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ValueAppeal aims to save Las Vegas homeowners money on property

Most of the 600,000 households in Clark County saw some amount of reduction in their 2011-2012 property tax assessments that were recently mailed out, but roughly 13 percent of homeowners are still overpaying, Seattle-based ValueAppeal.com reported.

The online property tax appeal service uses a complex algorithm that factors in comparable sales, location, lot size, number of bathrooms and bedrooms, year and quality of construction, price per square foot and even views of the valley.

Last year, the average Clark County homeowner who used ValueAppeal saved more than $830 on his property taxes, Chief Executive Officer Charlie Walsh told the Review-Journal. The deadline for Clark County property owners to appeal their property taxes is Jan. 17.

“What’s interesting is obviously market values have dropped and the question remains, ‘Did the assessor respond correctly to the market drop?’ We found the values were down, but not enough,” Walsh said.

The company launched its service in Clark County in 2009, winning 72 percent of its appeals and helping about 100 customers save an average of $839, he said.

Home Builders Research reported a median existing-home price of $120,000 in November, down $6,000, or 4.8 percent, from a year ago. Overall, Las Vegas home prices have fallen nearly 60 percent from their 2006 peak.

Michele Shafe, assistant director of the Clark County Assessor’s Office, suggests that property owners contact her office and file their appeal free rather than pay a $100 fee to a company that provides the same service.

She also questioned the 13 percent estimate of overtaxed property owners.

“We sent out 6,000 appeal forms and got 650 back. Usually our appeal response is about 1 percent. It may be closer to 2 percent this year on almost 732,000 parcels,” the county official said. “So if someone says 13 percent are overvalued, that sounds high because we were proactive in addressing the market’s decline. We’ve been looking at sales to make sure we didn’t exceed market value.”

Walsh of ValueAppeal said the assessor’s office doesn’t have the staff to appraise every home in Clark County. The automated valuation model, or AVM, is a pretty powerful tool used in assessing home values, but it’s not perfect, he said.

“We’re not valuing shares of Microsoft that are identical. We’re talking about 600,000 different homes,” he said.

Walsh said he has refined ValueAppeal’s algorithm with data directly from each county and found a bell curve nationwide with 20 percent to 25 percent of homes overassessed, 20 percent to 25 percent underassessed and 50 percent about right.

Homeowners can find out if they’re being overassessed by typing their address into ValueAppeal’s free evaluation.

“It helps you sleep better at night,” Walsh said. “You could be overpaying your property tax by $1,000 and not even know it.”

Shafe said her office looks at the market every year and assesses what’s happening.

“Some areas are flat, some are going down and a few are recovering, not a whole lot higher, but still … we look at neighborhoods and if they have a sale that just happened, we’ll take that into consideration,” Shafe said.

“A lot don’t go to the appeal board. They present market evidence that we agree with. Out of those that do, it’s more like 25 percent that actually get a lower value than what we recommend,” Shafe added.

The tax rate is a little more than 1 percent of property value, so a $10,000 drop in home value would equate roughly to a $100 reduction in taxes.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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