From the Herald News:
Homeowners will likely file a mountain of tax appeals this year, hoping the real estate crash will provide a silver lining — relief from the nation’s highest property taxes.
But they shouldn’t count on winning.
Although home prices in North Jersey dipped 11 percent in the last year alone, proving in tax court that your home is overassessed is another matter.
The burden is on homeowners to use data to show their home value, as of October 2008, is too high based on other sales. That could be hard in a year when sales were few and far between, providing little evidence for homeowners to make their case.
“We’re anticipating a substantial number of tax appeals,” said Louis Izenberg, an appraiser who represents towns and large property owners. “Having said that, at the end of the day, the New Jersey Tax Court relies upon evidence, and for the first time I can recall, we really don’t have an abundance of data.”
And some towns — which have a 15 percent margin of error on home assessments — have already adjusted for softer market prices. In addition, an analysis by The Record of 25 North Jersey municipalities found that 19 met a key state test measuring whether property taxes are distributed fairly among homeowners.
Homeowners could actually take an extra hit this year if failing businesses win their tax appeals, shifting the town’s overall tax burden from commercial to residential owners.
Still, there are some signs this year could be better for homeowners than years past.
While the percentage of winning tax appeals statewide hasn’t climbed much since the market peaked in 2006, the number of settlements — deals cut before a decision is reached in tax court — have steadily increased to 35 percent.
Some of the strongest candidates for reductions are homeowners whose towns last did property assessment updates around the height of the housing boom, and owners of high-end properties, experts say.
A massive drop in value is what drove more than 100 residents of Winston Towers, a condominium development in Cliffside Park, to file appeals. The luxury apartments — which offer New York views and use of an Olympic-sized pool — went for $740,000 at the height of the market. They are now selling for about $500,000.
No one knows how many appeals will be filed this year because the deadline is April 1. But county and local officials are expecting an increase, and tax lawyers and personal appraisers are reporting a spike in client interest.
“We have currently about 2,500 appeals pending, and we’re ready to file about 1,000, and I’m going to see another 1,000 after that,” said Livingston property tax attorney Lee Holtzman. “They’re coming out of the woodwork here. Everyone’s complaining.”