A Preview of Hartford’s 2011 Revaluation

The 2011 City of Hartford property revaluation is just around the corner, and in fact, the team at the Assessor’s office has already gotten started. Homeowners are scheduled to receive a mailing in the next few months that will help the City collect data about our properties. After that, most of the work will be done internally until the new assessed values are distributed in November of 2011.

The Pump House at Bushnell Park

Don’t be Afraid

Many property owners hear the word revaluation and instinctively assume that it’s just a cover for raising taxes. It’s not. The point of a revaluation is to collect the funds needed to support the budget in a fair manner. Revaluations have nothing to do with how much the Mayor and City Council plan to spend.

The 2011 revaluation should be a non-event in many ways. The process starts with the Assessor’s office determining the “fair value” for every property in the City — the price at which it would sell in the open market in a fair sale. Since the last revaluation was in 2006, and real estate prices have not changed significantly, most residents should find that their “fair value” will be in the same range, within 25% of last time.

Even though the market hasn’t moved too far, finding the right value for each property will still be a challenge. Some homes will have lost value since 2006, while others will have gained. Improvements play a role in the recalibration, as do market trends. The City will do their best to be consistent and fair to everyone throughout the process.

Not a Repeat of the 2006 Revaluation

The revaluation in 2006 was very stressful for homeowners. Prices had increased dramatically since the previous revaluation and people were scared that their property taxes would also jump by a huge amount. The notice letters stated that owners shouldn’t try to calculate their actual tax bill based on the new fair value, however, the City did little else to reduce the uncertainty as to just how much we would be paying in the future.

As a specific example, our “fair value” increased by over 268% in the first letter we received, to a value that was far more than our home was worth. We chose to challenge our new value and, after making our case to the Assessor’s office, were pleased to receive notice that our new fair value would only be 244% more than before. This was more in line with everyone else’s increase, and resulted in a more reasonable market value. We found the Assessor’s office to be helpful throughout the process.

Because there was such a large jump in fair values, and because different properties appreciated at different rates, the City decided to phase in the new values over a five year period. Every property’s fair value has been increasing in equal steps so that by Grand List 2010 the new fair value will be in place. The phase in seemed to have two primary goals; easing people’s fears about the revaluation process, and providing relief for the owners who’s property had appreciated well more than the average and were facing much higher taxes.

If the fair value phase in wasn’t complicated enough, the City also chose to phase out a surcharge on non-residential property by changing the assessment ratio each year. Hartford property taxes have been uniquely difficult to calculate with these two processes happening simultaneously.

What’s Coming in 2011

After all the confusion from the previous go-round, the next revaluation will be a piece of cake. At least that’s the plan. All properties will use the same assessment ratio — back to 70% like the rest of the state. The mill rate should fall to make up for the increasing assessment ratio, making Hartford taxes much easier to calculate, and to compare to those of other towns. The lower mill rate will reduce the taxes on personal property, which includes cars and equipment owned by businesses.

The revaluation will proceed according to the following schedule, which is available in a helpful pamphlet on the Assessor’s website:

May 2010 – Sep 2010: Data mailers to residential property owners
Oct 2010 – Sep 2011: Sales data collection & verification
Oct 1, 2011: Effective date of Revaluation
Nov 2011: Notices of new values mailed
Nov 2011 – Dec 2011: Informal hearings to discuss new values
Jan 2012: Results of informal hearings mailed
Jan 2012 – Apr 2012: Formal appeals process
May 2012: City Council adopts new budget and sets mill rate
Jun 2012: Property taxes reflect new assessment

The most important part of the revaluation is the Informal Hearings process at the end of 2011. This is the time when individual homeowners have a chance to sit down with someone from the Assessor’s office to learn more about why their fair value is so high.

By making a reasonable argument, and supporting the argument with data, it is possible to get the fair value lowered. Our experience was that bringing relevant data was critical, that they were open to considering qualitative factors their data did not capture, and that their goal really was to end up with a result that is fair to all property owners in the City.

For More Information

The best place to learn about Hartford revaluations is on the Assessor website. They have a piece about how the 2006 revaluation was implemented and a pamphlet answering common questions about the upcoming 2011 revaluation.

After the initial data mailer that we should be receiving soon, there won’t be much to do between now and November 2011 when we receive our new fair values. We’re always happy to answer questions, and when the time comes, help gather relevant data for an informal hearing.