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MercuryNews.com

 

April 7,2008

 

By Barbara E. Hernandez

 

 

DA probes property tax fees

 

 

OAKLAND—The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is investigating two companies soliciting homeowners for $95 to $250 property tax services they could receive for free, a deputy district attorney said Monday.

 

Deputy District Attorney David Lim said services like those offered by Connection Plus Inc. of Foster City and San Diego County-based Property Tax Adjusters Inc. could be illegal.

 

A perusal of Property Tax Adjusters’s Web site shows the company answering a question about whether or not a county automatically reduces taxes, “Not usually, in some counties they do but in the majority of the counties they do not. Even when they do some reductions the amounts do not necessarily reflect the true value of your specific property.”

 

The reality is that Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Solano counties are all doing large-scale analyses of properties to see if property taxes will be reduced at no cost to the homeowners. San Mateo County’s assessor’s office could not be reached for comment.

 

Even a request by a homeowner or appraisal appeal is free. Alameda County Assessor Ron Thomsen, whose office will be automatically reviewing every home purchased between July 1, 2004, through Dec. 31, 2007, and notifying homeowners in July, sent out a press release last week to inform the public that secondary property tax services were unnecessary.

 

“At first blush, it looks like it may not be illegal, but we need to investigate if there’s a crime there,” said Lim, who handles real estate fraud. “We don’t know what they’re doing once they meet with people.”

 

Property Tax Adjusters charges $95 while Connection Plus charges $200 to $250 for property tax services.

 

Ken McCormick, deputy district attorney in Contra Costa County who deals with real estate fraud, said that while his county has received a lot of calls on companies offering foreclosure help, property tax services for a fee are something new.

 

“I think we’re seeing a lot more because of the rise in subprime [unemployment,]” he said. “Now we are seeing more foreclosure consultant con artists offering services that a borrower or U.S. Housing and Urban Development-certified counselor can do for free.”

 

A representative from Property Tax Adjusters, Henry Ortiz, said on Friday that the company was affiliated with a licensed real estate agent named Robert Teague and served seven counties, including Alameda County. A look at the state’s Department of Corporations, Department of Financial Institutions, Department of Real Estate and the Office of Real Estate Appraisers database showed no active license issued to Property Tax Adjusters Inc. or Robert Teague. Only one Robert Teague was listed, a real estate salesperson from Inglewood whose license expired in 1980.

 

A representative at Connections Plus in Foster City, could not be reached for comment.

 

Barbara E. Hernandez covers real estate. Reach her at 925-952-5063 or bhernandez@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read her Bay Area real estate blog, Property Lines, at www.ibabuzz.com/propertylines.

 

LOWERING PROPERTY TAXES AT NO CHARGE Properties that will have a drop in value are those who most likely were bought in the last few years. Those homes bought more than four years ago are unlikely to have dropped in value. Alameda County: Will be assessing all properties from Jan. 1, 2004 to Dec. 31, 2007. If your property was bought before this time and you believe it has dropped significantly in value from the time it was purchased, call 510-272-3787 or download a form at www.acgov.org/forms/assessor/2008_2009_informal_request_decline_market_value.pdf Contra Costa County: Will be assessing properties purchased since 2003. If interested in requesting a reassessment, please write the assessor's office at 2530 Arnold Drive, Suite 100, Martinez, CA 94553-4359, including examples of values in your neighborhood, or download the form at www.co.contra-costa.ca.us/depart/assr/forms/4695.pdf. San Joaquin County: Will be assessing all property purchased from Jan. 1, 2004 to Dec. 31, 2007. If your property was bought prior to 2004, and feel your property has dropped in value, call 209-468-2630. San Mateo County: Call 650-363-4500 or download a form at www.smcare.org/homeowner/documents/decline_value.pdf. Solano County: Call (707)784-6200 or download a form at www.co.solano.ca.us./resources/AssessorRecorder/Prop8.pdf.