Company Name - Marjorie E. Crist, Esquire
Real Estate & Assessment Appeals
The Real Estate practice at Crist Law Center handles a wide variety of real estate matters for clients.  Please read below for important information and to learn more about how Crist Law Center can help you.
The public must and will be served.

~ William Penn
Allegheny Cty. Office Building
01/05/2012 UPDATE!  According to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald INFORMAL REVIEWS are being cancelled.  While the news is reporting that Mr. Fitzgerald is 'voiding" the 2012 assessments, his legal capacity to unilaterally do this successfully is unknown. 
ALERT!! IMPORTANT DEADLINE BELOW!!!!   Allegheny County Assessment Notices have been sent to City of Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver property owners with the suburbs to follow shortly. Many property owners have substantial increases!! 
Real Estate Matters Handled:
Assessment Appeals
Deed Drafting
Deed Recording and Transfers
Mineral Rights Issues
Property/Deed/Title Searches
Seller/Buyer Representation
Is is worth it to file an appeal?  
The short answer: Yes.  The February deadline is a one time occurence happening just weeks away.  Once missed, you lose your chance to appeal. Period. You can always withdraw your appeal without penalty if you decide, after careful thought and maybe consultation with a lawyer, to accept the newly assessed market value of your property. 
The longer answer: The decision to appeal an assessment increase is up to you however there are certain factors you should make thoughtful consideration of in making your decision.    First, carefully review the characteristics of the property as listed by the County to ensure they are correct.  Simple errors such as the number of working fireplaces the property has (based on counting the chimneys and not going into the property) can be addressed via the informal review process and may result in a lowering of the assessed value.  Consider your neighborhood and recent sales of similar properties, the condition of your property, whether you could find a willing buyer to purchase the property for the newly assessed value.   If the appeal results in a lower assessed value and a lower tax bill, then the question is whether saving this money is worth it.
I hear some county and city leaders are going to fight against this, shouldn't I just wait to see what happens?
No!  If you miss filing the appropriate forms for either the informal review or the formal appeal by the deadlines you lose your opportunity to challenge the assessed value forever.  The assessment notice is the result of a court order from a longstanding litigation within the county courts.  Whether or not political leadership can ultimately change the assessment system is a question that may take years to resolve.  You simply cannot afford to gamble with waiting for this to happen and any changes they are able to make may not ultimately effect the newly assigned assessment value on your property.
Will filing an appeal temporarily halt my obligation to pay the higher tax that comes with it?
No.  You remain obligated to pay all taxes on the property even the higher tax resulting from the new assessment value.  The filing of an appeal has no impact upon this obligation until the appeal results in a decision.  If your assessment is lowered resulting in a lower tax obligation, the County will reimburse you for all overpayments made.
How long will this process take?
The news reports regarding the newly released assessment notices have estimated that as many as 100,000+ assessment appeals will be filed.  With this large number of property owners seeking review and appeal of the assessment it is also estimated the process could take as long as 2 to 3 years. 
What is the difference between an informal review and a formal appeal, should I do both?
You can do both - go through the informal review and, if disatisfied go through a formal appeal.  Be cautious though! Filing for an informal review will not push or change the February 10, 2012 formal appeal deadline.  So it is Crist Law Center's recommendation to those who want to go through the informal review process also file the appropriate form for a formal appeal.  Again, you are always able to withdraw an appeal request without penalty.
Both processes provide an avenue for the property owner to achieve the desired result of a lower assessed value. 
The informal review allows you to set forth an argument and present evidence as to why the assessed value is incorrect.  Perhaps the characteristics are wrong (you have 1 full bathroom and not 2) or the amount of increase is not substantial but still has no basis in the facts as your evidence can demonstrate.  The informal review generally lasts 15 minutes or less.  The only persons allowed at the informal review are the reviewer, the property owner and/ or the property owner's representative. The deadline to request a formal review is JANUARY 13, 2012! 
The formal appeal provides for a formal hearing in front of a hearing officer of the Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review (BPAAR).  All relevant parties are notified and able to attend and present evidence including a representative of the school district/municipality.  The BPAAR will conduct one hearing per property and acts with impartiality.  Based solely upon the evidence of value presented at the hearing the BPAAR will either sustain, decrease or increase the assessed value.
If you are dissatisfied with the determination of the BPAAR, you have 30 days to file an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas Board of Viewers. 
Can I do this on my own?  What is the benefit of hiring a lawyer? 
Property owners have successfully represented themselves in assessment appeals. Your chance of success depends upon your ability to gather relevant evidence supporting a lower value and your ability to present this evidence in a succinct, efficient and compelling manner. Simply arguing that the new numbers are not fair or even outrageous won't cut it.  Neither will pointing out a few flaws or maintenance problems. 
Hiring a lawyer is beneficial in many ways.  Crist Law Center has the experience and resources to find relevant evidence, create meaningful comparable property and current sales data evidence, as well as prepare a succinct presentation of your case. Keep in mind the BPAAR meets once every TWO weeks and there are only a few hearing officers.  Therefore, presenting a powerful, relevant and meaningful case in an efficient way is critical. This is not the forum to get lost in claims of unfairness or emotions of outrage.  You get one shot at presenting evidence at the hearing - remember the decision to decrease is only based upon evidence presented at the hearing - a lawyer experienced in litigation will ensure all relevant evidence available is presented in a meangful way to the hearing officer. 
If I do this on my own, where can I find resources and information?
Information of assessment appeals and forms can be found at the Allegheny County Assessment webpage.  The page is located here.
The formal appeal forms is available on the County Website and is linked here:
Formal Appeal Form  (City of Pgh and Mt. Oliver)
Property owners can request an informal review by calling 412-350-4600 or by going to the County Informal Review webpage here.
If I hire Attorney Crist, what is her experience in dealing with property valuations and assessment appeals?
The last time the County re-assessed properties was about a decade ago and, like the situation today, property owners were upset and many appeals were filed.  Attorney Crist represented property owners back in the early 2000's and has experience with the process and what is required for successful represention. Moreover, throughout the past decade in other areas of her law practice she has regularly handled matters such as equitable distribution disputes involving the proper valuation of real estate and critical evaluation of competing property appraisals. This experience is invaluable when faced with the school district attorney who is prepared to support the higher assessed value.  She is also extremely skilled at utilizing a host of resources in compiling a comprehensive set of compariable properties and recent property sales including databases containing property, characteristic, sales and assessment information. 
Should you decide to hire Crist Law Center, we get to work right away gathering information from you as well as from our own resources.  Contact us today for a free consultation at 412-343-3607 or contact Attorney Crist directly at