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HOMEOWNERS CAN APPEAL ASSESSMENT

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Are you shocked by the high assessment on your home? Is it out of line with what you'd get if you sold?

If the answer to both questions is yes, review your records and consider filing an appeal if you believe your assessment is unfair.The process starts with an appraisal of your property's market value. The assessed value is based on the full market value of your property or a fraction of it.

Once a year, assessed values are made public for review and challenge. After the deadline for appeals has passed, your assessment becomes final.

Assessments often don't reflect recent changes in value, particularly if your community doesn't reassess annually. If sale prices of homes in your area have declined over the past few years or something has made your home less valuable, a review is in order.

Your first step is to check the property-record card at the assessor's office. Make sure calculations, recorded dimensions and features, such as the number of baths, are correct. Next, you may want to determine whether the assessed value is fair and justifiable based on what your home would sell for and compared with similar properties. You can pay an appraiser to do the job, ask a real estate agent for a market-value com-par-i-son or try to do it yourself.

Compare your property's full value with other properties of similar age, size, design, construction and location that have sold recently. If your review leads you to believe you have grounds for an appeal, get into gear as soon as your assessment notice arrives. You have a limited time to appeal and must meet your taxing jurisdiction's specific requirements.

First, meet informally with an assessor. If your request is denied and you wish to continue, the next stage is a formal meeting before the appeals board. If you lose again, you may be able to present your case to a state agency or tax court.

Other sources of information include:

- "How To Fight Property Taxes: A Homeowners Guide to Appealing an Unfair Property Tax Assessment" ($2 plus self-addressed business-size envelope with 55 cents postage; National Taxpayers Union Foundation, 108 N. Alfred St., Alexandria, Va. 22314).

- "How To Lower Your Property Taxes" ($15.95 including postage; United Homeowners Association, 1511 K Street, N.W., Suite 326, Washington, D.C. 20005; 1-800-842-8847.)