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Attorney: Property assessments a valuable opportunity

With dozens of Connecticut towns and cities scheduled to conduct property assessments this fall, one attorney cautioned against dismissing revaluation notices without review in what is an opportunity that typically arises only once every five years.

Under state law, most municipalities are required to perform revaluations of every property – residential, commercial and industrial – at least every five years for the purpose of updating property tax assessments.

That means that for the first time since 2007, property owners in towns and cities such as Danbury, Stamford, Redding, Ridgefield and Wilton – all of which are conducting revaluations this fall – will have the opportunity to have their properties assessed, said Elliott B. Pollack, who leads the property valuation department for Pullman & Comley L.L.C., which has offices in Bridgeport, Stamford, Hartford, Waterbury and White Plains, N.Y.

“In most of these situations, the last time the property was valued would go back to 2007, which was certainly a far different time economically,” Pollack said. “It is an important event in the life of any commercial property because the cycle means that this is the assessment you’re going to have, barring changes, for five years.”

Pollack said it is important for property owners to consult in-house or external advisers to determine whether the proposed market value assessed to their property is reasonable, as well as to determine whether the assessed value falls in line with comparable neighboring properties.

In cases of similar properties that receive different valuations, it is important to follow up with the firm hired by municipalities to conduct the assessments or with the municipality itself, Pollack said.

“Take, for example, two buildings, side by side. There are some slight differences but they’re virtually the same,” Pollack said. “If the assessor says building A is worth $200 for every square foot of space and building B is worth $300 for every square foot of space, then the owner of the second building should start doing some research to determine why his building came in higher.”

By following up on such discrepancies early in the process, property owners will often have the ability to speak directly with the entity that conducted the revaluations as opposed to having to challenge an assessment through the court system, Pollack said.

“Why these encounters are important is the revaluation company is frequently open, when there are reasonable challenges to be made, to corrections,” Pollack said.

The time at which a property owner receives a valuation notice – notices Pollack said inevitably come in small, discreet envelopes – represents “the earliest possible point in the process where property owners can accomplish something.”

Pollack said there are many critics of the five-year review cycle.

“There are a lot of people, including yours truly, who think the five-year cycle is really much too long and that properties should be valued more frequently, because in many places you have archaic values when you have such huge sea changes in the economy,” he said. “When you wait too long, you wind up having people paying taxes on values that frequently don’t make any sense.”

It is unlikely, however, that the long gap between valuations factors in property sales – particularly given the recent economy, Pollack said.

While assessments are sometimes used to compare the asking prices of homes, Pollack said, “When you have very significant market changes such as we had in ’08, ’09 and ’10, I think those rules go out the window.”

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Patrick Gallagher

Bio: Fairfield County Bureau Chief Staff Reporter Westchester County Business Journal Covers: Economy, energy, government, infrastructure and public works projects, law, media, technology Phone: (914) 694-3600, ext. 3017

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