Let Joe Know: Check your property tax notices for accuracy - East Valley Tribune: Columns

Let Joe Know: Check your property tax notices for accuracy

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ABC15 Investigator Joe Ducey is Arizona’s consumer alert expert. Watch his reports weekdays on ABC15 at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., and email him with questions or news tips anytime at jducey@abc15.com.

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2014 8:41 am

Property tax notices are out. But are they accurate?

One local real estate agent found, maybe not.

Brett Barry has been working in the Tatum Ranch area of Cave Creek for 17 years. So he knows the houses like, well, the back of his hand.

Recently, Barry was checking out some comparable-sized properties there for a house he was selling. That’s when he said he noticed something strange.

“There are three homes for sale that show 2,527 square feet,” he said.

That might not seem strange to you or to me, but Barry knew the floor plan of those homes. All three were Ryland Prescott model houses. And their size should be 2,188 square feet, not 2,527.

So, Barry dug deeper.

“My gosh, there are 35 homes where the assessor changed the square footage,” he said.

That’s right. The Maricopa Assessor’s Office has the homes listed with the wrong size. And since the information helps determine property taxes, the affected homeowners have been paying for nearly 350 square feet they never had.

Barry said he tried to get the Assessor’s Office to do something about it. But he said they told him he needed to be a homeowner to file a complaint. So, he sent out letters to each of the 35 homeowners. Then he let me know about it and we met in the Tatum Ranch neighborhood.

“This one and the one next to it. They’re all incorrect,” Barry said, pointing to houses up and down the street.

“In my 20 years as a Realtor, I’ve never seen anything like this. it makes no sense. What are they doing at the tax Assessor’s Office?”

I took Barry’s list and talked with Robert Pizorno with the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office.

Pizorno said that after we brought it to their attention, they found one homeowner had complained about the issue. But they didn’t know the extent of the problem. He called it an error involving 41 homes in Tatum Ranch.

“When you brought the matter to our attention, we contacted the head of our appraisal manager division,” he said.

Pizorno said that one homeowner had complained and some action was being taken. But they didn’t know the extent of the issue.

He said an error happened when the Assessor’s Office changed software.

“A second floor was added to the rolls that equated to about 380 additional square feet added to the properties,” Pizorno said, but couldn’t explain how it happened.

He said affected homeowners will get overpayment refunds for the last three years. Those notices should go out by the end of the month. And Pizorno says future property tax notices are being corrected.

But Barry said the error caused another serious concern. He said the error has wreaked havoc on the local real estate market.

“It’s created kind of a domino effect because some of these homes have been sold with the incorrect footage going back three, four years ago. They were sold with that higher square footage. Some of those homeowners may not know they bought it with less square footage than they thought,” Barry said.

We talked with one woman who recently bought a house in the area. The listing shows she and her husband paid around $159 per square foot. But, the real estate agents used the home size recorded with the Assessor’s Office. That wasn’t the accurate square footage.

With the real size, Barry said she and her husband paid nearly $60,000 more than they should have for the property. He blames the lender and appraiser for not protecting the homeowner.

Barry also blames the Assessor’s Office for not doing its job correctly. He said, “Realtors depend on that data to be accurate and we use it in our MLS.”

But Pizorno will have no part of that.

“That’s a private transaction between two parties, between buyer and seller. Our office is not part of that transaction... Our data is not supposed to be used for purposes of sale,” he said.

Pizorno points to a long disclaimer on their website that says in part, “Caution: Users should independently research and verify information.”

He also said that with 20 employees responsible for 1.2 million parcels, his office relies on homeowners reporting errors they find.

When I asked if there could be more houses involved with this mistake, the assessor’s rep said that so far, it appears to be an isolated case.

But Barry said if he randomly found this one, who knows?

“When people get their tax assessment, maybe they should take a closer look because their square footage could have changed in a big way.”

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