If you live in, or own a Split Level, or Split Entry/Bi-level style dwelling within Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Somerset, Washington or Westmoreland Counties, be forewarned. Your property may be assessed at a higher value than the property should be due to a lack of uniformity. The lack of uniformity is what created the court ordered re-assessment process in Allegheny County and forced the courts to redefine the assessment process within Pennsylvania. Additionally, if you’re School District, Municipality, or County has appealed your assessment recently, your local Office of Property Assessment may have adjusted your assessment higher than it should have been.
Due to erroneous property data used in the assessment process on these style dwellings (we will get into the cause later), it is quite possible you are paying more in Real Estate Taxes than you should be. This erroneous data has been found so far recently in nearly 100% of all these style dwellings within Allegheny County since 2013. A spot sampling done in January 2012 showed 50% were accurate and 50% inaccurate within Allegheny County. A recent spot sampling in Fayette County shows approximately 35% inaccurate and 65% accurate. Due to the lack of available data for Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties, the results are inconclusive and should be monitored. The spot survey of Washington County over the last 2 years shows approximately a 100% inaccurate rate and a recent spot survey in Allegheny County shows a near 100% inaccurate rate up from 50% in 2012.
It is our years of experience and expertise that identified this flaw and we are now bringing this information to light. It is recommended if you have this style property, give us a call to at a minimum look over the data for your property, and if need be, have your property apprised to help fix the data flaw.
I must interject; the data flaw that was found, so far in nearly 100% of all the cases, it has gone AGAINST the home owner in Allegheny County before their appeal. The other regional Counties as of yet have not gone through the re-assessment process. However, Washington County is now being re-assessed and this factor should be monitored. Any property owner that has this style dwelling should have an appraisal completed on their property to correct the flawed data so that at least going forward, the property will be on a level playing field with other type properties within their respective County.
Considering Allegheny County was the first of the regional Counties to be mandated for re-assessment, it originally was to find a FAIR and EQUITABLE solution to valuating properties for assessment purposes. However, due to this data flaw that we discovered, there appears to be nothing fair and equitable about it.
This data flaw consists of not only the lack of uniformity with Government Sponsored Entities and published Building Guidelines, but in many cases there is a lack of uniformity within the individual Offices of Property Assessment within the respective Counties themselves.
Let us begin with what we DO know about construction and ‘Above Grade Living Space’ within single family homes.
- In a 2 story Colonial, a 2.5 story Victorian, a 1.5 story Cape Cod and a 1 story Ranch etc., if there is a finished basement this is NOT included in above grade living space by the individual County Assessment Offices.
- According to the GSE’s (Government Sponsored Entities) such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac any livable areas below grade are NOT to be considered as living space. This includes any area that is fully, or partially below grade.
- According to the American National Standard For Single-Family Residential Buildings (ANSI Z765-2003: Square Footage – Method For Calculating) Below grade living area is NOT considered living space. This includes any area that is fully, or partially below grade. Published by NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) Research Center 400 Prince George’s Boulevard Upper Marlboro, Maryland 20774-8731
- Of the many residential building cost calculating sources used by Home Builders, Appraisers, Insurance Companies and others, the finished below grade areas of a single-family home is calculated at a much lower level than above grade areas.
Now I already know what you are thinking so let’s at least answer your question before going any further. Yes, you’re finished below grade game room, bath, bedroom and whatever else you may have in your basement DOES add value to your home. Just not at the same rate as if you put an addition in the rear, side or on top of your home on a cost basis. As we said above, this finished area is NOT included in the overall square feet or ‘Gross Living Area’ of your home.
Now, this is the rub. The County Assessment Offices include this finished area as above grade living space in split level and split entry/bi-level style homes even though they are aware that below grade finished areas are NOT calculated as above grade living area. This is demonstrated in the fact that these areas are not included in any other style dwelling. This fact very few home owners are aware of. So, we know that below grade finish is calculated significantly less than above grade finish (the respective Counties are also aware of this by their own calculations), and nowhere in the building or mortgage industries it is considered as living space, yet there still persists an unfair, inequitable, lack of uniformity within the process of our local taxing structures. So, the odds are very good that you are being assessed as if you had a much larger home than you actually do and thus, it is conceivable that you have a larger tax bill than you should.
Sad, but until yet another lawsuit is bought forward to remedy this inequality, the residents of this Commonwealth must endure the personal assault, and personally fight to remedy their assessment value, one property owner at a time.
Additional Note: It has just come to our attention; it appears we are now running into issues with inaccurate Cape Cod style measuring by Allegheny County Office of Property Assessment. We are unaware if this has been an ongoing condition or a new phenomenon due to us not noticing any major issues or inaccuracies to this point. Regardless, this issue may also have a bearing on assessed values within Allegheny County of Cape Cod style dwellings especially when the size of your home according to Allegheny County may be much larger than it actually is.
If you have one of these style dwellings, and feel that your assessment is too high, or if one of the taxing bodies have appealed your assessment and was able to raise your assessed value and thus your taxes, you owe it to yourself to give us a call. Also, if you would just like to know the accurate square feet of your home, we have a measuring service that my just be what you are looking for. You can find more information on our measuring services within our site.
I hope you found this information helpful and if you have any additional questions please don’t hesitate to call.
Bostedo Appraisal Services – ‘Our Pittsburgh Appraisers’ specializes in divorce appraisals, bankruptcy appraisals, date of death appraisals, estate appraisals, pre-listing appraisals, pre-purchase appraisals and more throughout the Pittsburgh and 7 County region.
For more information contact us at (412) 831-1500, visit our website at PennsylvaniaAppraisers.com, or email us by clicking ‘Contact’ at the top of our page. You can also follow us on Twitter, YouTube, or “LIKE” our Facebook page as well. Also, make sure to check out our ‘Customer Reviews & Testimonials’ page and see what others are saying about Bostedo Appraisal Services – the ‘Pittsburgh Appraisers’