I purchased a condominium that is in Hamilton County and Chattanooga in June of last year for $143,000. Three months later, in October, I received the Hamilton County appraisal for this property which was $156,000. I called the County Assessor’s office and spoke to the assessor assigned to assessing property of that type and location. Explaining to him that my wife and I had only paid $143,000 for the condo, I asked how he could justify appraising the property for $13,000 more than I had paid for it just a few months prior. I also said if he really believed the property had appreciated $13,000 in just a few short months I would be more than willing to sell it to him for $156,000 and take the $13,000 profit. That is a 9.1 percent realized profit over just a few months and equates to an annual return approaching 30%. He could then hold the property himself for another few months and he too could sell it and receive a similar return on his investment, if his estimate of appreciation were accurate. Not surprisingly he did not accept my offer. I also pointed out to him that we are currently in an economy where the value of Chattanooga real estate in general and across the entire United States was decreasing, not increasing. His response was that he would look into the matter and get back to me in a couple weeks and let me know what his decision was.
Those of you that live Chattanooga hopefully know Chattanooga uses the Hamilton County appraisal as the basis for Chattanooga property taxes. Chattanooga residents must also pay Hamilton County property taxes which means any appraisal made by the tax appraiser reflecting a similar and unsubstantiated 30 percent appreciation is in reality a “double whammy” of excessive taxation for Chattanooga/Hamilton County property owners.
Several weeks later, having never receive a response from my assigned appraiser, I called and left him another message, wanting to find out if he had come to a decision, did not get a response. I called a week later and left another message for him and again a response was never received.
After yet another few weeks had passed since leaving the second message (now late November), and still not getting a return call, I happened to be in the Bonny Oaks area on other business near where the Hamilton County Property Assessor’s Office is located and decided to stop by in person. The receptionist told me my appraiser was in and she would ask him if he could see me.
After a short but reasonable wait, he came out to the lobby. I introduced myself and reminded him of our first (and only) conversation. His response was “I remember the discussion” and also said “your case is still on my desk but I have yet not given any more thought to it.” He went on to say “There is no rush because the tax bill is not due until Feb 29”, and further stated “if you don’t stop bothering me I will be inclined to leave the appraisal as is.” In fact his tone of voice was even rude. Imagine my dismay and shock to his statement and demeanor. I am an normal, average person and truly felt that having already waited well over a month since my initial phone call, I was in no way “bothering” him, just simply expecting him to do what he had previously had said would only take him a couple of weeks to do.
I left the appraiser’s office felling like I had just spoken to a person that felt he was a king or dictator whose opinion was not to be questioned. He also gave me the impression that if I were to decide to go higher up the bureaucratic chain in the assessor’s office and exercise my right to appeal in order to get any serious consideration of my concern, would be in vain because it is his and only his responsibility and there was no one that would or could over rule his decision. In essence, even though there is supposed to be an appeal process to question the validity of an appraisal, it appears that to use it would only be an exercise in futility. To put this in perspective it would be like appealing in a court of law asking the same Judge to overturn his own ruling, it just is really not going happen often if at all. This is exactly the reason appeals are made before a different judge in a court of law, other than the one issuing the initial ruling. Apparently civil defendants and accused criminals have more rights than law abiding, taxpaying citizens that “dares” to question the reasoning of a middle level local government employee.
In January, and still not having gotten a reply, I happened to be at a dinner meeting that a friend of mine that works in the appraisers office as an appraiser was also attending. I took the opportunity to discuss in detail my situation with my friend and asked if he could help me or offer any suggestions or advice on how I should proceed. He told me he understood my problem but my appraiser was the only person that I could even talk to because that was his area of responsibility and no one else would be willing to get involved. My friend continued by telling me that he was aware of the fact that this appraiser had treated others in a manner similar to the way I had been treated that had questioned the accuracy of their appraisals which had been done by him. My friend further explained that if he were to attempt to intervene in any way it could lead to his termination. He further explained the only recourse I could exercise was my right to appeal but in all likelihood it would probably would not change anything and I would just have to “bite the bullet” and pay the taxes as they were.
Not being one to give up easily, I again left messages for my appraiser in late January and early February and he still did not have the courtesy to return my calls. At that point I reluctantly decided to pay the taxes because I know if the taxes were left unpaid the county would take possession of the property. I work hard for my money, and although I live comfortably, I am by no means rich. I do not mind, as President Obama keeps repeating “paying my fair share”, as long as it is truly fair. It truly is time for there to be a change in the county assessor’s office. All government employees and elected officials work for us the taxpayers and are paid by the taxpayers and should be held accountable to any and all taxpayers. We do not live in the days of the Roman empire and should never be treated as servants and subjects to an overbearing government as I feel like I have.
I am a law-abiding citizens whose taxes help pay for my assigned appraiser's benefits package and salary. Whether or not he adjusted my appraisal, myself and all citizens should rightfully expect all government employees to do their work in a timely and efficient manner. We should all also expect out of common courtesy, if not actually required, to be personally informed of the final decision of any government employee that is responsible for making a decision promised that directly affects us, yet I was not.
I hope and pray that all citizens voting for Hamilton County property assessor vote to remove the current elected assessor that condones and perpetuates this attitude among employees within the assessor’s office. It is time to elect someone that can and will replace any employee in the assessor's office that feels they are above being questioned and, feels we the taxpayers are servants to the government. If they are unwilling to treat all property owners with the courtesy and respect we have earned by paying our taxes they do not deserve to be government employees.
The real truth is all elected government officials and government employees are there to serve the citizens that pay their salaries and not vice versa.
Concerned Citizen and Taxpayer
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I am hardly experienced at buying or owning real estate, but I do want to say something on behalf of the good folks at the Hamilton County property assessor's office.
First, when as a very mature but utter novice I started considering buying my first (and hopefully last!) home in 2009, at every place my wife and I considered we were told or easily learned the assessed valuation of the property and the annual amount of county and city taxes. I believe that was the year of increased taxes, so perhaps the whole idea was on everyone's mind and the numbers were readily available. Distasteful as those taxes may have been for me to consider, there were certainly no secrets about them.
We did finally buy an existing home in 2010 for somewhat below the new and increased assessment, and within weeks I received a detailed form letter from the chief deputy assessor asking me to confirm the recorded price and the various conditions of the sale. Among other things, that indicated to me some sort of good faith on the assessor's part, including an attempt to determine current market values.
Later in the year I visited Mr. Gary Dawn at the assessor's office on Bonny Oaks and asked what could be done to bring the assessment down, making it more in line with the obvious market value -the price I paid. He told me that the 2010 appeals panel had disbanded for the year in May and would not reconvene until early in 2011 - I must pay the 2010 taxes as billed. Meanwhile, he said he would have someone take a good look at my home and compare the assessed and purchase values.
While we talked he pulled up my property description and map and photos on his computer, and I pointed out that an old outbuilding that showed on the property map was not actually there, and perhaps had never existed. We talked about the rough terrain and woods behind my house, the great elevation difference from front to back, and the fallen trees and bare rock formations that appear on the aerial photos. Thanks to his interest and study of the situation, that phantom building soon disappeared from the property map.
In March 2011, I sent Mr. Dawn a letter reminding him of his promise to look at my place, and I called him a few weeks later to see what had been done. He said he'd take care of it promptly. The next day assessor Bill Bennett sent me a letter stating that my assessment had been adjusted downward; the new numbers reflected the actual market value at the time.
So, although my experience with real estate and home ownership is extremely limited, I must say that my equally limited experience with the Hamilton County assessor of property office has been only good. Yes, it took me three gentle tries, but the treatment I received in person, on the telephone, and by mail, was completely polite, pleasant, and professional. I appreciated it at the time, and still do appreciate it.