lot. Luckily, no ticket. I checked my Google printout and my GPS, then I was outta there. The drive back home took me half an hour quicker. What I can say about driving to and from the park is that it's always good to have a backup system, and it helped that I was already familiar with the area having lived in Torrance in the 80's and ridden my bike on the bike path to Marina Del Rey.

          Was the almost 2 hour drive back and forth worth it? Definitely so. My only question is - wouldn't it have been more efficient to have done it by email or mail since the process took such a short time? I was expecting myself to beg and plead in person to reduce my taxes. Instead, all I was asked was if I agreed. I guess I needed to be there in case I didn't agree. Again, I should only been asked to show up if that were so. Not an efficient system in my opinion and a waste of gasoline, but gratified for the reduction in taxes. Two decades ago, I also appealed for a reduction using old fashioned paper sent in the mail and got approved without going anywhere as long as I had filled out the application and provided comps. Don't computers and the internet take care of that nowadays?

Public comments below, private comments: E-mail Me!


Wanda Hanson said...

Kudos to you for going the extra mile to reduce your property taxes! I also think that the two-hour drive was worth it. If you had done the transaction using e-mail, it would've taken them to respond to the case longer. I think it's better to have presented yourself personally, than be virtually there. Thanks for sharing that, Noel. Kudos and all the best to you!

Wanda Hanson @ Tax Tiger

Tracy Frazier said...

Despite the long drive back and forth to the community center, it’s good to know that you were able to reduce your property tax. I agree that this kind of transaction could be done through email or through phone conversations, but the fact that this is a very important matter that deserves to be attended to in person, no matter how tiny the details are. Anyway, thanks for sharing this with us. All the best!

Tracy Frazier @ Sunnen Law

Noel DLP said...

I applied again this year but property values have gone up so I cancelled my appointment for the hearing because my comps were much higher than the year before.