Greenburgh’s elected and appointed officials have thus far not responded to mounting requests from a growing group of angry and frustrated residents demanding disclosure of the criteria that Tyler Technologies used to come up with reassessments that residents say bear no relation to actual market value.
At Wednesday’s town board meeting, ECC president Bob Bernstein called on town officials to disclose the criteria that were used, citing a number of examples in Edgemont where market values – some of which reflected increases of 50% or more – appear to have been assigned arbitrarily. Mr. Bernstein was joined in that request by Ella Preiser of the Greenburgh Council of Civic Associations, and others.
They said that without knowing in advance the criteria that were used, residents would be dealing blind when they met with Tyler for their informal 15-minute “grievance” session in the Town Hall cafeteria.
On Thursday morning, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner directed tax assessor Edye McCarthy to disclose the criteria Tyler used, but Ms. McCarthy refused, saying residents should just come to the meeting with evidence of what they think the true market value of their home is.
In fact, when residents meet with Tyler, the Tyler representative uses a detailed two-page data worksheet entitled, “Residential Property Record Card,” which the Town could easily have posted online or at least included in the letters mailed to homeowners with their new assessments.
The Residential Property Record Card includes information as to factors influencing the value of the land on which the house sits (and the amount of any discount for that), as well as certain “grade and depreciation” categories, including “grade” and “CDU” which stands for “Condition-Desirability-Utility.” Grade is an evaluation of the construction materials and level of craftsmanship used to build houses.
Tyler also divided the Town, its villages and its school districts into different “zones” for purposes of valuing the land, but the Town thus far won’t disclose where those zones are or how they were determined or the formula by which the value of such land was discounted to reflect adverse conditions, such as excessively steep slopes, proximity to highways, railroad tracks, and other impediments to value.
Though the Town and Tyler nowhere discloses this anywhere to Greenburgh taxpayers, Tyler grades on what appears to be a 12-point scale for a property’s grade, ranging from XX+ for Excellent down to D for “Fair,” and on a six point scale, ranging from XX or excellent down to PR for poor, for a home’s CDU The criteria for how these grades get assigned, however, is nowhere to be found, leaving homeowners to guess whether the standards were objective or subjective, or indeed, whether there was any consistency at all in how these grades were assigned.
What is worse, though, is that even though property values were supposed to have been “discounted” based on the grades assigned by Tyler’s appraisers, Tyler appears to have arbitrarily assigned grades on properties it never inspected.
Residents would not know how their homes were graded without seeing these documents. Residents who show up for their meetings with Tyler can sometimes see these documents, but there is no requirement that the Tyler representative show them.
The Tyler representative, however, may provide a copy, if the resident either asks for it, or simply takes out his or her smartphone and begins taking pictures of the document. Given the extremely limited time available in these 15-minute sessions, most taxpayers would not know to do this — and of course Greenburgh officials aren’t telling them.
But getting a copy of the “Residential Property Record Card” at the Tyler meeting — instead of getting it in advance will do residents little good because there is a lot of data on the two-page sheet to review and without knowing what the criteria were for assigning these grades in the first place, it is impossible to know whether the grade assigned was fair.
And forget about coming to the meeting with photographs of problems that would lessen the value of the house, such as evidence of water damage, or outdoor steps in need of repair.
Even though such photos might be evidence that would affect the “grade” assigned to the property, the Tyler representative will not take such photos into account unless you come to the meeting with a full set of photos of the entire house and its property, showing the good with the bad. Of course, no resident would ever know to do this.
The Town on its website encourages residents to bring to the Tyler meeting photos only of “recent” damage to their homes – without bothering to mention that by “recent” the Town means since the date of the Tyler inspection, assuming there had even been a Tyler inspection.
Indeed, if you know no inspection took place at all, it might in such circumstances be appropriate to request that Tyler inspect the house.
But Tyler won’t agree to inspect a house unless there’s written proof that it was never inspected in the first place and there’s reason to think an inspection now will be useful.
Yet, even a matter as simple as whether a home was ever inspected can be a problem for Tyler.
On one “Residential Property Record Card,” for example, a Tyler inspector in the field had stated that a property had been “measured and listed” when in fact no inspection had ever taken place.
Because the “record report” showed an inspection had taken place, the Tyler representative said company policy was to refuse any request for an inspection unless the homeowner comes to the 15-minute meeting with proof of conditions that had changed since the supposed “inspection.”
Fortunately for the homeowner who knew no inspection had taken place, a more careful reading of the “Residential Property Record Card,” showed no inspection occurred. Thus, even though the “record card” showed the property as having been “measured and listed” at 4:37 p.m on March 28, 2015, the same “record card” showed that on April 24, 2015 – nearly a month later – Tyler attempted unsuccessfully to conduct an inspection, noting on the report, “No one at home 1st Attempt” – thus proving that, despite what the Tyler representative kept insisting at the meeting, there had never been an inspection.
The Tyler representative then reluctantly agreed to recommend to his superiors that an inspection be done. Whether one actually takes place is anybody’s guess.
But even getting a home inspected or reinspected is no guarantee that Tyler will change anything.
In fact, because Tyler used dozens and dozens of junior assessors in the field, their judgments may differ wildly. Therefore, the only way to know whether the judgments have been applied consistently is to examine the “Residential Property Record Card” not just of your own house, but that of all of the “comparable” homes that Tyler claims to have used in coming up with the value.
Here, too, that is information the Town could have provided to assist homeowners, but the Town’s tax assessor refused Thursday to provide it, and Mr. Feiner, who knew of her refusal, didn’t direct her to do it anyway. Instead, he left town to visit family in Florida.
But getting the “Residential Property Record Card,” the grading sheets, and the criteria for assigning the grades, is not the only problem.
It appears that virtually none of the “junior assessors” in the field – or those manning the tables in the 15-minute Tyler meetings – have any familiarity with Greenburgh at all. Thus, Edgemont residents trying to understand how their home in, say, Greenridge or Cotswold or Old Edgemont, could be compared with an Edgemont home in Southern Greenville, Sprain Valley Road or Fort Hill, will find that the Tyler representative does not know one Edgemont neighborhood from another. Nor does Tyler seem to know that some homes have Scarsdale post office addresses and others have Hartsdale addresses.
But the problem is far worse than that. Tyler’s objective was to value all Greenburgh properties as of July 1, 2015. Usually the best indication of a property’s value is its sales price or, if the house hasn’t sold in recent years, the sales price of a comparable home.
However, it now appears that the list of “comparable” homes used to value a taxpayers’s property was arbitrarily cut off as of July 1, 2015. That means that if one or more homes identical to one that’s being assessed were sold after July 1, 2015, those sales price was never considered.
Thus, for example, on Old Colony Road in the Greenridge section of Edgemont, where there are seven nearly identical homes all built in 1964 by the same builder, the fact that two of those homes were sold after July 1, 2015 was never considered by Tyler as a comparable sale for any of the other five homes, even though those recent sales were almost certainly the best evidence of what these seven properties were worth as of July 1, 2015.
Tyler’s representative had no explanation for this anomaly, suggesting that this was just the way Tyler did things, and that if residents didn’t know that the list of comparable sales used to value homes was not updated after July 1, 2015, then that was just too bad.
But it gets worse. The Tyler representative said that anyone relying on comparable sales that took place after July 1, 2015 must come to the 15-minute meeting armed not with proof of the actual sales prices on those homes, but with a list of the pre-July 1, 2015 comparables Tyler used for those homes that eventually were sold. Because this is so absurd, no resident would ever come to the 15-minute meeting ever thinking this was something he or she should do.
The Tyler representative was then asked why, if Tyler didn’t take into account any sales that took place after July 1, 2015, the property report on the Town’s website for those two houses that were sold shows that Tyler knew about the sale, the price, and the exact date after July 1, 2015 each house was sold. Yet, according to the Tyler representative, that post-July 1, 2015 information was not something Tyler would have considered and, if residents don’t like that it would be considered, the Tyler representative said the resident should just grieve his taxes because Tyler wasn’t going to do anything about it.
When asked at the 15-minute meeting if that was Tyler’s final response, the Tyler representative said he would have to take the matter up with his supervisor.