Thinking of updating? Go Green!

by Dan Krell
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If you are thinking of updating your home- think green. As we are increasingly becoming environmentally conscious, home buyers are as well. As the cost of energy continues to increase, home buyers are increasingly becoming aware of energy saving devices within homes, including Energy Star rated products and environmentally friendly materials.

Most of us are familiar with the Energy Star logo on appliances; however, Energy Star ratings or recommendations can also be found on windows, lighting fixtures/light bulbs, HVAC equipment, hot water heaters and insulation. Home improvement recommendations from Energy Star can save a home owner up to 31% in energy costs! Do you think that saving on energy costs would be a selling point to a potential homebuyer? You bet it would!

Energy Star (energystar.gov) is a jointly sponsored program through the United States Department of Energy and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The program began in 1992 by voluntarily labeling energy efficient items. Although computers and monitors were the first items to be labeled, the Energy Star logo is now seen on household, office, and commercial items from fifty categories. On the website, Energy Star provides assessment tools for homeowners in determining the efficiency of their homes as well helping understand what needs improvement.

To make the home more appealing to home buyers, the first items that a home owner thinks of replacing are the kitchen appliances and the washer/dryer. Although high efficiency appliances typically cost more, Energy Star states that the money saved on energy costs will more than offset the cost of an energy star rated appliance. Because Energy Star rated appliances use up to 50% less energy than standard appliances, it is estimated that the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees would be planted if ten percent of American households use Energy Star rated appliances.

Additionally, if your furnace is more than ten years old, Energy Star recommends that a newer high efficiency furnace be installed. Recommended efficiency ratings by Energy Star are 90% Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) for a gas furnace and a minimal Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of 13 for central air conditioning units. However, if your ductwork leaks it reduces the HVAC efficiency, so it is recommended that leaking duct work be sealed. Additionally, adding a programmable thermostat may save an additional $150 a year.

As your hot water heater uses about one third of a home’s energy costs, replacing it to a more efficient model can reduce the overall energy bill. Hot water heater efficiency is rated by Energy Factor (EF). Depending on the size of the hot water heater, the recommended EF can vary. Newer tankless models heat water as you need it and thereby can save you even more.

Other ways to make your home greener and energy efficient, besides using high efficiency and Energy Star rated appliances and systems, include: sealing air leaks around windows and in basements/attics; ensuring that your home is properly insulated in the walls, attic, and basement; and replacing light bulbs to energy efficient bulbs. Although not all appliances are Energy Star rated, the Department if Energy has a guide to making your home energy efficient at: www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/index.html.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of February 11, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.

How to Make Your Property Tax Appealing

by Dan Krell © 2007

Many homeowners received their new tax assessments this past year. As they opened the official envelopes with much trepidation, many were in disbelief in the increase in property tax. As home values skyrocketed the last few years, so did tax bills. If you have recently received or are anticipating receiving a new assessment this year, you have the opportunity to exercise your rights by appealing the new assessment.

When you appeal your property tax assessment, you are challenging the value that is placed on your home by the State.

How does the government determine how much your home is worth? According to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation (DAT) web site (www.dat.state.md.us), they oversee over two million property accounts. The state employs trained appraisers to evaluate and appraise every property. These appraisers use standard appraisal techniques to determine the value of your home.

Every property is re-evaluated every three years. If there is a change of value, there is three year phase in period for the value to be used as a tax base. To see how the assessor determined your home’s value, you can obtain a copy of the assessor’s worksheet at the local assessment office, which is located at 51 Monroe Street (4th Floor) Rockville, MD.

The appeal process begins by first receiving your new tax assessment. If you are satisfied with the value place on your home, there is nothing for you to do except pay the bill. However, if you are dissatisfied with the assessment, you have forty-five days to file an appeal.

The appeal is first heard at the Supervisor’s level, which allows you to discuss the assessment with an assessor. At this time, it is wise to obtain the assessment worksheet from the local assessment office (indicated above). You can obtain the worksheet for your home at no cost, and for a fee you can obtain the worksheets for the comparables used by the assessor. There will be an informal hearing to review all the information. After the hearing, a “final notice” is issued.

If you remained dissatisfied with the “final notice”, you have thirty days to appeal to the Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board (PTAAB). The board is not a part of the DAT; the board is comprised of local residents who have been appointed by the Governor. The PTAAB conducts an informal hearing to review all the relevant information. The board will issue a notice of decision to all parties involved.

If your dissatisfaction continues, you have thirty days to appeal to the Maryland Tax Court (MTC). In MTC, you are given the opportunity to present your case. The MTC will issue a decision based on the information presented.

Although MTC is the last administrative step in the appeal process, you can appeal the MTC decision to the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court reviews the case to determine if there were any legal errors in the process.

Hopefully, by following the process you will at least have the satisfaction of exercising your rights, and possibly being successful in appealing your property tax assessment. For more information about the appeal process, and to view the Property Owner’s Bill of Rights, visit the DAT website (www.dat.state.md.us/sdatweb/hog.html).

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of March 5, 2007. Copyright (c) 2007 Dan Krell.