Here's how to assess whether the city has blown your assessment

Posted: March 01, 2013

 Q   : I bought my house for only $30,000 in the early 1980s. Now the city says it's worth $350,000. I fixed it up and the neighborhood has improved somewhat, but it's still a rowhouse outside Center City. So how could it be worth so much?

A: Your question has two possible answers. The first is that it's worth so much because land and home values have skyrocketed in many Philly neighborhoods in recent years. The second is that your assessment is wrong and your home isn't worth that much.

Ask any Realtor, or any longtime homeowner who's recently sold his house, and he'll tell you prices are higher than anyone would have imagined 15 or 20 years ago. For decades, Philly's real estate was undervalued. You could become a homeowner in Philly for less money, closer to downtown, than in most any other similar city in America.

But even if your home's value has increased, your new assessment still could be off. If the city's Office of Property Assessment (OPA) thinks your house has more bedrooms than it really does, or more square footage, or an extra story, or a bigger yard, that will raise your assessment beyond what it should be.

The basic structure type, and the number of stories, are printed on the assessment form everyone is receiving in the mail. Property size, and usable building square footage, are available online at avicalculator.phila.gov. If any of this information appears to be in error, you can appeal your assessment (more on that in a future entry).

Finally, it's possible that something in the OPA's methodology is producing inflated values for some homes. There is no firm evidence of that currently, and there's little doubt the new assessments are more accurate on the whole than the old, haphazard assessments.

If there are widespread problems with how OPA divided up the city and how it calculated property values, that can't be solved by an individual assessment. That will have to be dealt with through a public, political process.

- Matt Ruben


Have a question about your property tax assessment? Send it to avi@phillynews.com. Although we won't publish them, you need to include your name and phone number.

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