For many Beaufort County property owners, there’s a moment of dread before opening the envelope containing what the county government thinks the fair market value of your home is.
State law requires the county assessor, in our case Ed Hughes, to determine the value of all real estate every five years. The amount the office comes up with determines how much you pay in taxes.
This time around could be especially painful because the fair market value of property is based on what the Assessor’s Office believes it was on Dec. 31, 2007 – before the real estate market plunged headfirst into the recession.
But just because the government believes your property is worth one amount does not make it so. Remember the last reassessment in 2004 and the widespread problems that occurred, particularly on Hilton Head Island? More than 11,000 people contested their reassessments and a review by The Island Packet uncovered hundreds of inconsistencies, particularly along the beach, where the supposed fair market values of homes sometimes had increased by 800 percent.
This time, county officials have promised to do better. For one, they delayed the reassessment by a year in order to install what they’ve said is better software and to hire more people to help with the efort. With that being said, this is the same beta software program that caused major hiccups for car owners this summer. Some waited for months to get their updated registrations.
The bottom line is that it’s important for homeowners to take a close look at the reassessment notices that were mailed in late September and October. Compare the fair market value with that of your neighbors or friends with similarly sized homes and lots.
My home’s value looks fishy, what do I do?
The first thing you need to do is act quickly. You only have 90 days to appeal to the county Assessor’s Office. Most of the information you’ll need is found at www.bcgov.net/Assessor/procedure.php.
Remember: Just because your home jumped in value isn’t necessarily going to give you enough ammunition to get it changed. You’ll want to examine the values of similar homes that are close by. Yo u might also consider enlisting the services of a licensed appraiser, real estate agent or an attorney to help.
The appeals process is quite extensive. At each level of the appeal, you’ll get the opinion of officials and, if still unsatisfed, you have the option of kicking it up to the next level, until you reach an Administrative Law Judge, who has the final call.
Hughes has volunteered his staf to answer any questions you might have. The assessor’s office can be reached at 843-470-2522. He’s promised they will respond to messages within 24 hours.
More than 2,700 property owners already have filed appeals, most from southern Beaufort County. Hughes said he expects the number to climb to between 15,000 and 18,000 later this fall.
Even though there’s an awful lot of red tape and, at times, you might think you’re out of your league, keep in mind how important it is for the county to have an accurate estimate of your home’s worth. It determines how much your property tax bill will be for at least the next five years.