My 2008-2009 assessed value notice for my property tax arrived recently. Each year for the last two years my home’s assessed value was increased 2% to keep up with inflation, even though my home’s actual value hasn’t increased the last couple of years (and in fact may have decreased a bit).
The new assessed value is about 9.5% less than my purchase price. This is a “temporarily reduced” value, about 13% less than what it “should” be. That should translate to a decent savings in my property tax bill this year.
This reduction was automatic. I didn’t have to do anything to get it; many California counties are reassessing tens of thousands of homes, for free.
So imagine my surprise when I got an official-looking brown envelope from “Property Tax Adjusters, Inc.” guaranteeing a reduction in my property tax, for a mere $125.
Besides the official-looking envelope, the letter itself has lots of jargon explaining why I got this letter and what they’ll do, along with my “Assessor Parcel Number”; this number is public information, but not everyone knows that, thus lending an air of authenticity.
The Santa Clara Office of the County Assessor, the folks who decide how much property taxes I pay, put out an “Assessor Consumer Alert” for a similar service by Aim Best Appraisals. The Assessor, Larry Stone, said in that alert:
It’s disgraceful, there’s simply no reason at all for a property owner to pay a fee to a private company for a service taxpayers receive from the Assessor’s Office without charge.
He went on to call ABA “bottom dwellers who are feeding upon the increased fears of homeowners.” Ouch.
The website for Property Tax Adjusters (I won’t link to them; search for their name; they use “prop” in their URL) is nothing more than a series of questions and answers, with no information on costs or the company. The address they give is in Oceanside, CA; Google Maps places them in a seemingly undeveloped-part of Southern California. Searching for their telephone number brings up a Better Business Bureau entry that shows the company started in August 2007 and joined the BBB in May 2008. You’ll also find a different address for them, in Carlsbad, CA, about a 15 minute drive from Oceanside.
Property Tax Adjusters is reportedly under investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office:
Deputy District Attorney David Lim said services like those offered by Connection Plus Inc. of Foster City and San Diego County-based Property Tax Adjusters Inc. could be illegal. “At first blush, it looks like it may not be illegal, but we need to investigate if there’s a crime there. We don’t know what they’re doing once they meet with people.”
Lim was also quoted as saying:
You should definitely be wary of this, especially when you realize the county is doing it for free. They are not going to provide you with anything you already get, so why pay them?
I couldn’t have said it better myself.