Your Property Tax Revaluation and How You Can Contest It

This news release from Kelly Associates Real Estate in Darien describes a recent forum the agency sponsored in Town Hall about the town's recent property tax revaluation.

Darien Town Hall
Darien Town Hall
By Christina Cush

Christina Cush of Seaglass Communications wrote this news release for Kelly Associates Real Estate of Darien. It describes a recent information meeting in Town Hall about the town's latest property tax revaluations:

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, the auditorium in Darien’s Town Hall was nearly at full capacity. What was the allure? A free information session about the most recent real estate revaluation, who it affects, how it was conducted, and what the 287 commercial parcel and 6,509 residential property owners in town can do about it if their assessment went up significantly and what it means if their property or home decreased in value.

Darien Town Selectmen Jayme Stevenson and Jerry Nielsen, sat quietly in the front row, listening to Jeff Kelly, of Kelly Associates Real Estate, kick off the event.

Kelly introduced the panel of experts, Anthony Homicki, the Tax Assessor for the Town of Darien, Ronald E. Kowalski, an attorney from Cacace, Tusch & Santagata of Stamford, and Doug Milne, an agent with Kelly Associates.

Then Kelly set up how the evening was going to unfold -- each expert would speak for about 10 minutes, and then Kelly would work the room, passing the microphone around for the audience to ask questions. Kelly said he was anticipating, “A spirited Q&A.”

Homicki spoke about his experience preparing the town’s revaluation for 2003 and 2008 (CT state law mandates that towns do this every five years), and pointed out several differences in what’s going on in 2013 vs. 2008.

“In 2008, there was a recession in Fairfield County, due to the financial crisis. But the real estate market was still going up at a steady rate. It dropped off in January of 2009, but the revaluation was a snapshot of time as of that October. There were concerns about releasing names of property owners for privacy reasons, but that’s all changed now.”

Now you can look up your assessment vs. other private properties to see how yours compares. To find your field card, go to the town’s website (here).

With a support staff of four for the 2013 revaluation, Homicki explained how his team works with the building permits department to see which property owners are doing what to improve their property and increase its value, with Wetlands, and with the Planning and Zoning Departments.

He also explained how the town used a new software program and how his team visited the site of every house that was sold since 2008.

“We worked with the Tyler Company and did inspections,” Homicki said. The town has engaged in a 15-month contract with Tyler Co., and a representative from there was on hand at the meeting.  Homicki estimated that “1/2 to 1/3 of properties have wetlands or coastal issue.”

Homicki said that his team used GPS technology and took photos of every home in Darien. “We went street by street and monitored the properties on the market,” he said. As of now, most properties have decreased in value by 3 to 8%.

Homicki stated that by the end of January 2014, his team will finalize all values and will submit a document to the Board of Selectmen with the Grand List Findings.

He told property owners that they have to file by Feb. 20, 2014 for an informational appeal with a three-member board. The meetings for this will occur in March of 2014.

Homicki briefly discussed the mill rate:

“The Board of Finance will meet in a couple of weeks. Many of you are here because you want to know what your taxes will be next July. There were 250 property sales in place. You can look at them all on our website.

"There were 329 improved sales between 2012 and 2013. And there were 244 sales this year. You need to think about your neighborhood and what may have changed there.”

The second speaker, Ronald Kowalski, is an attorney who has handled many real estate revaluation appeals.

He explained that he owns a coastal property in Norwalk and that he and his wife are struggling with insurance and repair issues thanks to Super Storm Sandy.

Kowalski said that even though Homicki and his team conduct a much more thorough investigation than other municipalities, “things will slip through the cracks.”

Kowalski said: “If you think there’s a problem with the amount your were revalued at as of Oct. 1, 2013, gather the information to help you. Go online and see what they have your home measured at.

"Review your notice carefully. Look at the information about your property on the website. Maybe the measurements are wrong or the numbers of rooms.”

Other tips from Kowalski: 
  • Pull out the paperwork if you refinanced within a couple of months or weeks of October 1, 2013;
  • Consider assembling a team of a property appraiser and a lawyer may optimize your chances of relief;
  • Get a real estate broker’s opinion of value.

If you have a legitimate amount of backup, Kowalski explained that the Board of Assessment Appeals meeting is worth pursuing.

“You will realize savings on your first tax bill in July 2014. Your first formal step is to appeal to the board of assessment Appeals, which will be available as of Feb. 1, 2014 and must be filed by Feb. 20.”

The Town of Darien will conduct an independent review and you may end up in Superior Court in Stamford, or up in New Britain, where Kowalski said the judge has been known to make a field trip to the areas in question so he has a better understanding of the neighborhoods, etc.

Kowalski later pointed out that you can also appeal in subsequent years, but you will potentially miss out on some tax savings.

Doug Milne focused on the role of your realtor in this appeals process. “They have a different take on the value of your property than a real estate appraiser. What you can sell your property for and what the town appraises it for can be very different,” Milne said.

“People buy and sell property for very different reasons. They don’t always have the opportunity to take advantage of the optimal time of the real estate market to do a transaction.

"Timing and personal circumstances have a lot to do with many of the transactions that closed last year. There are 390 agents in town. They may be privy to the background story and an appraiser won’t be.”

Appraisers can only look at closed transactions and often have a hard time making judgments about comparable property sales.

“An appraiser can pull up data, but doesn’t understand all the nuances,” said Milne. “But realtors produce a Comparative Market Analysis that includes closed transactions based on similar size, condition and location, but also has current information regarding other homes in contract but not closed and what is currently on the market that is competing with the subject property.”

In closing, Milne said, “Your new town revaluation doesn’t impact your market value. As time goes by, the market will settle out.

Your tax contribution to run this town doesn’t change what your property is worth. If you wouldn’t sell your home at the town’s new appraised value, you are probably in good shape. If you would sell it tonight for that price, you may want to see Tony (Homicki).”

When Kelly opened up the floor to questions, many audience members were interested in more information about the new Mill Rate.  Residents of the Noroton Bay area were told that Homicki’s team visited that neighborhood at least ten times and was seen by three different people.

Homicki said that waterfront property values have decreased significantly town-wide and that it was very difficult to assign these properties a value since Sandy and the latest round of FEMA regulations.

More audience members voiced concern about their increased or decreased value and market value or home insurance premiums.

If you missed the session, or still have questions, you can schedule a meeting before the appeals process by contacting the Tyler Co., which did the appraisals used in the revaluation, or the Tax Assessor’s office.

The Tyler Co. can be reached at 877-394-3379 and the Assessor’s Office is available at 203-656-7310.

For more information, please contact: Christina Boyle Cush, Sea Glass Communications LLC, 203-984-2774 or seaglasscommunications@gmail.com


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