The Assessing Department will provide you with the proper form you need to appeal your assessment. Be sure to follow instructions carefully. A missed deadline (March 1 following the notice of your final tax bill) or incorrect filing can cause an appeal to be dismissed. 

What Determines Assessment

Fair market value of a property determines the assessment, that is, the price most people would pay for it in its condition as of the assessment date. The best indicator of fair market value is market activity. Buyers and sellers create market value by their transactions. In an appeal, the best evidence of market value is sale price, the sale price of the subject property or of similar properties (called comparables).

However, sale price is not necessarily the same as market value. The assessor carefully examines all sales, qualifies the sales, and adjusts them for special circumstances that might decrease or inflate prices. An owner in a hurry to sell might sell for less. If the seller includes substantial personal property in the sale or provides discounted financing the sale price is likely to be inflated. Although the sales comparison approach is not the only approach used (cost and income approaches are two others), comparable sales are recognized by courts as the best evidence of market value. Residential taxpayers who appeal successfully usually do so by finding comparable properties that have lower assessed values or that have recently sold for less than the assessed values.

Many taxpayers are confused at increases in assessed values because the property has not changed. But physical change is not the only reason for a change in property value, the market is. If a town's major industry leaves, property values collapse. Conversely, as decaying neighborhoods with good housing stock are discovered by young homebuyers, prices gradually rise, and then soar as the neighborhood becomes fashionable. A shortage of detached houses in a desirable neighborhood can send prices to ridiculous levels. In a recession, larger homes may stay on the market for a long time, but two-bedroom condominiums are in demand, so their prices rise. In a stable neighborhood, with no extraordinary pressure from the market, inflation increases property value.

Homebuyers, home sellers, bank appraisers, real estate analysts, and the assessor all pay attention to the same market factors in valuing property.

How Assessors Value Property

The first step in valuation is data collection. The assessor's office collects quantities of information about each property in the jurisdiction. The information is recorded on a property record form, which may be reviewed for accuracy by the taxpayer.

The assessor's office also collects sales data and data on social, economic, and environmental factors affecting property value, for example, employment, population and income patterns, interest rates, construction costs, regional location factors (such as access to parks, churches, schools, and public transportation), zoning, and rent control. Complete and accurate maps are essential to the assessor's office. Many jurisdictions now have computerized geographic information systems that are used by many branches of government. These systems integrate ownership records with information about zoning, sewage systems, land use, soil types, communication networks, geologic structure, and a host of other data.

In short, the assessor's office has an abundance of data relevant to the value of your property. Incidentally, this information makes the office an important community resource.

To apply this information to your property, the assessor constructs a model, a simplified representation of how market factors affect value. Most residential property is valued with a cost model or a sales comparison model.

A cost model says the estimated market value of your property equals the value of the land and the cost of constructing a replacement, less depreciation. Replacement cost is usually found by a cost manual that shows regional construction costs for all building elements. Depreciation depends largely on age, condition, and the current desirability of the property's features and location.

Sales comparison models are usually more important in appeals. A sales comparison model says the estimated market value of your property equals the sale price of a comparable property, with adjustments to the sale price for differences between your property and the comparable. For example, if your property has a swimming pool and two bathrooms, but the comparable has no pool and three bathrooms, you would add the value of the pool to the comparable's sale price and subtract the value of a bathroom. The result would be evidence of what you might expect to sell your property for.

Assessors use more than one comparable, usually three to five. Also, they use more complex models that incorporate many more factors. And rather than considering properties one at a time, assessors use computer software to appraise at one time many properties of the same general type, for example, townhouses.

The Appeals Process

Every jurisdiction has an appeals process mandated by law. The first step is usually an informal meeting with someone in the assessor's office. (Sometimes this informal review is handled by telephone or mail.) Information on the mechanics and deadlines for setting up an appointment should be included with your assessment notice, along with similar information for the entire appeals process. During or before this informal meeting, you should review the property record form on your property to be sure all the information is correct. Know the lot size, number of stories, square footage, and condition of your property. If you have an accurate survey of your property, be sure to bring it with you to the meeting. You may also want to identify comparable properties and review their record forms.

Your aim at this informal review, which is not yet an appeal, should be (1) to verify the information on your property record form, or correct it, (2) to make sure you understand how your value was arrived at, (3) to discover if the value is fair compared with the values of similar properties in your neighborhood, (4) to find out if you qualify for any exemptions, and (5) to be sure you understand how to file a formal appeal and how the office can help you, if you still want to appeal.

The person conducting the meeting may not commit to a change in value at this meeting, even though you have uncovered an error or all agree that the assessment is not fair. The decision about a value change may have to be made by someone else and communicated to you in writing. If this is so, find out when you may expect to hear from the office. The first level of formal appeal is usually to a local board. Your appeal is more likely to be successful if you present evidence that comparable properties in the same neighborhood are assessed for less than yours. Copies of property record forms on your comparables, with records of their assessed values or sales prices are your best defense. Note any differences between your property and the comparables and point out these differences. The assessor will be interested in the fairness and accuracy of the value placed on your property, not in whether you can afford to pay your taxes or whether taxes are too high.

If you disagree with the Assessor's decision, the next, level is the Board of Tax and Land Appeals or Superior Court. If you still disagree, the next, and highest level of administrative review is the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Many residential appeals are usually settled at the local level. The following is the link to the Board of Tax and Land Appeals where you can obtain an abatement application.