Singleton, a former Cherokee County commissioner, said many homeowners become frustrated by the sometimes confusing and time-consuming appeals process and simply continue to pay too much in property taxes. In response, he and his business partner, real estage agent Donna Broadus founded Woodstock-based My Property Tax Appeal LLC last November to assist particularly Cobb and Cherokee residents in lowering their taxes.
Similar companies are springing up around Cobb.
"More and more of our existing real estate clientele began asking us to help them look into possibly lowering their current property taxes due to the recent real estate collapse," said Broadus, who has worked in real estate since 2003.
"The more we started looking into this for our clients, we saw that the difference between the tax valuation and the actual current value was greater than even we anticipated."
The economic downturn has been the catalyst for the growth of tax appeal firms. In addition, Georgia homeowners have seen their property taxes increase slightly after the state eliminated funding for the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant in 2009. The state had previously offered homeowners a credit on $8,000 of their valuations.
Broadus said her company performs a study of the property and utilize recent, comparable home sales and listings in the area to establish what the property could sell for in the current market. The company then files a property tax return with the county on behalf of the homeowner, with supporting documentation and required forms.
Broadus and Singleton - who served as a commissioner from 1999 to 2003 - emphasize that My Property Tax Appeal is a no-risk service that begins with a fully refundable $35 service fee. The company serves commercial property as well. It works on contingency, charging 30 percent of first-year tax savings. For example, a homeowner whose property tax drops from $2,400 a year to $1,800 would pay a one-time fee of $180.
The housing market in Cobb is in a lot better shape compared to surrounding counties, said Jude Rasmus, owner of Rasmus Real Estate Group Inc. in Marietta. She said one doesn't see a wide difference between the fair market value of a home and what it's assessed at in Cobb.
Around the same time My Property Tax Appeal was formed, Rasmus started a similar company called Real Property Tax Appeals Group LLC in December. Rasmus said banks approached her seeking property tax reassessments on homes they owned. Deutsche Bank has hired her company to help reassess their assets in Georgia and Florida.
Rasmus said her company has been "very successful" in their appeals, due in part to its careful selection of cases and finding a reasonable median between taxpayers and the county appraiser. For example, she said if homes in a neighborhood sell for about $150,000 and a client's property is valued by the county at $250,000, her company will seek to get it assessed at around $200,000.
My Property Tax Appeal reports that it has helped more than 20 homeowners and commercial property owners in Cobb just since opening. Broadus said the average amount to date for all the homes it has worked with has been between $200 and $900, with an average of $600 per year. Commercial and land properties can see higher savings, she said.
According to the Cobb Assessor's Office, a taxpayer's appeal first goes to the county appraiser, which recommends action by the Cobb Board of Tax Assessors. If dissatisfied by the board's decision, a taxpayer may appeal within 21 days to the Board of Equalization. The next level of appeal would go to Cobb Superior Court.
The real property return deadline in Cobb and Cherokee is April 1.