Brian Schneider walks up to the yellow Victorian-style house in the Laureldale section of Hamilton Township. Armed with a photo identification tag, laptop computer and measuring tape, he knocks on the stranger's door, hoping that the owner will let him in.
Schneider, vice president of Professional Property Appraisers, is one of seven workers who have been going around the township doing site inspections on hundreds of homes, small businesses and other properties as part of a municipal-wide revaluation.
The township is undergoing a $1 million revaluation, following a 2007 order to do so by the state Division of Taxation because the township's true market values dipped to about 49 percent. An accurate valuation would be at 100 percent.
Revaluations are done periodically to ensure that the tax rate is equitably spread among all property owners, Tax Assessor Gerry Mead said. Hamilton Township's last revaluation was in 1993.
All evaluations should be completed by fall, property owners will get their new valuation letters in the mail in November and everything will be on the tax list by January 2011, Mead said. He noted that property owners will have the opportunity to discuss the results with the revaluation company before they are finalized, and owners can contest their assessments before the county Board of Taxation by May 1, 2011.
The reassessment of the township's 29 largest stores, malls and other businesses by Sockler Realty Services Group, of Ewing, is about 75 percent complete, Mead said. Professional Property Appraiser, of Delran, Burlington County, is handling the reassessment of 260 commercial, 8,400 residential, 5,200 vacant and 4,500 tax-exempt properties.
Schneider said the site inspections for all of the smaller businesses and the tax-exempt properties have been completed and now they are analyzing the data. As of May, about 4,763 residential properties had been inspected and 3,843 vacant lots had been reviewed and inspected.
All residential properties north of Route 50 have been inspected and Schneider said the appraisers are now heading toward the parts closer to Egg Harbor Township. Mead and Schneider said they have not received any complaints about the inspection process.
In general, Schneider said, an appraiser will make three attempts to do an inside inspection of a site, which usually takes 20 to 30 minutes and consists of checking and counting up the rooms of a house and measuring its square footage. Property owners have the option to deny the inspectors entry and the evaluation can be done by using other property records, but Schneider said "it behooves us to get in the property so they don't get assessed for things we assume they have - like a finished basement or a bathroom."
"There's a lot of myths out there. They think we're the Grim Reaper with a tape measure," Schneider said about the job. "Once we've done everything, really it's not a big deal."
Two other popular revaluation misconceptions are that everyone will pay more taxes and that people should use their current tax rate with the new assessment, Meade said. In general, some residents will see an increase in assessment while others will see a decrease or stay the same. Meade added that a new tax rate will be calculated once the revaluation is done.
Robert Young, a township resident whose Landford Court home was inspected in mid-June, said in a phone interview that his evaluator was fair and pleasant during the visit.
Young, a 59-year-old retired teacher, said the larger issue in his mind was taxes, especially given the poor economy. Young said he paid $5,000 in taxes last year, and he feared his assessment could become higher.
"If the result is higher taxes, I'm not for that," he said. "For new couples just moving in and trying to get started, and those on fixed incomes, paying more taxes is not nice or very good, not at this particular time."
Kelly Sparks - the owner of that yellow house - let Schneider in for the inspection and said he was very unobtrusive and professional.
Sparks, a 46-year-old river pilot, said she was a little nervous about the revaluation because she was afraid her taxes - currently $8,800 per year - might increase. She also noted that her house, which was built in 2005, is up for sale and she plans to relocate to another part of the township.
Despite her concerns, Sparks said she loves living in Hamilton Township because of its convenient location and good municipal services.
"Taxes never go down. People are moving in and we get businesses coming in and your tax hike is not going to go down," she said. "It is what it is."
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To learn more
To find out more about the Hamilton Township revaluation, visit the FAQ section on the township website: www.townshipofhamilton.org
People who have not responded to callback cards from Professional Property Appraisers should call 1-866-957-1388.