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Resolving Assessment Appeals: Getting Past the Confirmation

This month’s blog is dedicated to providing some simple advice to help you increase your chances of successfully resolving your assessment appeal and avoiding the dreaded “confirmation letter”. Ironically, it is actually inspired by some terrible advice a prospective client relayed to me while describing the process he used to resolve his own appeals

First off, the disclaimers. All appeals are not created equal and as a result there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to successfully resolve all appeals. Second, some appeals are complex and warrant an equally complex strategy to resolve them, but since the overwhelming majority of assessment appeals get settled without necessitating a contested hearing and most cases don’t warrant bringing in one of TV’s top lawyers[1], let’s assume our goal is to resolve our appeal at the review stage.

What Not to Do

Let’s start with the strategy my prospective client was using. I may be paraphrasing here but as I recall when he was explaining his strategy he proudly proclaimed “I don’t tell the assessor a darn thing!”. Presumably, this advice was rooted in an inherent distrust of the local assessor but given that an appeal is initiated by the owner, and in most jurisdictions the onus is on the owner to prove an assessment is incorrect, this strategy is condemned to failure. In order to make a decision to reduce an assessment, an assessor requires facts and issues to justify processing a change. Although it’s possible that an assessor will unearth these facts on his own, an owner greatly increases his chance of succeeding if he can assist the assessor in his quest for new facts.

A Philosophy For Success

If you keep in mind that your assessment is based on a valuation model that is by necessity, developed to estimate the market values for thousands of properties, the path to success in an assessment appeal is to show why this model overstates your assessment. At the most basic level you should ask yourself, what is unique or different about your property that detracts from its value and hasn’t already been accounted for in the assessment? Accordingly, step 1 is to request disclosure and get a copy of your assessment calculation and step 2, is to develop a list of facts or issues that were not previously accounted for.

  • Is a portion of the land encumbered by an easement, a rocky slope, or a swamp?
  • Does one of your leases have a clause or clauses that make it less desirable than those typical of the market?
  • Is your vacancy higher than the market and is there a reason for it?
  • Is the property awkwardly configured in a manner that makes it less useful than most others?

The list of potential issues is endless but the only way an assessor will be able to incorporate them into the assessment is if they are brought to his or her attention. Seasoned assessors will appreciate the transparency and although you’ll still have to resolve by how much the issue should detract from the value you’ll be well on your way to getting past the confirmation letter.

[1] In a recent poll of the members of our Property Tax Team it seems we’d hire Suit’s Harvey Spector, Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman, Law & Order’s Jack McCoy or the unbeatable Ben Matlock. I can only conclude that our tax team spans a few generations! Like our Facebook page if you agree and post any that we might have missed!

Property Tax advice provided to you by André Pouliot, Senior Manager of Turner Drake’s Property Tax Division and New Brunswick office. If you have any questions regarding property tax, feel free to contact André at 1 (800) 567-3033 or .

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