Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Property owners fight rising tax bills

County assessments up 50 percent

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After receiving her updated property assessment in December, Laurel resident Monica West has been preparing for a fight.

She plans to contest the appraisal with the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation, which gives citizens a chance to ask for a reduction in their homes’ assessed value, and consequently, a reduction in their property taxes.

Properties are assessed by the state every three years, using recent home sales and property inspections. The assessments are meant to be a reflection of the value of the house if it were sold on the market.

Residents then pay property taxes on their homes’ assessed values over a three-year, phasing-in period. Laurel, Bowie and Upper Marlboro properties were assessed this year.

West, who lives in West Laurel, spends her days looking for home sales in her neighborhood, marking prices and calling up neighbors to share the information. She filed her appeal in January but is still awaiting her hearing date.

‘‘I fought it the last time. This whole Rollandwood section was overpriced and so many people fought their assessments,” she said.

Her 2005 assessment was reduced by $50,000, although she did not remember the exact assessment amount. West said she was shocked after receiving her new assessment — $550,000 — especially since a bigger house down the street is on sale for $499,000.

That house has a finished basement and professional landscaping, which increase a house’s value, but West’s does not. West said she thought her home would have been assessed closer to $475,000.

The median sale price for homes in the Laurel area is between $340,000 and $370,000, said Jane Adams, a Laurel-based Realtor for Long and Foster. The current county tax rate for homes in Laurel is 76 cents for every $100 of assessed property value.

There was about a 50 percent increase in assessments for different properties in Prince George’s County this year, said James P. Soresi, county supervisor of assessments. Last year’s increase was 79 percent, and 60 percent in 2006, Soresi said. The ones assessed this year were last assessed in 2005.

About 2,000 out of every 100,000 Prince George’s County residents annually appeal their assessments, and 30 percent to 40 percent of those are successful, Soresi said.

Residents have to apply for the Homestead Tax Credit to limit the amount of property taxes they pay. Without it, residents will have to pay property taxes on the total assessed value of their property, which is expected to increase by about 50 percent in Laurel over the next three years. That means the owner of a $355,000 house could pay $4,047 in property taxes annually by 2010 without the credit.

Ed and Lucy Grimes of West Laurel said they might move to Pennsylvania or Virginia if they don’t receive a reduction in their assessment, which was $100,000 more than they expected.

‘‘We’re both retired, so all we have is our retirement funds,” Ed Grimes said. ‘‘It’s just getting to the point where Prince George’s County is forcing us to [move].”

Mike Baxter, also of West Laurel, successfully contested his property assessment about 10 years ago, and plans to contest it again this year.

‘‘The biggest problem I have is that some of these houses are unique, so it’s hard to find a comparable house,” he said. ‘‘The only thing I can do is to pay it. I’m not going to move.”

E-mail Elahe Izadi at

Appealing PROPERTY assessments

Maryland residents have until Feb. 11 to file an appeal of their assessment with the Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation.

The department will schedule a hearing and then notify residents if the appeal was successful. If not, they can file another appeal, which will be heard by the Property Tax Assessment Board.

If denied a second time, residents can still file another appeal with the Maryland Tax Court within 30 days of the last decision.