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Adviser Helps Clients Reduce Property Tax

Back in late 2008 as the financial meltdown was accelerating, Sammy Grant, like many financial advisers, thought it would be a good idea to stay in touch with his clients.

Sammy Grant

But Grant, president and founder of SG Advisors in Atlanta, found that his clients weren’t all that keen to hear from him. “People would say, “I wasn’t worried, but you’re calling me, so something must be wrong. Now I’m worried.’”

“What we learned,” says Grant, “is that they were happy to hear from us but they didn’t want to talk about their portfolios. So I realized we had to have something else to talk about.”

It turned out that property tax was a timely subject. In Georgia, falling home prices meant that many properties were over-valued by county tax assessors. In theory, just as property taxes go up when homes gain in value, they should go down when home prices decline. But, with cash-strapped communities in no rush to de-value homes and lower their tax base, more than 60% of U.S. homes are assessed too high, according to the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union.

So Grant set out to help his clients get their home values reassessed by local authorities.

There was just one problem. In Georgia, property owners are not allowed to appeal their tax assessment unless it has actually risen. But Georgia property owners can file what’s called a real property tax return. That’s essentially a proactive appeal, in advance of the county assessment.

“It’s an armchair appraisal,” says Grant, “just you reporting what you think your home is worth as of January 1. You don’t have to provide any proof, you just plead your case. They don’t have to accept it–and they usually don’t–but filing protects your right to appeal, even if your valuation doesn’t go up.”

Grant has about 90 clients, and he convinced all of them to file the return. “Some clients chose to hire an attorney to do it for them, but a lot of them did it themselves,” says Grant.

It’s too soon to know how well most of his clients did, Grant says–the state is backlogged with re-assessment requests–but his clients have already reported average assessment reductions of around 15%.

Whatever happens with the valuations, “from a client-satisfaction standpoint it was a home run,” says Grant. “This was not something that a financial adviser would normally do, so our clients were very appreciative.”

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