Nathan HayengaSenior Speech My interest in the field of law started when I was a very small child, as young as six orseven. Basically I started showing an interest/inclination when I started reading and writing. Iwrote little “contracts” which my sister and I would sign to state what we would play, and forhow long. This was our method of compromising on what we would play, because we had verydifferent opinions on what was fun. We even negotiated punishments if a party failed to hold uptheir end of the agreement. I was very serious about it; I even thought that our “contracts” werelegally binding. My mom actually used to agree with me so that Ally, my sister, would followthrough on her end. It probably wasn’t very fair to Ally though, as I started drafting agreementsbefore she learned to read. My senior project was to file an appeal to the county assessor’s officeto attempt to lower the assessed value of my house. I picked this as a simpler, smaller scaleversion of the work I will have to do as a corporate attorney. The first thing I did in my process was to learn a little about the history and function ofthe Ad Valorem, or property, tax. This is actually what the entirety of my research paper wasabout. It is interesting that property taxes are, in fact, the single oldest form of taxation. Theywere first used around six thousand b.c. in the Mesopotamian city-state of Lagash. The systemhas barely changed since ancient times. Then, people had to pay more during times of war, ordisasters. This means that when they were getting more benefits, they were paying more taxes.Now, in America property taxes are the taxable value of a property factored into the millage rate.The higher the millage rate, the better the benefits. This includes better schools, among otherthings.
The second thing I did was to get a project facilitator. For this role I chose Mrs. McCord,one of my sisters friends mother. I chose her because I knew I could easily get into contact withher and because she is a real estate agent. This means that she would have an up to date workingknowledge of the property assessment system, as well as knowing how to get records. She wasalways available for when I had questions, which was just what I needed. Property taxes are generally a local issue, this is due to massive variations in standardhome qualities and values regarding local. A rural three hundred thousand dollar home could beworth more than a million dollars if it was in the direct outskirts of a major city, like LA or NYC.Because of this somewhat ludicrous level of variation, in the United States of America millagerates and Ad Valorem tax methods are decided at the county level. This also means that everycounty has a slightly different system. Or a radically different system, whatever the case may be.This lack of understanding can make it difficult for people new to an area to ensure that they arebeing taxed appropriately. Thankfully, most county systems share many common traits. I, living in Cherokeecounty, followed Cherokee’s process in my project for calculating taxes owed. The first step infiguring property taxes is to find a properties taxable value. In Cherokee county the taxable valueof a home is forty percent of the fair market value. So if the property could be sold at onehundred thousand dollars, its taxable value is forty thousand dollars. The next step is to factor inthe millage rate. One mil is defined as one dollar for every one thousand dollars of taxable value.This is effectively ten cents on the dollar. Cherokee counties millage rate is 29.235. So for ahundred thousand dollar house the total property taxation would be forty percent of fair marketvalue, divided by one thousand, multiplied by twenty nine and two hundred and thirty fivethousandths. This gives you one thousand, one hundred and sixty nine dollars, and forty cents
($1,169.40) a year, assuming that nothing changes from year to year. And that is where myproject comes in. Market values change with a dynamic economy, but tax assessor offices often will onlyappraise properties every few years. So an appeals process, which is what I did, show how aproperty is worth less than it is appraised for. In its simplest form, the appeal is a form that youfill out stating your estimate of the current fair market value of your home, or the property inquestion. I actually found this to be more challenging than it had any right to be. Because I livein a border area between Cherokee county and the city of Alpharetta I need to pay taxes toCherokee county, but I have an Alpharetta address. My issue was that I found the form forAlpharetta houses, even though I needed the Cherokee county form. This showed me thatsometimes the government complicates pretty simple tasks. I am just thankful it was any easy fixto rectify my stupidity. Once you get the form you can be done as soon as you write in a fairmarket value estimate and submit the form. But, as they stated in the Cherokee Tribune, comingup with the fair market value is the easy part, the hard part is proving estimate is accurate. Theeasiest way to prove the validity of your estimate is to show comparable properties that haverecently sold for a different price than yours is registered as. So, naturally, the next step would beto find similar houses. This has become much easier with the internet and web sites such asZillow.com. On Zillow you can find homes by giving an address or you can go to their searchpage and enter the features you want a house to have, like number of bedrooms and bathrooms. This is where I made my second big mistake. I found some very comparable properties,but that is the end of what I did correct. I didn’t put any thought into location; the homes I foundwere located everywhere from Fulton County to south side of Atlanta. As it turns out, much of ahome’s value comes from its location. I saw nearly identical homes in very different areas have
price differences as great as a million dollars. So, after laughing at me profusely, my projectfacilitator steered me back on course and suggested that I simply use similar houses in mysubdivision which had been sold more recently than mine to show how the value has dropped.This simplified the process immensely. I used houses within my cul-de-sac to illustrate how localvalues are falling. Zillow was wonderful for this because in one of their “rap sheets” they showwhat a fair market value price for the property would be for any given year. And they have a neatgraph that shows market trends, namely rises and falls in value. This can help you find when themarket is on the rise or fall to show if it would be beneficial to file an appeal. There is often thepossibility that when reviewing your appeal that the assessor board will decide your home isworth more than registered and require you to pay more in Ad Valorem taxes. This rarelyhappens, but is the reason I did not actually file the appeal I filled out. An important little detailthat’s changed since the previous assessment of my homes value is that my father and I finishedour basement, causing the value to rise significantly. Actually submitting the appeal could raisethe taxes due by as much as a third, so we decided not to do that. The final thing I did to add weight to my argument that the top two floors of my houseare worth less than they are recorded as was to get official records for both my house and mycomparable properties. Many local governments have made this easier by recording much ofproperties pertinent information, size, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and sale dates andprices, in a concise form as property cards. These are also all public domain and available to getcopies of in your local courthouse. This is another process made simpler through the use of theinternet. I was all set to go to the courthouse and get my records but my project facilitatorshowed me how it is possible to get property cards online, at least for Cherokee county. But,
given how much easier this innovation makes the entire venture, other counties are beginning toadopt the practice. Once you have your proof and your form all that is left is to organize it all and submit it.After this you will get scheduled for an appeal with which you can plead your case. The trick ingetting what you want during the appeal is the same as getting what you want in any situationwhere you have no real power; you must be calm and collected, while your argument needs to beshort and sweet. If you did everything right, you can be one of the ninety percent of appeals tosee a lowering of their properties assessed value. I, unfortunately, do not have real experiencewith this because I did not file the appeal. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned throughout my project. I found that Iwant to follow my dreams of becoming “Nathan Hayenga esquire” even more than I previouslythought. So much of the legal system is more confusing than it needs to be, and as a lawyer Iwould be in a position to attempt to simplify some of the processes. I also learned that much ofthe legal system is paperwork, which I am less than thrilled about, but this is more than made upfor by the ability to make a difference that I would have. The final, and perhaps most importantthing I learned is that asking and receiving help with a project does not take away from the senseof pride I feel from accomplishing my goal. With this knowledge I can hopefully go on tocollege and my life not limited by my former stubborn refusal to accept help. As I said, I waspleasantly surprised with myself.