CLEVELAND, Ohio – There are more than 500,000 parcels in Cuyahoga County. Yet last year, only about 4,000 appeals were filed to contest property values. Everyone can’t be that happy with the value the county is using for their tax bills, no matter how good of a job the appraisers have done.
Do yourself a favor. Check to make sure your value make sense when the next bill arrives over the next few weeks, or sometime soon if if your bill instead goes directly to an escrow service.
If you think your property is overvalued – causing your bill to be artificially high – file an appeal.
Under Ohio law, each county must accept appeals through the end of March every year. Changes resulting from winning a case are retroactive to all bills due that year, and can stay on the books going forward.
Making an appeal to what is called the county Board of Revision is fairly simple. Make your case on a short form and wait for a hearing. You may not even be required to attend. Attending in Cuyahoga County is not mandated, though recommended.
And – call this a rare benefit of the pandemic – it’s never been easier to take part in a hearing.
Many, if not most, counties have gone virtual with the hearings during the coronavirus crisis. Cuyahoga County’s hearings are being conducted by telephone through January, then switching over to Zoom video conferencing.
“It’s a lot easier now with the remote hearings,” said Ron O’Leary, administrator of the Cuyahoga County Board of Revision. “You don’t have to drive downtown. You don’t have to pay for parking.
“We used to get a lot of people saying they were on vacation when we scheduled it. You can now be in California, in Florida or the building next door. As long as you have an internet connection you can take part.” (And accommodations can be made for those without an internet connection.)
How to appeal
Each Ohio county has a Board of Revision. Search for the office on the internet or make a call. Forms are available that can be download or submitted online.
You’ll basically be asked what you think the value of your property should really be, and why.
The more evidence you have, the better the chance you’ll have to win.
Did you recently buy the property for less than the appraised value? Do you have a recent appraisal in hand, perhaps from a refinance on your mortgage? Is there something unique that may have thrown off the county appraisers?
I once was successful in making a case for what was then my newer home on an older street being compared by the appraisers to a totally new neighborhood nearby, where values were higher. That had caused my home value to be higher than what it was likely worth on the older street.
The decision is up to the the panel of hearing officers considering your case, though there is even an appeal option to their decision.
Evidence about the condition of your property or a recent appraisal can be valuable, O’Leary said.
“Let’s say you really are at the point where you need a new roof … It’s going to cost (the homeowner) $8,000, $10,000, $15,000 for a new roof; you can show that. … Maybe the county has your property listed as having four bedrooms, but you really only three. … Or that it shows that you have 2,400 square feet but you really only have 2,100. It shows a garage, but the garage was torn down 10 years ago.
“I’m not sure how persuasive comparables (to other homes) are. A recent appraisal (of your home) is something they will probably look at,” O’Leary said. “A recent arm’s length sale is probably going to be the best evidence.”
When to appeal
The exact time frame to begin filing appeals varies, but all counties in Ohio must accept appeals through March for the tax bills due that year. The bills due next year technically are for 2020 taxes.
O’Leary said Cuyahoga County will open its appeal process once the state certifies the 2020 values, likely by mid-December.
The county expects to mail out bills the week before Christmas, with due dates in January, though not everyone directly gets a bill. If you’ve arranged for an escrow agent to take care of your taxes, that’s where the bill will go, or (less likely) if you don’t owe any taxes on your property you won’t get a bill.
But you can still see your tax bill and the values attached to it. In Cuyahoga County, the easiest way to do this is to go to the county’s website, myplace.cuyahogacounty.us/. From there you can search for your property. You’ll find a full record, including current and past values, sales history and much more, including the square footage, lot size, age and other details.
After filing your appeal, it could be months before a hearing is scheduled, then weeks after then before a decision is made.
But decisions are retroactive to the first bill for the year. If you overpaid, you’ll eventually get a credit back.
There is an option pending an appeal to instead pay the taxes for what you think the value should be, but that comes with a risk of being charged interest interest and a penalty on the unpaid portion should you lose.
“Typically, I would advise someone to pay the tax on the current value,” O’Leary said. “If it gets lowered at all, you’ll enjoy a credit on your next tax bill.”
Winning a value reduction, depending on the timing, can can provide tax savings for several years.
This is because Ohio counties update property values only once every three years, unless there is a substantial change such as a new addition or a ruling from the Board of Revision. In those cases, the changes made will last until the next value update.
It’s normally best to file an appeal the first year after new appraisals, to lock in three years of savings. Regionally, that would be this year for property owners in Geauga and Summit counties, both of which revised values this year in preparation for the 2021 bills. Most of those values otherwise will go unchanged through the 2023 billing cycle in most cases.
Property values in Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain and Portage counties will be adjusted next year, for the 2022 bills. So an appeal in the coming months for the current value may technically affect just one year’s worth of tax bills, but a favorable ruling could be good evidence going forward.
In Medina County, the next value update will be made in 2022, for the 2023 tax bills.
Rich Exner, data analysis editor, writes cleveland.com’s and The Plain Dealer’s personal finance column – That’s Rich! Follow on Twitter @RichExner.
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