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Q & A: What can Cuyahoga County homeowners do about property valuations?

Experts worry the spike in property values could lead to a hike in tax delinquencies and possibly foreclosures. [Annie Wu / Ideastream Public Media]
A row of houses in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Some Cuyahoga County homeowners got sticker shock last month with new home valuations. The county reassesses home values every three years, and many residents are finding themselves facing significantly higher values. That could mean higher taxes. All Things Considered Host Tony Ganzer spoke with Ideastream Public Media’s Taylor Haggerty about what homeowners can do in light of the new valuations.

These valuations are based on recent sales of similar properties in the same neighborhood or area, otherwise known as comps. What can residents do if they feel the sticker shock, that the appraisal is too high or too low?

Homeowners who feel like the appraisal isn’t in line with what they were expecting or what they’ve seen need to file a complaint with the Cuyahoga County Board of Revision. On that complaint, you need to submit the value you think your home is worth, called the “opinion of value.”

“If somebody feels that the appraisal department did not get the valuation right, then that's what we're here for and they can file an appeal and we will hear it. If we agree, then we'll make an adjustment of the property value,” said Ron O’Leary, the administrator for the Board of Revision.

The board can’t accept complaints yet – the window is from Jan. 1 through March 31, but they’re hosting informational meetings this month to get residents the information they need to know ahead of that process.

It’s important to note, too, that property values and property taxes aren’t actually one to one. O’Leary says the most common questions from residents focus on high taxes, but taxes are also affected by things like the state legislature and local levies.

What can you as a homeowner do to improve your chances of maybe lowering your property value from this process?

To get the value adjusted, you need to have evidence that supports your claim and that opinion of value. That doesn’t have to be in the initial filing, but it does have to be submitted up to seven days before your hearing.

Guidance from the board says things like appraisals, documents related to recent sales, photos or contractor estimates are pretty common. All personal information should be removed from those because they become public record once they’ve been submitted.

You mentioned a hearing. How does that work? What exactly goes into the hearing?

The board schedules every complaint for a hearing. There’s no informal review process this year, so they anticipate a higher number of complaints. It could take a year or more to get to your hearing, so be prepared to wait for it. You don’t have to attend, but you’re encouraged to. It’s a chance to tell the board what you think the value for your property is, and why theirs is incorrect.

Are there any tax relief options for people who are still facing higher property taxes than they can afford?

I spoke about this with Molly Schnoke at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. She told me experts are concerned about a potential hike in tax delinquencies and possibly foreclosures as a result of all this.

The groups to be concerned about are low-income residents and people who lost their jobs, Schnoke said, or had to stay home during the pandemic for childcare or health reasons. People who live on a fixed income are also a point of concern.

“Retirees who were pretty stable before may be seeing their property values in certain communities increased so much that it has become unexpectedly unaffordable,” Schnoke said.

Schnoke recommended reaching out to local housing counseling organizations. They can help to figure out refinancing and budgeting options, and sometimes can figure out a payment plan with the county treasurer’s office. Options like utility assistance funding can also free up money to cover taxes, Schnoke said.

What areas of Cleveland are at risk here?

There are a few areas of concern, but for different reasons. Spikes are happening in neighborhoods with higher rates of development, but Schnoke said it’s important to note it isn’t spread out equally for everyone.

“You are still going to see places that are historically hard hit from the foreclosure crisis, that are seeing maybe slight or some minimal increase in value, but they're not seeing the spikes that are making the headlines. So it's still felt unequally,” she said.

That lower rate of increase is a double-edged sword, Schnoke said, because on the one hand they aren’t being hit with higher taxes, but they also aren’t seeing an increase in their biggest financial asset – their homes. So there needs to be some consideration of the areas that aren’t seeing this spike, too.