Plainfield Township, Kent County
(WZZM) - With a bad real estate market over the past few years, chances are your house hasn't gone up in value much, if at all. In fact, there's an equally good chance that it has gone down in value.
But what about your property taxes? Have they stayed the same or even gone up? After all, a good percentage of your property taxes is based on your home's taxable value.
Judy LaFave has been an assessor for 35 years, nearly 30 in Plainfield Township.
"First thing they want to do is come into the Assessor's Office and look at our property record card and make sure that it's correct - that all the amenities are correct - square footage, finishing the basement, number of bathrooms. That sort of thing that adds value. Sometimes there might be an error and we want to make sure it's corrected."
If everything is correct, you want to start doing comparables to other similar houses in your neighborhood, but you have to be diligent says LaFave. "It's important that they make sure it's truly comparable. It could just look like their house but when you get into the details of the home it may have more, so it's important they make sure they're comparing apples to apples."
LaFave also reminds that what you may have paid for you house doesn't necessarily reflect the true taxable value of that home. LaFave also advises that paying for a home appraisal, most of the time, isn't necessary.
Once you've done your homework and feel you have a legitimate gripe, you need to set up an appointment with your city's tax commissioners. In Plainfield Township, it's usually the second week in March and you have a fifteen minute appointment to present your case. Once you leave, you ruling will arrive in the mail. If you're not happy with the outcome, you can appeal your case again to the State Tax Tribunal, but for this, LaFave says you'll need patience.
"The Tax Tribunal statewide is very bogged down with appeals, so if they do that, they can't expect it to be heard in a real timely fashion."
There is some belief that appealing your taxable value to your city can actually hurt you and end up costing you more in property taxes, but LaFave says she's never seen that occur. "It is seldom we would discover something that would increase their value, and if the board decided to do that, they would have to have another time period for them to come in and appeal that new value and that's not going to happen."
LaFave says about 1 in 10 appeals actually works as the homeowner hopes, in getting their property taxes lowered. Ben Lewitt of Wyoming is one of them. Two years ago he noticed the taxable value of his 90-year-old home had gone up $656.
"I figured I should look into it because there's no reason they should be going up in an environment where obviously the houses are struggling to sell."
Ben did some digging with comparables in his neighborhood and spent $300 on an appraisal and what he found was astonishing. "The house that had been valued at $85,000, I was kind of disgusted to find out it was only worth $30,000."
Ben presented his case to the Wyoming Assessor's Office and when his ruling arrived in the mail, he found his work had paid off. The city ruled his house was worth $35,000, just a little more than the $30,000 that his appraisal had ruled. So his property taxes also fell significantly. "It went down from approximately $1,800 (per year) before, now it's about $700." The silver lining to Ben's depreciating home value was that he's now paying less than 50% of what he was two years ago in property taxes.
For people who have a hard time paying their property taxes, they can also apply for a Hardship Exemption from the state of Michigan on a year to year basis.