Property assessments are inaccurate more often than you might think, says author

As many as 20 per cent of all residential property owners in the province should be appealing their property assessments, says the man who has literally written the book on the assessment appeals process.

Peter Morris, a commercial real estate agent who has co-written a book entitled How to Successfully Appeal Your B.C. Assessment, said the sheer volume of properties the assessment authority has to evaluate means there are bound to be mistakes made.

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“It’s my belief that there are a good 20 per cent of assessments that are incorrect,” he said.

“It’s not because B.C. Assessment is doing things wrong necessarily, but there are a lot of factors in play when it comes to assessments being incorrect.”

Morris, who co-wrote the 64-page book with appraiser and former B.C. Assessment supervisor Tim Down, said the biggest factor is the number of properties on the provincial roll.

The new roll, released this week by B.C. Assessment, has 2.07 million properties worth a total of more than $1.99 trillion.

“There are more than two million properties assessed and not enough assessors to go and visit all two million every year so they use a computer model,” said Morris, noting that can lead to data entry errors, broad generalizations between properties in a neighbourhood and not taking into account subtle changes such as tree growth destroying water views.

The assessment is an estimate of a property’s market value as of July 1, and physical condition as of Oct. 31.

According to B.C. Assessment, changes in property assessments reflect movement in the market and can vary greatly from property to property.

Assessors take into account current sales in the area as well as the size, age, quality, condition, view and location of a property.

B.C. Assessment says only two per cent of property owners appeal each year.

Morris believes that number would be much higher if people better understood the process.

“They don’t understand and they have misinformation about what their assessment means,” Morris said.

Morris said he was spurred to write the book after appealing his home’s assessment a few years ago and the person before him at the panel argued his assessment was too high because it didn’t take into account the lack of services he received from the municipality in which he lived.

“When I heard that, it dawned on me that the average person does not know how to look at their assessment, understand what it means and how to appeal if they think it’s wrong,” he said.

Morris said his book offers tools to help property owners better understand the system and develop a sound argument that will hold water with B.C. Assessment during an appeal.

The book also goes through the various misconceptions people have about the assessment, including that an increase in assessed value automatically means property taxes will rise; that increases in assessed values are a good thing and reflect what the real estate market would pay for your home; and that it’s impossible to win an appeal.

“The biggest mistake people make [when appealing] is making the wrong argument,” said Morris. “They may not do the research right — they may just [compare their assessment] with their neighbours’ instead of analyzing the data at a granular level.”

That way, he argues, they can better compare their properties based on price per square foot or land area.

“If they don’t know how to research or put forth the right kind of argument, they will fail,” he said.

Those who feel their property assessment does not reflect market value as of July 1, 2018, or see incorrect information on their notice, should contact B.C. Assessment as soon as possible.

Property owners may submit a notice of complaint by Jan. 31 to ask for an independent review by a property assessment review panel.

The panels, appointed by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, typically meet between Feb. 1 and March 15 to hear complaints.

> Do you think your assessment is out of line? Reporter Andrew Duffy would like to talk to you for a story. Contact him at 250-380-5342 or aduffy@timescolonist.com

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