The recent credit crunch and the resulting decline in values of commercial and residential real estate present an opportunity for property owners to obtain a reduction in the value of their property, and thereby decrease their real estate taxes. If you own real estate in Ohio, the deadline for appealing property values for county assessment purposes is coming soon. This article explains the appeal process.

Ohio county auditors reappraise real property every three years. In Butler County, Franklin County, and Hamilton County, that reappraisal will occur for the 2011 tax year. Cuyahoga County’s next reappraisal will be for the 2012 tax year. (Because real property taxes are paid in Ohio in arrears, the taxes for 2010 are paid in installments in late 2010, or early 2011, and in mid 2011).

If you think the value that the auditor has established for your property is too high, you may appeal the valuation to the county board of revision. The last day to do that for 2010 is March 31, 2011. Unless you own the property in your own name (i.e., not in an LLC, partnership or corporation), an attorney must prepare and file the complaint.

In order to determine whether to file a complaint, you should hire an appraiser with experience appraising the type of property you own and in the area where the property is located. The appraiser should also have experience testifying before the board of revision for the county where the property is located. Prior to ordering a formal narrative appraisal, ask the appraiser to provide a “guesstimate” of the value of the property. If the appraiser guesses that the property value is not meaningfully different from the auditor’s value for your property, filing a tax valuation complaint may not make economic sense, particularly when you consider the attorneys’ fees and appraisal fees associated with filing and prosecuting the complaint.

At a board of revision hearing, the complainant presents a case by introducing the narrative appraisal and the testimony of the appraiser. Sometimes a representative of the owner must testify. Members of the board of revision, a representative of the county auditor, and often, an attorney from the school district in which the property is located, may cross examine the appraiser. The school district also may offer the appraisal and testimony of its own appraisal expert. After the presentations the board will deliberate and issue a written decision.

You should be aware that even if you are successful at the board of revision, the school district may appeal the board’s decision to either the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals or the Court of Common Pleas. On appeal, the party appealing bears the burden of proof, but the appellate tribunal may make its own independent decision based on the evidence before it.

When taxes are due while a complaint is pending, you may either (i) pay the taxes computed on the current assessed value of the property, or (ii) pay the taxes computed on the value of the property that you assert in the complaint as the current value. If you are successful at the board of revision and have paid real estate taxes on the higher assessed value, you will be due a tax refund. If you are unsuccessful at the board of revision and have paid taxes on the property value claimed in your complaint, you will owe additional real estate taxes, with interest.