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TAXING TIMES: Appealing your appraisal: Step by Step

Saturday, August 26, 2000

The notice of the preliminary value established for your home or business by Sabre Systems and Service arrives in the mail. You think the value is too high. Here's a step-by-step look at the information you'll need and the process you must follow to try to get it changed.

Step 1: Appeal property value, not property tax

First, make sure you're appealing the property's value, not the property tax you think you'll have to pay. Neither Sabre nor the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review sets property taxes. That's done by your school board, the governing board of your municipality and the County Council.

The objective of Sabre and the assessment board is to value your property at the price it would bring if you sold it in a competitive real estate market.

Step 2: Setting up a review

If you think the value on your notice is inaccurate, the first thing to do is to set up an informal review with Sabre.

There are three ways to contact Sabre, all of which are explained on the Preliminary Notice of Market Value you receive in the mail.

Call (412) 473-2875 to set up an appointment.

Fill out the form at the bottom of your notice and mail it to Sabre at 400 N. Lexington St., Pittsburgh 15208-2521. Sabre will contact you.

Contact Sabre through its Web site at: www.revaluation2000.net

Allegheny County is renting office space in five different regions of the county to make getting to the informal reviews easier for homeowners. A list of the office locations selected so far can be found on at our calendar for property valuation notices

Sabre hearings on commercial properties will be at its Point Breeze offices, 400 N. Lexington St.

Step 3: Review your information

Take a look at the information gathered about your home or business.

You'll need access to a computer (most libraries have them). Call up the Sabre Web site at www.revaluation2000.net. There is an E-Code in the upper right-hand corner of the notice you receive in the mail that will allow you to view the information Sabre gathered to help determine the value of your home. At the site, you will also find pictures and information about three to five homes similar to yours that recently sold. Sabre used these homes to help establish your home's market value.

Commercial property owners will find basic information about their property -- its size, number of stories, age and a photo.

If you see errors in the information about your home or business, note them and bring them to your review with Sabre.

Step 4: Supporting your claim

Gather additional information to support your claim.

Here are some examples:

If you are in the process of selling your home and the price you're asking is different from the value on your notice, bring the real estate listing papers with you.

Check with neighbors who have similar homes in your neighborhood to find out the preliminary values they received in the mail. If they are significantly different, bring that information with you. (You won't be able to check the new values placed on your neighbors' homes at the county courthouse because those values won't be placed in county computers until they become official at the end of the year.)

If you recently had your home reappraised and the appraisal is different from the value on your notice, bring that with you.

If your home has a structural problem or some other deficiency (termites, say) that would affect its market value, document that deficiency (get repair estimates and photographs) and take that information with you to the informal hearing.

Commercial properties are appraised differently than homes -- income generated by a business is a key part of the appraisal. So business owners will need to bring income and expense information about their business, along with any information they gather that shows that sales prices of comparable businesses were different than the value placed on their property.

Step 5: Presenting your case

Each hearing with a Sabre representative will last about 15 minutes -- longer for commercial properties, where appraisals are more complex. You may bring a personal representative with you, but this is an informal review, so that might not be necessary.

Sabre representatives are not authorized to make changes. They will check the validity of the information you provide, which could include another visit to your home by an appraiser.

One caveat: There is nothing to prevent Sabre from adjusting the value of your home downward, or upward, based on any new information it finds.

Step 6: Official valuation notice

You won't find out if Sabre agreed with your arguments until January 2001, when you receive the official value on your home or business from the county. These notices should be mailed by Jan.1, 2001.

Sometimes, these notices are mailed to mortgage companies. If you haven't received yours by the end of January, you should check with your mortgage holder.

Step 7: Filing an appeal

If you disagree with the value on your official notice, you can file an appeal with the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review.

That appeal must be filed by Feb. 28, 2001. You'll need to fill out and submit an appeal form, which can be obtained at:

Room 334, County Office Building, 542 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh 15219.

Most municipal buildings.

Libraries (where forms can be printed via computer from the county Web site below).

The Allegheny County Web site: www.county.allegheny.pa.us

Once you reach the Web site, look under "Departments" and click on "Property Assessment." There you will find several topics that will help you fill out and print the appeals form.

If someone will represent you in the appeal process, that person's name and signature must be included on the appeal. You will need to sign a power of attorney for that person and bring it with you to the appeal hearing.

The completed appeals form can be taken to Room 334 of the County Office Building; mailed to the Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review, County Office Building, Room 334, Pittsburgh 15219; faxed to (412) 350-3371; or sent via e-mail to appeals@county.allegheny.pa.us (E-mailed forms will need to include your phone number, so that the county can verify you sent the appeal. Prior to the appeal hearing, you'll need to sign the appeal form.)

Step 8: When is your appeal?

You will be notified by mail of the date and time of your appeal. Appeals are usually held before one member of the appeals board, who will later make a recommendation to the entire board. A recent court ruling required that a transcript of each hearing be prepared for the entire board. The board is negotiating with the court on how to fulfill that ruling.

A Common Pleas judge also has cleared the way for a restructuring that will eliminate the existing assessment board and replace it with a new one whose sole responsibility will be to hear appeals. The change is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 but could be delayed because of court challenges.

Just as you did in the informal hearing with Sabre, bring documentation to support your valuation claim to the appeals hearing. After the board votes on your appeal, you'll be notified of the results by mail.

Step 9: Further appeal

If you aren't satisfied with the board's action, you can appeal its decision in Common Pleas Court. An appeal must by filed with the Prothonotary's Office, located on the first floor of the City-County Building on Grant Street, within 30 days of the date on the letter you receive announcing the results of your appeal.

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