Winners of Miami-Dade property tax appeal may wait two years for refund
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Delay in the tax appeal process is frustrating property owners who've paid their tax bills but, if they were over-assessed, still may not get a refund for up to two years, a tax assessment group says.
Miami-Dade's Value Adjustment Board expects to start hearing its 143,517 total 2009 tax appeals next month as it wraps up 2008 appeals, which means last year's appeals won't be done until sometime in 2011.
The real estate market bust has led many property owners to question the assessed value of their properties and seek an appeal, which has overcrowded the county's valuation board with a record-setting number of appeals filed in 2008 and 2009.
Mitchell Feldman, president of FBS Property Tax Abatement in Miami, says many clients are concerned with the delays in appeal hearings.
If it's taken the board about a year and a half to process about 100,000 appeals for 2008, Mr. Feldman says, the 2009 cycle could be longer, with more than 140,000 petitions filed.
"We will be hearing 2009 appeals for quite some time," he said, unless the valuation board can accommodate more cases.
Mr. Feldman still has some rescheduled 2008 appeal hearings pending that should wrap up soon, he said.
With the valuation board planning to start hearing 2009 appeals next month, Mr. Feldman says he will be very busy because his firm is handling thousands of cases for 2009.
"Clients are ready for us to start appealing before the Value Adjustment Board," he said. Mr. Feldman said his group filed 2009 appeals in 34 counties and has already completed hearings in about 30 of them.
But with the current delays, he says, it could take up to two years for Miami-Dade County property owners entitled to a reduction to get a refund.
Most property owners who appeal pay their taxes on time to avoid penalties, and many even pay early to get discounts on their property tax bills. Owners who are successful in an appeal then get a refund.
For some larger commercial properties, the refunds could be substantial.
For example, the 55-story, class A office tower Wachovia Financial Center at 200 S Biscayne Blvd. was awarded a $286,600 tax saving after appealing 2008 property taxes, according to the county clerk's records. A reduction was awarded after the office building's value was reduced from $123.9 million to $111.5 million.
Appeals totals show a steady rise in the past five years, with a sharp increment since 2007, as more property owners are arguing values assessed by the county Property Appraiser's office.
With a record-setting 102,295 appeals in 2008 — almost 40,000 more than 2007 — the 33 magistrates who hear cases from the valuation board have had their hands full.
But 2009 tax appeals broke that record, rising another 41,000 and making the task ahead as daunting for the already-overwhelmed valuation board.
Tom Dixon, president of Miami-based Dixon Commercial Real Estate, agrees the work begins now for tax appeal groups, who will represent hundreds of clients, many of them owners of commercial property, in front of the appeals board.
With the board adding eight magistrates and working to set up two more hearing rooms in downtown Miami where it now has six, Mr. Dixon says he hopes the process speeds up.
But he says he understands the process takes time, especially with many more cases in line for the 2009 cycle.
Mr. Dixon is preparing for the 2,000-plus cases he'll be representing in front of the board, of which he said about 70% are commercial, 20% homes and 10% condos.
But the task isn't easy.
It's challenging to find enough examples of comparable sales to determine a property's accurate value as of Jan. 1, 2009, Mr. Dixon said, because residential and commercial sales activity slowed during that period as little financing was available.
"It gets very difficult to determine what something is worth without having any examples," he said, adding that it's harder to come up with conclusions on fewer examples.
Mr. Dixon says he's using the income approach to establish values for income-producing properties. Appraisers often use the income valuation approach in commercial real estate appraisals that capitalize an income stream into a value indication. For homes and condos, he says he's primarily relying on comparable sales.
Mr. Feldman says next appeal cycle could be more of the same for Miami-Dade because he has already been getting calls from concerned property owners.
"2010 could be another high volume year for Dade County and they should expect, from the phone calls I am receiving, a significant amount of petitions again."