Appealing your property taxes in a declining market

How often have you taken your clothes to the cleaners only to double check the pockets and find coins and paper money that would have been otherwise lost? The typical answer is, “Not enough times!” Presently, the same thing is true of your real property, whether it be a condominium, house or income property. Believe it or not, there is real money in your property that you are outright losing because you’re not “checking your pockets” before you pay your property taxes.

The world knows how upside down we went economically in the fall of 2008. Today, just look around or read the economic news: restaurants are struggling, small businesses are barely making it (if they are at all), the job market is iffy, and home prices continue to gasp for air. All of the above means that if you bought or inherited property in San Francisco since 2004, chances are pretty good that its value has declined. Guess what? Somehow, S.F.’s assessor, Phil Ting, never got the news. He continues to send the vast majority of property owners assessments that reflect higher values. That means the $800,000 condo you purchased in 2007 is worth around $835,000; and your $3,000,000 Marina/Pacific Heights/Presidio Heights house is now worth around $3,150,000 according to S.F.’s assessor.

Sorry to break the news, but the complete opposite is true. Most of you know that. You just don’t know how to go about “shaking the pockets” of your home. I was a member of San Francisco’s Assessment Appeals Board (AAB) for 24 years (1984-2007). In addition to being a real estate broker, I represent property owners who want to appeal their unfair property tax assessments. Having been a member of the AAB for as long as I was gave me a front row seat to view and understand property tax issues in San Francisco. To the unknowing property owner, a tax appeal can seem like trying to climb Mt. Everest. In truth, to do it by yourself is tougher than climbing Everest! The sad part is that the refunds on your inflated value are there for the taking, but owners are intimidated by what is entailed in the appeal process.

Property Tax consultants, like me, can make the process painless and trouble-free. Don’t let the City unfairly pick your property pocket. Get the money that they want to take out of your pocket placed back in yours.

Peter J. Fatooh is president of S.F. Property Tax Appeals and a broker at Coldwell Banker on Lombard Street. He can be reached at