Firm in Charge of Jersey City’s Property Revaluation Explains the Process at Public Meeting

Realty Appraisal held its first face-to-face with Jersey City property owners facing a revaluation last night, and the appraisal firm came prepared for an unwelcome reception.

Saying he was sympathetic to the “trepidation” felt by residents, Steven Rubinstein, the principal tax assessor for the firm, sought to address first and foremost what most of the public’s questions boiled down to: “Why would the city undertake a revaluation at this time?”

The revaluation will be the first in Jersey City since 1988, which has led many property owners to conclude that their taxes will certainly go up as a result of the revaluation. But city officials and Realty Appraisal have stressed that is not the case.

“The first misconception is that people think that the city is using the revaluation process to raise taxes. This is not the case,” Rubenstein said. “The amount you pay each year in taxes is determined by the school and municipal budget. If the budget goes up and state aid is static, property taxes will go up, whether or not tax goes under revaluation.”

The firm says the tax rate changes affecting the approximately 52,000 properties in the city will be split into thirds, with one-third of properties seeing an increase, one-third seeing a decrease and one-third seeing no change.

The true purpose of a revaluation, as Rubenstein explained last night, is “to redistribute the existing tax levy more fairly based on the current market value.”

“Market conditions change, neighborhoods change, individual homes change, but assessments are mostly static. The difference between the assessment and the market value grow more and more distant,” he said, presenting four different properties that all sold for $300,000, but were assessed between $75,000 and $175,000. The vast difference in taxes paid on properties of equal worth, Rubenstein said, was simply “unfair.”

The need for a revaluation came down from Hudson County, says Rubinstein, and is based on the ratio of taxes paid. This ratio measures the percentage of the current market value an average house is assessed at. An average valuation of 85 percent of market value or great is acceptable; Jersey City’s average valuation is only 29 percent.

Another reason for the revaluation, and one the firm hoped would resonate positively with homeowners, is to get large developments to pay fair share as their tax abatements end.

“Properties that came off long-term tax exemption in recent years are contributing much less to the city than they were,” he said, citing specifically the waterfront office building property 101 Hudson Street, which was completed in 1992. Rubenstein said the city currently collects only 46 percent of the taxes from this property’s true assessed value – each year, the city collects $2.5 million when it should be collecting $5.4 million, he said.

However, concerns remained for many in attendance, as evidenced by the Q&A following the presentation, during which residents probed Realty Appraisal’s methodology for collecting data and appraising properties, and voiced concerns about the revaluation’s potentially negative impact on the city’s most vulnerable.

“I’m concerned not just about my own taxes,” said Esther Wintner, “but what the consequences will be for seniors on a fixed income and others who may not be able to afford the increase in taxes and could lose their home.”

Realty Appraisal responded that seniors on fixed incomes who can demonstrate their inability to pay the new tax rate will be eligible for a “freeze” on the revaluation.

The company says inspectors will come prepared with two forms identification, one company-issued and the other in the form of a letter from the city. Inspectors will be looking primarily at the condition of both the exterior and interior of the home, the size of the lot, the surrounding neighborhood, and any amenities to the house such as a deck, a finished basement, or a swimming pool. Rubinstein maintains that any additional relevant information outside of these aspects will also be noted, which he said specifically in regard to a question about homes that have a history of flooding.

“If you think the inspector should know something about your home” not immediately evident by an inspection, he said, “be sure to let them know.”

The company intends to send letters out to every property owner about the inspectors “in the next few months” with the hope of getting into as many properties as possible.

“You are not required to allow inspector into your dwelling; however if you decide not to allow inspection of interior, we’ll have to estimate what exists inside your home,” Rubenstein said. “This might end with higher assessment than a proper assessment.”

The revaluation will be undertaken neighborhood by neighborhood and Realty Appraisal expects the entire process to take 18 months. Appeals will be considered until May 1, 2013, and according to the presentation, there are various reasons to appeal, including whether you feel you cannot sell house at the assessed value.

Following the revaluation, the company will mail letters informing homeowners of the new values of their home, explaining how to schedule an “informal interview” with one of the company’s representatives to answer any questions about the revaluation. If a homeowner is ultimately unsatisfied with the new valuation, he or she has the right to file an appeal with the Hudson County Board of Taxation.

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.