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Gust Sarris
Jacksonville, Florida, United States
I was a business consultant and Entrepreneur for many years. During this time I had many attorneys and often felt that they certainly knew the law but often did not understand my business. About 8 years ago through my business efforts, I was in a place and time in my life where I could take some time off. I was always curious about the law and made the decision to attend law school. The first law practice I joined was not a fit for me. When I left I wanted to have a law firm that understood business and had a common sense approach to all forms of law The Affinity Law Firm was founded and immediately merged with the Law Office of Millie Kanyar. A strong partnership was formed that relied strongly on technology, business models, and an "affinity" for the law. In a short time another partner joined, Graham Syfert, and we have not stopped growing. Affinity Law now handles many types of law but has not forgot the basics that client service is number one. From the sound of our name you will find our approach to law refreshing. I hope that if you have read this far you will give us your enough trust to come in and see us and we will earn your trust. - Gust Sarris
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Published Legal Guides

Duval County Florida Real Estate Tax Assessment TRIM notice Appeal

Real Estate Tax appeal Duval County Florida VAB TRIM notice Assessment Challenge

Duval County Tax Assessment Appeal


This guide was designed to allow you to appeal your real estate taxes in Florida. Although specific to Duval County it is good information and the concepts could be applied in many states. It discusses the entire process and what you should do to prepare.


Step One- Understanding the Process!

In Florida taxes are paid in arrears and are due in November. This means taxes start on January 1, but they are not due until death following November, 11 months later! Understanding this is very important, because the appraiser's office assesses the property using comparables, preferably from several months before last year's date. They will also use the first few months of the year if there are not many comparables. Also note that you are given information prior to the taxes being due about the assessed value. However, you only have 25 days to file notice of your intent to appeal after the receipt of the TRIM (Truth in Millage). If you do not file within the 25 day process, only under extenuating circumstances will you be allowed to appeal. There are several other important things to know. If you feel you are only appealing the value of your property - not the amount of taxes that you pay. If the value of your property is correct, there is nothing to be appealed! The most important thing that is missed or misunderstood is that distressed property sales are not considered. This means that if the properties that you wish to compare your property to have been short-sold, are REO’s (Real Estate Owned or owned by the bank), are foreclosures, are sheriff sales, are tax deed sales, have been quit claimed, deeds in lieu, or are relocation properties - these are not considered comparables. This applies even if you purchased it from the bank. This is the biggest point that people miss. The Florida Department of revenue put out an informational bulletin, PTO 08 -- 22 that says, “Section 193.011(1) specifically refers to a transaction at arm's length.” It states that fair market value, or just value is - “amount one willing but not obliged to buy would pay to one willing but not obliged to sell. “ It's so far this seems fair. We must read on – “an arm’s length transaction is one between unrelated parties where the parties are not affected by undue stimuli from family, business, financial, or personal factors.” I personally cannot think of a single transaction that is on affected from stimuli relating to family business financial or personal factors. However, this means no distressed properties will be considered as comparables. Suppose as an investor you purchased three properties on the same street all at foreclosure sales. Your average purchase price is $70,000 for a three bedroom two bathroom home in reasonable condition. You invest $10,000 to bring these homes up to standard. All these homes were purchased in mid-January, and all of these homes are approximately 1500 ft.² . However, 30 days before an out-of-town person looking to relocate purchased a home next to yours with the same specifications for full market price of $130,000. The way this works is that none of your homes will be considered to be comparables. What will be considered to be a comparable was the home purchase for full market value. This is not my rule, however, it is the way it works. If you do not understand what I've just stated I would ask that you read this section again. For simplicity, I am going to bullet point properties, which would be considered to be not comparable:

• any property purchased at auction
• any property purchase with a quit claim deed
• any property that was short sold
• any property that was in REO or bank owned property
• any property that had major damage was sold by an insurance company
• any property that was purchased during a foreclosure or at a foreclosure sale
• any property that was purchased from a relation of yours
• any property that was owned by HUD or FDIC
• any property that is under contract but has not been sold
• almost any property that was sold in April, May, June, July, August, September. (Remember that the assessment is determined at the first day of the year.)
• Most properties that were sold outside of MLS services – (Without a Real Estate Agent)

Step Two- Beginning your homework.

Between November and March, it is very important to take pictures of your property on a camera that includes the date. This will allow you to document your evidence for the coming year's tax appeal. Photos do not count that are near the end of the year, if you are appealing that year! That means by the time you receive your TRIM notice in September- It is too late to document the condition of the house! When you take photos, make sure you are taking photos of things that are important to the value of the house. Taking pictures of three garbage bags outside the house does not affect the value of the house. Even if the house is dirty, it will not affect the value of the house. Here is a list of things that you should take pictures of:

• outdated kitchen cabinets
• broken ceramic floors, tiles, marble, showers, bathtubs, toilets
• outdated electrical services
• cracks in walls, ceilings, foundations, driveways, sidewalks, or any structural issue
• leaks in plumbing, ceilings, drains, sinks, showers, toilets
• pools that are leaking, not maintained, broken, - not just green from algae
• roofs that are missing shingles, gutters, broken skylights, broken chimneys
• bricks or blocks that are missing mortar, missing, or broken
• HVAC units that are missing, outdated, too small, or broken
• lawns that are nonexistent, overgrown, are flooded, or have major issues - not just high grass
• trees that need to be removed, or detract from the appearance of the house
• any issue that you would consider to be a material defect to the house

This documentation will be your best friend at the VAB meeting. No matter who does your appeal, this is information that must be provided to them and cannot be taken after you have received the trim notice. If the person doing the appeal does not have this evidence it will hurt your appeal process.

Step Three- Understanding the Mass Appeal Process

There are eight factors that affect the assessed value of the house. If you try to argue outside these eight factors, your argument will not be considered as valid. The following are factors that are considered to be proper:

1. The present cash value of the property – (on January 1 –not now!)
2. The highest and best use of the property.
3. The location of the property.
4. The size of the property.
5. The cost of the property and present replacement value of any improvements.
6. The condition of the property.
7. The income from the property.
8. The proceeds of the property if they would sell after deducting all expenses.

You must determine why you're arguing the value of your property. Also remember that you are arguing the value of your property on January 1st - not during the hearings a year later. If you purchased the house in January, and the assessment is less than the purchase price - You should not appeal. Any argument that you can make using the above eight items will be considered to be valid and taken into consideration. Any written document is much more valuable than any argument that you will make such as my neighbor said that... almost every residential property is evaluated by a comparable process, not by income. Almost all commercial properties are evaluated by the income, not the comparable. However, you may make your argument, using either determination.

Step Four -- Avoiding Major Mistakes

1. Not having photos and documentation from the beginning of the year.
2. Missing the 25 day appeal deadline that is normally in August or September and losing your right to appeal.
3. Using comparables from a distressed property that are not considered.
4. Not providing evidence at least seven days prior to the VAB hearing date, which the magistrate may not consider.
5. Basing your argument on the amount of tax paid not the value of the property.
6. Basing your argument on the property next door, which is not a comparable.
7. Basing your argument on the fact that almost all property values have fallen without proper comparables.
8. Basing your argument on the fact that you can afford your taxes.
9. Basing your argument on the number of homes that are listed but have not sold.
10. Basing your argument on a criteria that is not one of the eight listed above.
11. Believing that just showing up is a reason for your taxes to be reduced.

Step Five -- The VAB Process

1. At the end of August begin to look in your mail for your TRIM , which will show the new value of your assessment. If you agree with this you will not need to do anything. If you do not agree you should immediately fill out the bottom of the form, make a copy for your records , including the stamped envelope, and immediately send it in.
2. Make two copies of all photos that you have taken at the end of last year or the beginning of this year. If you have not taking these photos you're already behind the eight ball.
3. Obtain comparable properties that are the same size, age, location, approximate square foot, and similar to your property. You will need to make two copies of these as well. Although you may be able to do this on your own is much easier to have a real estate professional assist you. Do not use websites that you cannot filter your results and include distressed properties such as those listed in step one. This is one of the most important steps in your appeal.
4. Once your VAB hearing date is set, call the appraiser's office in determine the name of the appraiser and contact info so that you may speak to them prior to the hearing. This is a much easier way to compare information and possibly avoid the hearing and an unknown result.
5. Call the appraiser and discuss your comparables, and why you feel the property value is incorrect. Be polite, keep to the facts, and remember that they know the rules much better than you do. Use your negotiating skills, keeping to the facts and the property appraiser may agree with you on your value. If so congratulations you're done.
6. If you do not come to a conclusion or cannot agree, send a formal letter in writing asking for the evidence that the appraiser plans on using at the VAB hearing. Be prepared to submit your evidence as well, at least seven days prior to the hearing. Failure to do so may result in your evidence not being considered.
7. Up here at the VAB hearing early so that you may speak to the appraiser and try to resolve this prior to the hearing. Be sure to dress appropriately and rehearse the arguments that you wish to make. Avoid moaning and groaning eye rolling and anything else that may show that you're disgusted with what the appraiser is stating. Be polite and do not interrupt remember this is a hearing.
8. Present your best possible arguments keep to the facts, and you should obtain your results within several weeks. If you do not like the results you may always appeal your decision. through our court system.

Step Six -- Additional Tips

1. The VAB relies heavily upon effective square feet and heated square feet. If you do not understand these terms, look them up on the appraiser's website as these will be used to determine value.
2. Never use general arguments such as the market has been terrible, other properties are like this, it is unfair, I don't have enough money, I already pay too much taxes, I'll sell it to you for that price, I lost my job, etc. Instead use specific arguments using the eight criteria.
3. If you do not feel comfortable with the process seek someone who has experience that will do it for you for a fee.
4. If you do not have evidence from the beginning of the year it will be very difficult for anybody to win.
5. VAB hearings are open to the public - so sit in on a few prior to your hearing. You can find out when the hearings are happening by calling the assessment office.
6. Understand that appraiser's are well educated and understand the market place including the fact that the market has been slow. They are under certain restrictions and must follow their own rules. Although you may not agree, they are the expert and their database is the best.


Gust G. Sarris, M.B.A., J.D.
Affinity Law Firm, P.L.
3947 Boulevard Center Drive
Suite 101
Jacksonville, FL 32207
(904) 398-9510 Office
(904) 398-9512 FAX

1 comments:

Joseph Russo said...

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