I have a confession. I really dislike visiting government offices and I do my best to avoid it when possible. I prefer to take care of government business remotely using the Internet or phone. Unfortunately nowadays, it seems getting someone in city government who is knowledgeable, capable, and of some authority to provide straight, accurate, and in-depth answer can sometimes be a challenge.
Unfortunately, it has been my experience that when dealing with many tax assessor offices by phone, I get very light and very general answers to my questions. The reason why is that the most knowledgeable people are generally not the ones answering the phone (unless you are calling into an office in a rural county). And when they do redirect your call, it is generally redirected to whomever is available. It is the same thing when you visit most tax assessor websites, you get light and general answers with very little explanation, texture, or detail.
Over the years, I have found that if I really want to get serious, specific answers about important questions in my mind, I have to make personal visits to the city government office. It is no different with the tax assessors office. I recommend people to visit their tax assessors office at least once, take a tour, and speak to a couple of staff.
What I write and share on this website about how to file and win tax appeals came from sheer perseverance to learn and get good results many years ago. I could no longer bear receiving and reading tax assessment notices year after year that were off in their valuations. In turn, it increased our monthly mortgage payments because each year mortgage companies would continue to increase the escrow of the mortgage payments.
The annual increases in escrow of our mortgage payments became excessive because of ever-increasing insurance premiums and escalating property taxes. I went to war to reduce our monthly mortgage payments. I got new insurance quotes on all our properties and made sure we were not overinsured. I then started filing tax appeals on every property that I felt were excessively valued for its location and overall condition. I became much more assertive in communicating my unhappiness about excessive valuation and began making notes and taking photos of our properties and the property defects to prove that their valuations were too high.
Because I knew very little about filing property tax appeals at the time and there was very little information on online, and my overall frustrations, I decided that I would have to personally visit the tax assessors office to get a better understanding of the tax appeal process and communicate my unhappiness with the tax assessment notices. I was also not receiving all my tax assessment notices which meant there was probably outdated information on our property records.
One of the best things I learned is that when a citizen and taxpayer physically shows up at the tax assessors office wanting to speak to someone and ask questions about property taxes and tax appeals is that someone will be generally found to meet with the taxpayer. Of course, what I am sharing is anecdotal, not a comprehensive survey of 159 Georgia tax assessor offices. But I have asked different tax assessor offices that if I wanted to visit the tax assessors office, could I do so? And if I did so, could I speak with someone there? In all cases, I was given an affirmative answer.
It is my general opinion that tax assessor offices make efforts to speak to and answer questions by visiting taxpayers. The vast majority of taxpayers never visit a tax assessors office. So if one shows up asking to speak to someone, it is an important request. During the visit, it is not unreasonable to ask for a direct email address or phone number for follow-up issues.
What I recommend to people when they visit the tax assessors office:
- Meet a couple of the front line clerks. Introduce yourself and get their names. Let them know you will be calling with follow-up issues. Be likable, courteous, and respectful. Thank them for their help.
- Ask to meet at least one county assessor/appraiser so you can ask more in-depth questions. If you are a real estate investor with several properties, tell them you are asking questions on behalf of several properties and co-owners. The point of communicating this is that you want them to know you are not taking their time over just one property. You are taking their time over several properties and on behalf of other owners and taxpayers. Of course, you should be treated the same consideration if you are a homeowner with one property. However, in my experience, if you communicate you are asking questions on behalf of many properties and property owners, they will feel they are serving a larger audience. Again, be likable, courteous, and respectful. Thank them for their help.
- Find out what resources the tax assessors office has and makes available to the general public. There might be a meeting room, a computer room to look up online records, maps room, records room, etc. The purpose of discovering these resources is to make a mental footnote. You don’t know what you might need later. It has been convenient for me to look up property records onsite using their computers. I have been able to gain many good insights that would not normally be shared in the public waiting area by simply asking for a private area to ask questions.
- Know where the water fountain and restrooms are. You may be there longer than you expect so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
For me, when I visit the tax assessors office, it isn’t just for the sole purpose of delivering tax appeal notices, making address changes, or asking for someone to speak with to ask questions. I take the time to thank the people who help me. I try to personalize the visit by making some light conversation asking about their jobs, what they do, and be empathetic that they have tough jobs dealing with unhappy taxpayers. I find that these small personal communication touches go a long way to future interactions whether they be by phone, email, or in person.
In conclusion, if you want to get serious about your tax appeal, I cannot recommend enough that you should make at least one personal visit to your tax assessors office.