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Gap between property values, sales a homeowner's boon in Allegheny County

Aaron Aupperlee
| Sunday, June 15, 2014, 10:10 p.m.

A countywide reassessment that has fallen behind a surging real estate market could benefit Allegheny County property owners, attorneys said.

Properties sold in 2013 fetched a price that averaged about 10 percent higher than their 2012 assessed value, according to tentative figures released by the state Tax Equalization Division. Property owners could use that to appeal for a lower assessment.

That's because the county's preliminary “common level ratio” — calculated by comparing property sales in 2013 and the assessed values assigned to those properties — is 90.8 percent. Homeowners can argue that their home's assessed value should be 90.8 percent of what it is.

“That's good for property owners,” said Nicole Hauptman, an attorney with the Shadyside law firm Flaherty Fardo who handles assessment appeals. “I'll be interested if it impacts negotiations moving forward.”

Allegheny County, school districts and municipalities collect property taxes based on the assessed value of homes and businesses. School districts and municipalities are demanding properties be assessed at their full value, Hauptman said.

The state will certify final common level ratios in July. A ratio of 100 percent means properties are selling for their assessed values. A ratio below 100 percent means properties are selling for more than their assessed values; above 100 percent means the opposite.

David Montgomery, the solicitor for the county's assessment review board, said board members will look at the ratio and determine whether and how it will be applied during assessment appeals.

Allegheny County completed a court-ordered reassessment in 2012. The 2013 ratio would be the first issued since the reassessment. Ratios are expected to drop as the years pass since the most recent reassessment. Eric Montarti, a senior policy analyst with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, said the 2013 ratio might not indicate a concern, but officials and homeowners should watch the ratio in coming years.

Allegheny County's ratio would drop more sharply than that of other counties that completed reassessments in 2012. Bedford County dropped 5 percent. Erie County dropped about 4 percent. Lebanon and Lehigh counties have tentative values above 100 percent.

“What it says is that properties are appreciating at such a rapid clip that we are almost back to where we started before the reassessment,” said Michael Suley, a real estate consultant and former manager of the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessment. “Every taxpayer should use that argument in the appeals process.”

The average home price in the county increased an average of 3.4 percent since 2010, according to data provided by RealSTATs, a South Side real estate tracking firm.

In the years before the county reassessed properties, its common level ratios hovered around 85 percent, according to state data.

Washington County, which is conducting a court-ordered reassessment, has a tentative ratio of 10.9 percent for 2013, meaning that properties are assessed at only 10.9 percent of what they're selling for. The county has not completed a reassessment since 1981.

“Throughout the court battle, we had experts coming in quoting common level ratios as evidence that our assessed values were out of whack,” said Washington County Administrator Scott Fergus.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or

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