Valley homeowners overpay property taxes because of government error

Property tax notices are out. But are they accurate? 
 
One local realtor found, maybe not.
 
Brett Barry is a realtor with HomeSmart and has been working in the Tatum Ranch area of Cave Creek for 17 years.
 
So he knows the houses there like, well, the back of his hand.
 
Recently, Barry was checking out some comparable-sized properties there for a house he was selling.
 
That's when he says he noticed something strange.
 
"There are three homes for sale that show 2,527 square feet," he says.
 
That might not seem strange to you or to me, but Barry knew the floor plan of those homes.
 
All three were Ryland Prescott model houses.
 
And their size should be 2,188 square feet, not 2,527.
 
So, Barry dug deeper.
 
"My gosh, there are 35 homes where the Assessor changed the square footage," he says.
 
That's right. The Maricopa Assessor's office has the homes listed with the wrong size.
 
And since the information helps determine property taxes, the affected homeowners have been paying for nearly 350 square feet, they never had.
 
Barry says he tried to get the Assessor's office to do something about it. 
 
But he says, they told him he needed to be a homeowner to file a complaint.
 
So, he sent out letters to each of the 35 homeowners.
 
Then he let me know about it and we met in the Tatum Ranch neighborhood.
 
"This one and the one next to it. They're all incorrect," Barry says pointing to houses up and down the street.
 
"In my 20 years as a realtor, I've never seen anything like this. it makes no sense. What are they doing at the tax assessors office?"
 
I took Barry's list and talked with Robert Pizono with the Maricopa County Assessor's office.
 
Pizono says after we brought it to their attention, they found one homeowner had complained about the issue.
 
But they didn't know the extent of the problem.
 
He calls it an error involving 41 homes in Tatum Ranch.
 
Pizono says When you brought the matter to our attention, we contacted the head of our appraisal manager division," he said.
 
Pizono says one homeowner had complained and some action was being taken. But they didn't know the extend of the issue.
 
He says an error happened when the Assessor's office changed software.
 
"A second floor was added to the rolls that equated to about 380 additional square feet added to the properties"
 
Pizono couldn't explain how it happened.
 
But he says, affected homeowners will get overpayment refunds for the last three years.
 
Those notices should go out by the end of the month.
 
And he says future property tax notices are being corrected.
 
But Barry says the error caused another serious concern.
 
He says the error has wreaked havoc on the local real estate market.
 
"It's created kind of a domino effect because some of these homes have been sold with the incorrect footage going back three, four years ago. They were sold with that higher square footage. Some of those homeowners may not know they bought it with less square footage than they thought," Barry says.
 
We talked with one woman who recently bought a house in the area.
 
The listing shows she and her husband paid around $159 per square foot.
 
But, the realtors used the home size recorded with the Assessor's office. That wasn't the accurate square footage.
 
With the real size, Barry says she and her husband paid nearly $60,000 more than they should have for the property.
 
He blames the lender and appraiser for not protecting the homeowner.
 
Barry also blames the Assessor's office for not doing it's job correctly.
 
He says, "realtors depend on that data to be accurate and we use it in our MLS."
 
But Pizono will have no part of that.
 
"Thats a private transaction between two parties, between buyer and seller. Our office is not part of that
transaction....Our data is not supposed to be used for purposes of sale," he tells me.
 
Pizorno points to a long disclaimer on their website that says in part , "Caution: Users should independently research and verify information."   
 
He also says that with 20 employees responsible for 1.2 million parcels, his office relies on homeowners reporting errors they find.
 
If you have an error to report, contact the Maricopa County Assessor's Office.
 
When I asked if there could be more houses involved with this mistake, the Assessor's rep says so far, it appears to be an isolated case.
 
But Barry says if he randomly found this one, who knows?
 
"When people get their tax assessment....maybe they should take a closer look because their square footage could have changed in a big way."
 
Affected homeowners should get a letter about the issue by the end of March.
 
E-mail me if you've you've had a similar issue or have any consumer problem. You can also "like" the LetJoeKnow Facebook pag e and tell me about it
there.
 
 
 
 
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