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May 11, 2017

Real Estate Matters: How can I challenge my property’s real estate tax assessment?

Most of our lives are spent in real estate. Whether it’s an apartment or house we rent, own, or develop, or that office job where we work 9 to 5. We literally eat, sleep, and work in real estate for the majority of our lives. 

Each week, we'll select questions from readers on topics surrounding housing and real estate, which affect Philadelphians at home or work and then answer them from a legal point of view.

Q: How can I challenge my property's real estate tax assessment?
-- Nina L., Fairmount

A. This is actually a very timely question. Every year around this time, the city of Philadelphia’s Office of Property Assessment will send reassessment notices in the mail for properties the city believes have changed in value since the 2017 tax year.

If you received a reassessment notice from the city for a property you owned where the assessed value of the property has increased, there are a couple of ways you can fight it.

You can immediately challenge the proposed assessment by submitting paperwork to the Office of Property Assessment through what is called its First Level Review process. If you didn’t receive the forms to request this review in the mail, you should contact the office to request replacement forms. If you’re looking to submit these forms, you better hurry up! The deadline is May 26, 2017.

If this property is simply your personal residence (investment properties follow a different procedure), during the First Level Review process, for all intents and purchase, you would merely state what you believe the property is currently worth. But how do you determine its worth?

The easiest way is if you recently purchased the property. For instance, if you bought it for $300,000 recently, it should be worth $300,000. Presumably, if you financed the purchase of the property through a bank, you should have an appraisal report indicating what the property should be worth.

Another way is if you refinanced the mortgage due on account of the property. Again, you would have an appraisal report, which would indicate what the property is worth.

If neither of those scenarios applies to you and you do not want to pay for an independent appraisal, you could reach out to your real estate agent or even go on Zillow, which can give you a rough estimate of what is the value of the property. Yet, another option is to visit the Office of Property Assessment’s website. There, you can see what the city has assessed neighboring properties and you can also see what your neighbors recently purchased their property for.

If you aren’t happy with the First Level Review process or decided not to take part in that process, you can always appeal the proposed assessed value to the city of Philadelphia’s Board of Revision of Taxes. This requires the same information and documentation as the First Level Review process, but you have more time. The deadline is October 2, 2017.

Unfortunately, any way you slice it, you, as a property owner, should tread carefully before challenging the proposed assessed value of your property. A lot of times, what the property is worth is actually more than what is the city’s proposed assessment. If that is the case, you should seriously consider whether you should seek a reduction of the assessed value of the property, as the city is well within its right to either keep the assessed value “as is,” reduce it or even increase it. In other words, by seeking an adjustment of the proposed assessed value of the property, you could very likely find the city attempting to increase its assessed value even more than what it proposed.

submitted photo/for PhillyVoice

Alan Nochumson

Alan Nochumson is a leading real estate attorney in Philadelphia who founded his law firm, Nochumson P.C., more than a decade ago. Alan has represented a “who’s who” of clients in the city – from developers to landlords, restaurants to retailers, homebuyers and tenants. When he is not lawyering, Alan is playing basketball in recreational leagues, sitting on a mayoral-appointed board or commission, and writing a monthly column for a legal publication. Alan and his family live in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood. You can learn more about Alan by visiting

Got a question for Real Estate Matters? E-mail Alan at or tweet your question to @thephillyvoice along with #realestatematters.

The materials and information contained on this column have been prepared by Alan solely for general informational purposes and do not constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney for a real estate matter you are currently encountering.