In addition to having good sales comparables to support your tax appeal, I cannot stress enough how important taking the right photos are. You need photos to support your claims, statements, valuation, and to visually show both the tax assessors office and, if necessary, at your Board of Equalization (BOE) hearing.
The BOE will not visit your property. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to “bring the property” to them. And that means having photos that go beyond the ones the tax assessors office has on file. In addition to your written comments and statements, you want to visually support you appeal through photos.
First, do not use or take “traditional” photos of your properties. Traditional photos are property photos that have straight-on views which show very little depth, texture, and shadow. Appraisers, real estate agents, and landlords typically take straight-on photos because they it is neat, orderly, presentable, and “the standard”.
Photos you generally want to take and show in your tax appeal are “street real”, up close, angular, shows imperfections, and shows wear-and-tear.
A “street real” photo shows the property as it truly looks when you are standing there onsite looking at the property. It means photos related to roofs, ceilings, fascia, and soffit are generally upward-looking views and photos related to flooring, foundation, yards, or HVAC units are generally downward-looking views. “Street real” photos show property as they truly are. Standard and professional real estate photos are meant to showcase and make properties look better than they really are.
“Up close” photos of property easily show wear-and-tear, aging, damage, textures, and other imperfections. To lower the valuation, it is important to visually show the wear-and-tear, aging, property damage, and other imperfections. Even new construction property, when seen up close, many imperfections can be found and shown.
Angular photos, such as a 3/4 front view of a property will simultaneously show both the front and one side of a property. A 3/4 rear view of a property will simultaneously show both the rear and one side of a property. The reason for angular photos is that, in real life, we almost never view properties straight-on. Angular photos show depth and shadows. Straight-on photos generally do not show depth or shadows.
Angular, up-close photos are used to show both the depth, damage and imperfections up-close. Most of us are layman photographers using the camera within our mobile phones. You can do a lot with it by following some of my suggestions and learn how to persuasively tell and show your story and situation of you property.
In the age of mobile phone cameras and digital photography, it is easy to take many photos. Sometimes too many. However, as a practical matter, I recommend being strategic and selective in how you take photos for the tax appeal.
For example, if there are several damage spots on the side of the house, it is generally more efficient to take one photo that collectively shows all the damage spots in one photo vs. separate photos. However, you have to balance that with how far apart the damage spots are. If they are very far apart, then that means you may have to zoom out so much that the texture and depth of individual damage spots can look minimal.
Every property is going to have imperfections and general wear-and-tear. It is important to understand that unless you have some really good sales comparables, photos of general wear and tear is not persuasive enough to lower a valuation. You are looking for those imperfections and damages that exceed “normal” wear-and-tear.
For example, a 25-year old roof lowering the value of your property is much more convincing if you get closer and take photos that show faded, cracked, damaged, or missing shingles throughout the roof.
Another example is wood damage on fascia or soffit boards. You should zoom in close enough to show sufficient depth of wood damage but at the same time, zoom out enough to show perspective of how large the damage is in relation to the overall structure.
Another example, if you have cracked, peeling exterior paint or damaged siding, zoomed out photos showing the entire house will not help you. You will have to zoom in to show the ugliness of of cracked, peeling paint.
If you have an old water heater or old HVAC system, there will generally be visible wear and tear such as rust, cracks, fading, and other imperfections showing. Taking close photos of the system itself will go a long way to showing some reduced valuation due to aged systems.
Sometimes the property itself may not be the problem. It could be the street, road, or location of the property. The general curb appeal, condition, and the overall neighborhood might be rougher than normal. Or there could be a property next door or directly across the street that lowers the value of your property. In those situations, you may want to step back and zoom out to take photos of the street, curb, or the neighboring homes.
There are countless ways a property can be imperfect or have damage and factors that reduces the value of your property. Through strategic and selective photos, you can go a long way of visually telling your story of why a valuation showed be lowered.
As you take photos of your property, I recommend uploading them to Google Photos and create a Google photo album so you can share that album. Android phones automatically upload them to Google Photos which is a very nice feature.
Again, the goal of taking photos is to visually show and persuade the tax assessors or the BOE members of your position.
Ultimately, if you go to a BOE hearing, you can bring a laptop or table to show photos. However, for physical documentation purposes, you still need to print them out, preferably on a color printer, to submit them as your evidence.
In my experience, you can effectively print out two-to-three photos per 8.5 x 11 page. If you print more than three photos per page, the photos become too small to meaningfully show details in a photo. I typically use Microsoft Word to embed then sort them in the order I prefer before printing them out into one multi-paged document.
I have seen people print out one photo per page. That is fine if you only have only a few photos (five or less) you want to show. However, it can be unwieldy, toner-intensive, and expensive to print many pages of color photos. In those situations where you have six or more photos, you might want to consider printing two-or-three photos per page.
In the BOE hearings I have attended, the BOE members tend to come from Gen X or Baby Boomer generations. As such, small photos and small print do not help your case. You need to submit printed documents in a sufficiently large and readable size.
I generally recommend that three sets of photos are printed out, but two sets at the very minimum. During the BOE hearing, there are three parties that will be using and reviewing the photos: you as property owner, the BOE members, and the tax assessors representative. Generally, the tax assessors office should already have some or all of the photos you will be showing. However, the BOE members will not have any and you will need to have at least one or two extra sets of photos ready for them. In any case, at the conclusion of the hearing you might be asked to give them your set of photos.
In reality, taking photos you need is a fairly quick and easy process if you know what you are trying to emphasize. Through strategic street-mapping and planning my route, I have visited up over a dozen properties in one afternoon to take photos for tax appeals.
Many of you will only be filing appeals for one or two properties. It will be easy to take persuasive photos you need in a short amount of time.