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Turner Drake & Partners Ltd.
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# Wednesday, March 4, 2015

June 28th, 2013 marked my twenty-year anniversary at Turner Drake.  At the time of writing this post, I’m almost two years closer to my golden anniversary. 

Originally hired, trained and educated as a commercial appraiser, I’ve spent the majority of my career in our Property Tax Division.  True to our in-house training program, which hires graduates directly from University, I started as a trainee valuer. Six years later I moved into a Manager’s role, and then, in 2006, became divisional Vice President.  As Vice President, I lead a team of seven that assist hundreds of owners every year in mitigating their tax burdens. 

Twenty-two years in property tax translates into tens of thousands of appeals filed and, over the course of addressing those appeals, some recurring themes have emerged.  I will discuss these themes below… and in the process, try to do a bit of property tax myth-busting.

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Assessment.

If you own property in Nova Scotia,  it’s tempting (and, with the information available online,  relatively easy) to compare your assessment to competing properties.  For some owners I’ve encountered, logging on to assessment sites and feverishly clicking on surrounding properties has become sport… in some cases, bordering on an obsession.

Comparable assessments are undeniably a useful benchmark and helpful tool to identify an over-assessment (we do it too!). While some assessors will consider assessments on similar properties as grounds for reducing an assessment at the (relatively informal) initial appeal review stage, the fact that your assessment compares unfavourably to others will carry no evidentiary weight before Nova Scotia’s administrative Tribunals, Boards, and Courts.

Nova Scotia’s Assessment Act requires uniformity of assessment… but legislated uniformity is achieved across entire classes of property in a Municipality (and there are only two such classes: residential and commercial).  Sadly, ensuring that your property’s assessment is consistent with similar properties does not ensure uniformity.  This is one of the most common misconceptions that we encounter in dealing with property appellants.

The Best Opportunity to Reduce Your Assessment (and Taxes) is NOT on Appeal.

In every province in which we operate, assessing authorities are willing to discuss assessments prior to those values being inserted onto the official assessment rolls.  In our experience, such preliminary consultations often produce better results – at lower cost – than waiting to file formal appeals.  A number of provinces, including Nova Scotia, fully embrace the opportunity to discuss proposed values and to make changes, where required, at the “pre-roll” stage.

Of course, it’s not always possible to do so, as values may not be available with sufficient “lead time” in advance of the filing of the roll.  But where the opportunity presents itself, my advice is to always be proactive, and to address a problem before it becomes one.  A stitch in time saves nine.

Not Every Property is Over-assessed.

There, I’ve said it. 

It’s the truth – not every property offers the opportunity for tax relief.  My colleagues and I take many, many calls where we have to break that unwelcome news to owners… sometimes in spite of a double digit increase, or an assessment that exceeds its neighbours by a considerable margin.   In fact, for every appeal we file, there is probably a second property that was reviewed and its value accepted. 

Assessors – They’re Just Like Us.

They wonder about going gluten-free.  They drive their kids to countless sport practices  and extracurricular  activities.  They think about work while they’re walking the dog.  They worry about getting enough fibre.  And, for the most part, they are well educated and professional, and open to reasoned argument.  That’s not to say that we don’t take the gloves off from time to time: positions do become polarised.  But professional relationships built on mutual respect with assessors from across the country have allowed for the settlement of hundreds of appeals every year without the need for Board and Court appearances.

 

Property assessment myth-busting brought to you by Giselle Kakamousias, Vice President of Turner Drake's Property Tax Division. For more on Giselle, check out her Featured Consultant piece on our Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 1:33:00 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Property Tax