ABC11 Investigates

Online information could jack up your tax bill

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The ABC11 I-Team has made a startling discovery about how Wake County computes some property tax bills. We've learned pictures on real estate websites give the tax man a window inside your home and can help county appraisers figure out how much they think your house is worth.

"We will go on certain sites on the web that show MLS data," explained Wake County Revenue Director Marcus Kinrade.

Kinrade said such online information from real estate websites can be valuable.

"Often, it will list the heated square footage," he explained. "It will show pictures of fully finished basements or, or fully finished attics that, that, quite frankly, we didn't know were there."

Kinrade says his department will use any such information if it's publically available.

"If it's available and if it helps us get an accurate listing, absolutely," he said.

And it's not just pictures. Words can cost property owners too. If your house has been listed for sale and your realtor writes a glowing description, saying things like: "totally refurbished" or "completely renovated," it could be used to increase your tax bill.

But what if the realtor is just making the house sound great when it's really the same as a neighbor's? Could someone still end up paying more?

"There is the potential for that, and that has happened," said Kinrade.

And there's something else that can lead to a higher tax bill. A Wake County taxpayer tipped us off about getting charged too much because the county had his square footage wrong.

Kinrade said the way to make sure that doesn't happen is to get out a tape measure and check.

"In some cases that is, that is the only way to figure out if it's wrong," he explained. "It's just not possible for us to catch everything. We don't have the resources."

Kinrade tells the I-Team there's no way to get a refund if the county has been overcharging you, but he believes Wake County property tax records are about 98 percent accurate - a margin of error he says he's comfortable with.

"We're never gonna get it a hundred percent accurate," he offered.

Jim Allen is a Raleigh realtor who's fighting the valuation of his home because he says Wake County has his square footage wrong and is charging him too much.

"Most homeowners when they come to me wanting to sell their home, think the square footage that is listed in the tax record is accurate. Majority of the time, it is way greater than what the real home ends up being," said Allen. "Most of them are off 5 and 600 feet. When you're talking about making an evaluation on a property, that is way off."

Kinrade defends the use of the internet by his department. He told us he wants to make sure the tax burden is distributed fairly.

"If people put information on the internet they should not expect any privacy," he said. "We are ethical people. We live here and we are doing the best we can to make sure that the property tax administration in Wake County is being handled as fair as it possibly can be."

Kinrade says there's generally no indication when you go on the Wake County property tax website exactly how they arrived at your assessed value - and no indication if they used information they found on a website. So, you could be in the dark about it. You can appeal your tax bill if you think there's something wrong, but the next chance to do it is in January.

We'd like to hear your thoughts on this story. Click here to comment on Steve Daniels Facebook page.

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