Since the day I’d received my house appraisal in the mail, that grossly high number printed on that gross yellow paper, I’d been looking forward to storming the Dallas Central Appraisal District and letting those jackals have it. And because this is all public record and you could look it up if you wanted to, I’ll tell you that they wanted to raise my house to $245,940 from $224,570. (From the demographics of this magazine, I’m guessing you just giggled and patted yourself on the back for either a) not studying journalism in college or b) not marrying a journalist.)
So on the appointed day, I went down there, I found the sign-in sheet, and I signed in. Hard.
I said to the guy behind the counter, “You guys are doing it differently. Last year the sign-in was in that other room.” You know, so he wouldn’t think I was some rookie homeowner who’d never seen the inside of DCAD HQ before and wouldn’t recognize fair market value if it walked up and French-kissed him.
“That’s because the other room is for the informal hearings,” he said. He looked at my paperwork. “Yup, you’ve requested a formal hearing in front of an appraisal review board.”
Trouble. The informal hearing, what I’d done last year, is exactly what it sounds like: informal. You and a guy, a cubicle and a computer. Chitchat, clickety-clack, he lowers your valuation. An appraisal review board is something else altogether. I’d heard stories. Stories about an unyielding tribunal, parliamentary procedure, valuations actually being raised.
My tummy began to hurt.
Then a man called my name and ushered me upstairs to the right room. Behind a table sat three old white guys in white shirts and ties. They were tidying up from the previous hearing, wiping blood from their chins, picking bits of flesh from between their teeth. A woman worked a computer terminal at another table. Her efforts were displayed on a large projection screen. She would argue the DCAD’s case. Old guy No. 1 told me I had five minutes to present mine.
I stepped up to a podium and broke out in a nervous sweat. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time in front of principals and cops and judges. Standing there before the appraisal review board, the traumatic memories from those past appearances made my scalp itch. I felt like I was having to explain all over again why I’d been running naked through downtown Oklahoma City after that Jackopierce concert.
I shuffled the comps I’d brought and sputtered: “Er, well, first, thank you in advance for your time. I won’t take up too much of it. As you can see from these comps, properties in my neighborhood are selling for about $90 per square foot, whereas mine has been appraised at $128. I’d like to see us come down on that particular figure.” And then, because presenting my case had taken only about 35 seconds, leaving me with nearly four and half minutes to fill, I restated my case, focusing on the most persuasive points.
The three old guys did some harrumphing and turned to the woman at the computer, whereupon she caused a map of my neighborhood to appear on the projection screen, said the DCAD had based my appraisal on 27 recent sales, and started clicking one house after the next, barking out its address, pulling up detailed information on each.
Then I was given time for a rebuttal, during which I misstated my own street address, acknowledged their helpful correction, continued to sweat unabated, and offered what I thought was the perfect comp. A house very much like mine, just down the street, had sold in February for $89 per square foot. Computer woman looked it up and informed the three old guys that it was an atypical sale and therefore inadmissible. I asked what an “atypical sale” was. Their explanation led me to believe they’d made up the term.
Old guy No. 1 asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to add, Mr. Rogers?”
I said, “You’ve got your comps, and I’ve got my comps. And, well, I guess I throw myself on the mercy of the court.”
“We’re not a court,” he said. “But thank you for the compliment.”
There was more harrumphing, followed by a motion, which was seconded. Old guy No. 1 lowered my appraisal to $231,000. End of hearing.
I was utterly confused. I had evidence to support my case, but it had been thrown out. My appraisal had been lowered, but it had still gone up. God, I thought, if I’d only studied finance or law, maybe it all would have turned out differently. Or maybe I should have married a lawyer. Then, not only would I live in a bigger house, but my wife could have dealt with the jackals. While interest rates are still low, maybe I should invest in another wife.