by MIKE SEVER
A Seattle-based company called ValueAppeal is telling Portage County property owners it can help reduce their property taxes -- for a fee.
Portage County Auditor Janet Esposito says taxpayers can do it themselves, for free.
"I have a serious concern about companies charging for this. There's a bunch of them; they're doing this all over Ohio," she said.
Every year as the deadline nears to appeal property tax assessment, companies send out letters saying they can help lower people's taxes.
"People can come in and do this for free, and I can give them some help on the information they need," she said. "People are throwing money away."
Esposito said she encourages property owners to call her to discuss their concerns. She said she talked with one 80-year-old woman, told her what information she needed for her appeal.
"She came in and represented herself and got her reduction," Esposito said.
ValueAppeal claims one out of four homes in the U.S. is over-assessed, but that the number varies by jurisdiction. Their website offers comments from satisfied customers who used the service to handhold them through the appeals process.
ValueAppeal recommends property owners talk with the local assessor's office, and point out discrepancies between the per square-foot cost of their prop and comparable properties.
Esposito said she was not familiar with ValueAppeal's offer, but said some firms require the taxpayer pay them a portion of any tax savings.
If there is a dispute, Esposito said the office will send out an appraiser to review the property. The county may make an offer for a reduced assessment based on that review.
"If they have concerns, come in and see me, or call me at 330-297-3565 or 330-297-3561. Tell them to ask for Janet," Esposito said.
To do your own tax appeal, experts recommend:
• Check your tax bill to make sure your land, house square footage, details on the number of rooms, bathrooms, etc. are accurate.
•Collect documents that show recent sales prices of comparable homes (at least three).
•Take photos of your home's condition. If it needs major repairs, it won't be worth as much. If the property has been refinanced recently, you can use the appraisal from the mortgage company, Esposito said.
• Make sure you are claiming all the property tax relief you are eligible for, such as the Homestead Exemption, which is available to senior citizens and disabled; and the 2.5 percent tax reduction for owner-occupied homes.
Portage property owners have until March 31 to file an appeal on their tax assessments. Hearings will be scheduled to start in late May or early June.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4154