Give yourself a tax cut? July 5, 2005

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2005

People in Suffolk might want to check their home's square footage, particularly those occupying newer homes.

A local man called me recently, pretty excited about the information he was preparing to pass on. I can't vouch for what follows, but he swears it's true.

It seems, like everyone else, his real estate assessment had soared. But unlike the 10 to 30 percent most of us experienced, his was off the charts, in the three digit increases.

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He said he protested to the assessor's office. A mistake was uncovered and his bill corrected. But during this episode, he discovered that the assessor's records had his home's square footage overstated by about 40 percent. Square-footage, along with the selling price of nearby homes, is among the primary determiners of assessments.

He said he went to Lowe's and bought an electronic measurement device and did every room of his home, including bathrooms, closets, hallways n every bit of heated and cooled, livable space. He then showed these measurements to the assessor's office and was granted a rebate n but not without having to threaten to complain to "10 On Your Side"

— of about 25 percent of his tax bill going back four years, not an insignificant sum.

He claimed the discrepancy was the result of a shortage of people with the city who determine square footage. With so many homes going up in Suffolk, there is no way the small staff can keep up. So rather than going in and physically measuring, they are merely looking at the home from the outside while it is being framed and calculating square footage accordingly. He said this creates an inflated number because garages and attic space are not supposed to be included in square footage calculations.

The problem doesn't appear to exist, he said, in older homes that have changed hands a few times because appraisals have been performed and the square footage has been physically measured and reported.

His point was that people living in newer homes in Suffolk might want to check to see what the square footage is the city has listed on their home n it does not appear on tax bills. You can find this information online at the city's Web site, and then clicking on the egovernment icon.

Interestingly, there's a disclaimer on the real estate assessment page which reads as follows:

"Contact us if you believe any real estate assessment data provided is inaccurate or if you have any comments about this online search. Call us by telephone at (757) 923-2400. You may e-mail comments or questions to:

"While the Office of City Assessor has attempted to ensure that the assessment data in this file is accurate and reflects the property's characteristics, the City of Suffolk makes no warranties, expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, reliability, or suitability of this data. The City of Suffolk does not assume any liability associated with the use or misuse of this real estate assessment data."