Assessors accused of unfairly inflating home sizes

Assessors accused of unfairly inflating home sizes

By Jeff Nagel – Surrey North Delta Leader

Published: January 09, 2013 3:00 PM
Updated: January 09, 2013 4:03 PM

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A couple living on this block of 77A street in Surrey say they and most of their neighbours have seen the house size on their property assessment go up this year.

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Shirley Paulenko just about panicked when she opened her property assessment to find the value of her South Surrey house had soared 43 per cent in a single year.

The $450,000 jump in her assessment to more than $1.5 million would mean a big jump in the recently widowed senior’s property tax bill.

“I was so flabbergasted,” Paulenko said. “I lost a night’s sleep. I thought, ‘holy man, how could this possibly be going up by this much money?’ “

Her son looked at the assessment notice for the two-storey home near 140 Street and 26 Avenue and found the answer.

It showed she lives in what friends now joke is the “mushroom house” – a 1,746-sq.-ft. first floor with a giant 8,791-sq.-ft. second storey somehow perched on top.

BC Assessment says a typing error added a fourth digit for the second floor by mistake.

Assessors have now corrected both the square footage and reduced Paulenko’s assessment to just over $1.1 million, an eight-per-cent increase Paulenko still has her doubts about.

But it’s not the only case where residents in the region are complaining about either errors or unusual changes in the assessment authority’s calculation of their house size.

“I think there’s going to be a whole pile of these errors,” said Surrey accountant Cindy Konkin.

She and her husband are appealing their Newton house’s 8.6-per-cent assessment increase to $554,000 because it shows what they say is a fictitious 1,100-sq.-ft. increase in the size of the home.

In the Konkins’ case, BC Assessment is holding firm on its determination of the value, saying the first floor is now designated as living space, rather than basement.

“Nothing’s changed here in 23 years,” Konkin said. “They could look through our window and see it’s an unfinished basement.”

Even excluding the first-floor revision, the Konkins say BC Assessment inexplicably added more than 200 square feet to the footprint of the main floor.

Meanwhile, Konkin has checked the assessments of eight other homes on their block of 77A Avenue off of144 Street and found the square-footage numbers have all changed – some by a few feet, others by several hundred.

In only one case she’s aware of is the change justifiable because of the finishing of a basement.

“Without looking at very many, we’ve found there are errors,” Konkin said. “How many people have got theirs and are up $20,000 or $30,000 and just think it happened to everybody? Now they’re all going to be charged more.”

Chris Danchuk, deputy area assessor for South Fraser, said BC Assessment hasn’t seen any spike in complaints about errors relating to home sizes.

But he said the sizes of all homes have been reviewed over the past two years using aerial photos and corrections have been made in many cases.

“We can go in and look at a house from four different angles and see if there have been any changes to the property,” he said.

In other words, owners who have built illegal additions to their homes without a building permit can now expect to have the extra space added to their assessment and see their tax bill to the city go up accordingly.

Danchuk said assessors used to walk down the street knocking on doors, but “often people weren’t home, didn’t let us in, or wouldn’t give us any information.”

Landcor Data Corp. president Rudy Nielsen said use of aerial photos is likely responsible for some of the jumps in square footage appearing on assessments.

“If a person did a renovation even five or six years ago they’ll catch it with this new system and correct the square footage on your assessment,” he said.

Nielsen, whose firm analyzes property values, said errors do happen, even though BC Assessment’s system is “one of the best in the world.”

And he suggests residents carefully consider whether it’s worth fighting an assessment they think is unfair in order to save a few hundred a year in tax.

Assessed value is a key number that tends to influence the future selling price of a home, he said, so an owner who fights to keep their house value lower to pay less tax now could end up doing worse when they have to sell.

“For many people, when they sell it, that’s their retirement money,” Nielsen said. “I’m a firm believer in keeping my assessed value up there. Of course if it’s totally out of whack and my taxes are really going to go up, then I’ll appeal it.”

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COMMENT:

The assessment system was established as a means for Local Gov’ts to have a major annual revenue base.

This revenue works in (2) ways. A supposedly neutral Gov’t body, BC Assessment, would determine the value of each given property.

Because BC Assessment is a quasi- judicial body…it is beholden to an appeal process. This means it is not perfect and challengeable .

Once appeals are finished….the given City now has a firmed – up data base. Let’s say , in theory, and in its simplest scenario   all the property in a given City is worth $1 Billion. The City has certain budget for the coming year. Say for example it is $200 Million.  Then a mill rate is established, ie….a ” multiplication variable ” ……that is applied to each property and then the sum total is achieved. Most cities have separate categories depending on the zoning class of property, ie business classes of properties have Mill -rates often 5 – 6 times that of residential.

QUOTE:

It showed she lives in what friends now joke is the “mushroom house” – a 1,746-sq.-ft. first floor with a giant 8,791-sq.-ft. second storey somehow perched on top.

BC Assessment says a typing error added a fourth digit for the second floor by mistake.

COMMENT:  Never hurts to look  and seek out G-L-A-R-I-N-G  errors.

QUOTE:

“I think there’s going to be a whole pile of these errors,” said Surrey accountant Cindy Konkin.

 

 

She and her husband are appealing their Newton house’s 8.6-per-cent assessment increase to $554,000 because it shows what they say is a fictitious 1,100-sq.-ft. increase in the size of the home.

In the Konkins’ case, BC Assessment is holding firm on its determination of the value, saying the first floor is now designated as living space, rather than basement.

“Nothing’s changed here in 23 years,” Konkin said. “They could look through our window and see it’s an unfinished basement.”

Even excluding the first-floor revision, the Konkins say BC Assessment inexplicably added more than 200 square feet to the footprint of the main floor.

Meanwhile, Konkin has checked the assessments of eight other homes on their block of 77A Avenue off of 144 Street and found the square-footage numbers have all changed – some by a few feet, others by several hundred.

In only one case she’s aware of is the change justifiable because of the finishing of a basement.

“Without looking at very many, we’ve found there are errors,” Konkin said. “How many people have got theirs and are up $20,000 or $30,000 and just think it happened to everybody? Now they’re all going to be charged more.”

COMMENT:

WTF ? Not an expert..but my understanding is that “every  e-x-t-r-a  SQ. FT.”  can add betwen $150 – $200 to the assessment.  Thus, this vigilant citizen ,ironically an accountant , has reviewed or “audited” the BC Assessment claim. However, reading between the lines…their appeal may be based via having to allow BC Assessment into their house…aka the old Trojan Horse strategy. Then BC Asssessment may find other things that  they can use to bump up the value. Regardless, there is a serious error being uncovered via BC Assessments new assessment weapons, how large a problem is  it ? I wonder it they are taking advantage of the many absentee owners who will simply accept it ?

QUOTE:

Chris Danchuk, deputy area assessor for South Fraser, said BC Assessment hasn’t seen any spike in complaints about errors relating to home sizes.

But he said the sizes of all homes have been reviewed over the past two years using aerial photos and corrections have been made in many cases.

“We can go in and look at a house from four different angles and see if there have been any changes to the property,” he said.

In other words, owners who have built illegal additions to their homes without a building permit can now expect to have the extra space added to their assessment and see their tax bill to the city go up accordingly.

COMMENT:   I see , Big Brother , will resort to any/all means to spy on us and ultimately extract $$$. This capability has been in place for years…Richmonds GIS system allows anyone to zoom in on any given property, which I think is a clear invasion of privacy to be used for this purpose.

This system needs to be seriously overhauled, PERIOD as it is nothing but a mechanism for a major cash grab.  Under my premise ” Gov’t is NOT your friend  we have Civil Servants at BC Assessment that are trying to rattle up MORE cash grabs via ratcheting up higher assessments. BC Assessment and your Local Gov’t are in bed together, but point fingers at each other if and when pinned down, at least to deflect blame.  In their eternal mission to pluck your wallet which they feel is their right if not duty, it is starting to get out of hand into the absolute ridiculous. They are like addicts, they can’t EVER get enough $$$…and feel the average property owners is  the Golden Goose.

They are abusing the spirit of the the rules…one has to envison that a body like BC Assessment has been in place since the early 1970’s (ie FYI: before this individual Cities had their own assessors)….and back then most homes were effectively the same  give or take bungalow ….two storey or ….split level … from say 1200 sq ft to 2000 sq. ft.   Like most things involving Gov’t,  it gets corrupted, manipulated and bastardized to become  a means of a  major Ca$h Cow.  Without getting into class warfare, if a person builds a new home…or does an add on…or anything that would give grounds to increase their assessment, so what ? All we are doing is playing into the hands of Gov’t .  One of my personal rules to avoid like the plague is scenarios like ” I got screwed by Gov’t ….then SO SHOULD YOU !!!!  More to the point, are we seeing ANY benefit via this system,ie  if my neighbour builds a new house and gets taxed higher….does that benefit me?. I don’t see it.

IMHO….there should be  a  flat tax based system . That way, BC Assessment and Local Gov’ts cannot continue to play this silly game of pointing fingers , invading our privacy,  the squeezing ever F*cking last penny they can out each and ever taxpayer without any true rationale accountability. This current system simply is another version of the ” Federal Reserve”, a means to print aka “create” money at their whims and sole discretions. At this rate, they may one day draft laws that force US to allow THEM into  your house and look for any means to UP your assessment. I would submit we best start waking up and tell them ” UP YOURS “…as $$$ to them are crack cocaine, they are addicted to it and can never have enough.

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