The largest property assessment increase since 1990 has not yet sent Maryland property owners running to the appeals office, state officials said.
They said most homeowners are knowledgeable about how much real estate values have increased during the past three years and are better able to stomach the news they received recently.
State officials mailed more than 645,000 Maryland residents new home assessments in December. The statewide average increase was 36 percent for the three-year assessment. With home prices growing rapidly, property assessments often offer a down side to a booming real estate market - higher taxes.
"While it's too early to say what percentage have appealed this year, so far the amount of appeals have been fairly light," said C. John Sullivan Jr., director of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.
"Even though assessments are going up, people are more knowledgeable about what homes are selling for in their neighborhoods."
Homeowners can appeal an increase if they don't agree with it, Sullivan said. He said homeowners can file an appeal on the Internet or by mail.
And homeowners can study area sales to see how the state calculated its assessment. The department offers a searchable database of property assessments as well as assessment statistics on its Web page, www.dat.state.md.us.
According to Sullivan, between 3 percent and 4 percent of the assessments typically are appealed annually - 4.4 percent were appealed last year. About 30 percent of the appeals end up being reassessed at a lower property value, he said. The deadline to submit appeals is Feb. 13.
The state assesses one-third of Maryland's properties annually and builds increases over a three-year period. The average property assessment value will see a 12 percent increase annually until properties are reassessed in 2007.
The state caps taxable residential assessments at 10 percent a year and some jurisdictions offer further limits. For example, assessment increases are limited to 5 percent annually in Howard, Garrett, Kent, St. Mary's and Worcester counties and 4 percent a year in Baltimore and Baltimore County. Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties are limited to 2 percent assessment increases annually.
The limits generally apply only to properties used as primary residences.
State officials assess properties by using a formula that looks at a variety of factors, including the value of other homes that sold recently in a neighborhood, any renovations to the property and the size of the house and the land it occupies.
Since 2003 was a record year for home sales that saw double-digit price increases, the department saw more properties increase in value than in any other year since 1990.
When Rose Serio of Baltimore received her assessment last month and saw that her home's valuation was being increased by several thousand dollars, she considered appealing.
"I did some research and found out that they had me pegged just about right, so I decided not to appeal," Serio said. "I'm just surprised that the homes in my neighborhood are going for so much."
Sullivan recommends that homeowners obtain a copy of the worksheet used in determining property value before making an appeal. The worksheets are free from the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation and can be used to spot any inaccuracies. Worksheets for other neighborhood homes can be obtained for $1 each.
Once an appeal request is filed, the homeowner has the option of having a hearing in person, over the phone or through the mail. Some counties already are holding hearings.
Jeraldine Ragan, a Baltimore resident, succeeded with an appeal in 2001.
"I just wrote in and a few months later I got a letter back that said they reassessed my home for even less than the previous assessment," Ragan said.
"You just have to be willing to put the time in and do the research - go to the library, call a Realtor friend and find out what the other homes in your neighborhood are selling for."
Tips for appealing a property assessment:
Focus on points that affect property value.
Show why the home value assessment is incorrect.
Point out any errors used to assess a property's value.
Provide examples of sales of comparable properties that show value.
Avoid referring to such things as previous assessment values, percentage of the increase and comparison to sales in other jurisdictions.
The deadline for appeals is Feb. 13.
For more information, see www.dat.state.md.us
Source: Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation