Her 3-car garage was almost a 300-square foot mistake.
After an unexpected visit from an employee with the Shelby County property assessor's office, Germantown's Cheryl Palmer discovered the office had mistakenly listed her garage and a catwalk in the second story of her house as living spaces. The error added 300 square feet to her property assessment.
It also blew up her property taxes.
"It almost doubled them," says Palmer.
Shelby County Property Assessor Cheyenne Johnson will be the first to tell you that errors are common in the county's assessment of property values. The main problem is Tennessee law mandates that reappraisals be conducted every four years instead of annually.
With the housing market as volatile as it has been since 2005, including a record number of foreclosures hampering fair market values and sales, Johnson says mistakes are inevitable.
"There are mistakes because we do not get on the inside of the property," says Johnson. "Every year, (property values) start changing drastically. Things in the market can affect it, just like now where we're dealing with the foreclosures, so when the 4-year reappraisal takes place, we (really should be looking) at every year individually."
Johnson says she plans to lobby the Tennessee legislature next year to change the law, requiring that property reappraisals happen every two years, then eventually evolve to annual reappraisals.
In the meantime, 2009 is a reappraisal year. You can check your property information right on the Shelby County Property Assessor's web site:
You'll be able to double-check square footage, property measurements and sales data, including comparable sales ("comps") and values of other homes in your neighborhood. The site also offers satellite imagery of your home (images current as of 2007).
As an accountability measure, Chandler Reports offers a $49 tax kit on its site at www.mychandlerreports.com. The kit includes sales comps for the last two years, property data and a foreclosure effect report. Everything's customized to your neighborhood by Chandler Reports' data specialists.
"That's really going to show you - in your neighborhood - a good point-of-reference of how (foreclosures and market forces) could be affecting your home," says Wendy Ludlow, business development manager for Chandler Reports.
The assessor's office issues reappraisal notices to Shelby County homeowners starting March 13.
Armed with the data on the assessor's site and optionally with Chandler Reports, homeowners can request an informal review of their properties with one of the assessor's staff members at no cost.
If an agreement cannot be reached on a fair market value, homeowners can appeal to the Shelby County Board of Equalization (http://www.shelbycountytn.gov/FirstPortal/dotShowDoc/Government/BoardsandCommissions/equalization.htm).
The board will start hearing appeals May 1.
The assessor's informal reviews can be conducted any year, but the board of equalization only hears appeals from May 1 to July 31 on reappraisal years and to June 30 on non-reappraisal years.
Palmer didn't even need an appeal or a Chandler Report. She says after she called the assessor's office to complain about the square footage goof, an adjuster was out the very next day to make the correction -- and lower her property taxes.
"Not to where they were, but better. A lot better," she says.