In a nearly full auditorium in Darien's Town Hall on Dec. 4, the most recent town-wide property revaluation was discussed, and residents' questions were answered.
Among the questions were: what can the 287 commercial and 6,509 residential property owners do if their assessment went up; and what does it mean if a property decreased in value?
To answer those questions, Jeff Kelly, of Kelly Associates Real Estate, introduced a panel of experts -- Anthony Homicki, the Darien tax assessor; Ronald E. Kowalski, an attorney from Cacace, Tusch & Santagata, of Stamford; and Doug Milne, a Kelly Associates agent.
Homicki spoke about preparing the town's revaluation for 2003 and 2008, and pointed out differences in what's going on in 2013 versus 2008. State law mandates that towns perform a property reassessment every five years.
"In 2008, there was a recession in Fairfield County due to the financial crisis," Homicki said. "But the real-estate market was still going up at a steady rate. It dropped off in January of 2009, but the revaluation was a snapshot of time as of that October. There were concerns about releasing names of property owners for privacy reasons, but that's all changed now." Assessments can be reviewed at assessment.darienct.gov/main/home.aspx.
With a support staff of four for the 2013 revaluation, Homicki said, his team worked with several town departments. He also explained how the town used a new software program and GPS technology to take photos of every home, and how site visits were conducted.
"We worked with the Tyler Company and did inspections," Homicki said. He estimated that a half to one-third of properties have wetlands or coastal issue. Tyler is an independent contractor with a 15-month agreement with Darien.
By the end of January, Homicki said, his team will finalize all values and submit a document to the Board of Selectmen with the grand list findings. As of now, most properties in town have decreased in value by 3 to 8 percent.
"The Board of Finance will meet in a couple of weeks," Homicki said. "Many of you want to know what your taxes will be next July. You need to think about your neighborhood and what may have changed there."
Even though Homicki and his team conduct a thorough investigation, Kowalski said, "things slip through the cracks."
"If you think there's a problem with the amount you were revalued at as of October 1, 2013,' he said, "go online and look at the information about your property. Maybe the measurements or number of rooms are wrong."
Other tips from Kowalski included pulling out paperwork if you refinanced just before October 1, 2013, and getting a property appraiser, a real estate broker and a lawyer to optimize your relief chances. Property owners have to file by Feb. 20 for an informational appeal meeting in March.
Milne focused on the role of your realtor in the appeals process.
"Appraisers look at closed transactions and often have a hard time making judgments about comparable property sales. Realtors produce a comparative market analysis that includes closed transactions based on similar size, condition and location. The comp also has current information regarding other homes in contract, but not closed, and what is currently on the market that is competing with the property." Milne said, "Your town revaluation and your tax contribution to run this town doesn't change what your market value is. If you wouldn't sell your home at the town's new appraised value, you're in good shape. If you would sell it for that price, see Tony (Homicki)."
For more information, contact the Tyler Co. at 877-394-3379) or the Darien assessor's office at 203-656-7310.