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Deadline to appeal new property assessments: Feb. 10

If your home or other Maryland property was recently reassessed, your deadline to appeal is fast approaching.

Paperwork must be in by Feb. 10 for the one-third of property owners whose reassessment notices were mailed in late December. The state Department of Assessments and Taxation lays out a brief how-to here, noting that you can request your assessment worksheet to check it for accuracy and suggesting you find sales of comparable properties to make your case for a different valuation. (Here's the state's property look-up site, which gives you an option to search for sales.)

If you weren't just reassessed but are buying a home in the first six months of this year, you too can appeal to try to change the bill you'll get in July. That's called an "appeal upon purchase," and you have 60 days to file after settlement.

It's too late to appeal for the upcoming tax year if you aren't in one of those two groups. You can send in a "petition for review" anytime between now and Jan. 1 (or the first business day after Jan. 1, generally), but it won't have a chance of affecting your bill until July 1, 2013.

But some Baltimore homeowners might get a lowered bill this July without appealing -- because someone else did it for them.

Rockville-based Property Tax Pros, which offers an online appeal service for owners of houses, townhouses and rowhouses in large Maryland jurisdictions, filed pro-bono, out-of-the-blue appeals of 100 city homes' property assessments in January.

Larry Giammo, the company's co-founder and a former Rockville mayor, said he and his team picked modest homes -- assessed at about $70,000 to $120,000 -- that they believe are far overvalued now, about a year after they were last assessed. (Each property in the state is reassessed once every three years.)

"Some parts of Baltimore, the prices have just collapsed in the last several years," Giammo said. "We're looking at some properties where we have five, six, seven comps in the $20-$30,000 range and nothing higher. So these folks are potentially paying $1 [thousand], $2,000 or more per year than they should. ... These are the people least able to afford paying too much in property taxes."

So how could his company appeal for people who didn't ask for the help? Turns out the owner and/or someone the owner hired aren't the only ones who can argue the assessment is off.

"It's called a third-party appeal," Giammo said. "Hardly anybody knows this, but in Maryland, anybody can appeal anybody else's property [assessment]. ... We haven't gotten hearing dates or anything yet, but when we do, we’ll go in and give it our best shot."

The one limitation on third-party appeals: Local governments can't ask for a review of homes last reassessed a year or two ago. They can only appeal newly reassessed properties, said Henry J. Sikorski, state supervisor of assessments.

Back story: Montgomery County officials used to aggressively appeal in the off-years when properties changed hands for a lot more than their assessments, angering the new owners and not winning any fans in the assessments agency, either. A 2002 Sun story quoted the then-head of the state assessments agency as calling the practice "the Welcome Wagon from hell."

The General Assembly unanimously voted to ban it during that legislative session. "The actions of local governments to appeal real property assessments by use of the petition for review process are contrary to the triennial assessment system and uniformity of taxation," legislators wrote in the Senate bill.

But nothing prevents an individual from appealing someone else's assessment out of cycle, as Giammo did. Of course, he's trying to get them lowered, not raised.

The ZIP code where many of those appealed homes are located: 21224, which includes a wide swath of southeastern Baltimore. Property Tax Pros appealed the assessments of 43 homes there. Here's the breakdown of the rest: 21213 (17 homes), 21216 (15 homes), 21215 (11 homes), 21207 (eight homes), 21218 (four homes) and 21217 (two homes).

Giammo said he's hoping the homeowners "will have a pleasant surprise later in the year, and less of a property tax bill that they have to pay."

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