Founder of EasyTaxFix Finds Online Property Tax Service Less Appealing, More Complicated, Than Expected

4/16/09Follow @bvbigelow

The day after April 15 may not be a time when many folks want to think about taxes, but what if the subject is reducing your taxes?

EasyTaxFix launched its online business last September in a bid to help homeowners throughout San Diego County lower their property taxes. The concept was simple enough. Home prices have fallen sharply since the bubble popped in the California real estate market, and property taxes are calculated as a percentage of the assessed value—generally 1.1 percent before special assessments. But homeowners typically have to file a property tax appeal to ensure that their property tax matches the lower valuation of their home.

The founders of EasyTaxFix, brothers Adam and Jeff Berkson, created a Web site, EasyTaxFix.com, to automate the process by enabling homeowners to submit the required appeal forms electronically to their county assessor’s office for a $40 fee. The brothers started off by testing the concept just in San Diego.

But when I wrote about the startup in November, the Web site was getting little traffic and the Berkson brothers were unsure if their business would succeed. Of course, another factor is that San Diego County homeowners can appeal the assessed value of their property for free, by filing a form available at any assessor’s office or downloading it from www.SDARCC.com.

So I checked back with Adam Berkson yesterday to get an update on how the business is doing.

“We ended up being very successful in San Diego, and based on that, we made the decision to enter other states,” he told me. He said Xconomy’s report on EasyTaxFix, which was followed by a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune, prompted thousands of people to check out the EasyTaxFix Web site.

In February, the Berksons launched an EasyTaxFix website for the state of New Jersey, which has the nation’s highest property tax rate, according to Berkson. He estimates that 30 percent of New Jersey’s homeowners are over-paying their property taxes, but the Jersey Web traffic has been disappointing.

Berkson says providing the online service in multiple states “is a lot more complex than it sounds—to be able to operate in different states, with appeals forms, and different property tax laws.” Adding to the complexity are the different levels of appeals. In California, for example, Berkson says homeowners can file an “informal” appeal with the County Assessor or a “formal” appeal with the Assessment Appeals Board. And New Jersey has its own system.

In recent months, the Berksons have expanded their EasyTaxFix online service to four other California counties—Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and Fresno—and they plan to add San Bernardino and Santa Clara next week. They added Maricopa County, AZ, (Phoenix and Scottsdale) about a week ago, and plan to launch a site for King County, WA, (Seattle) by the end of this month.

Competitors also are springing up. Seattle-based LowerMyAssessment.com announced earlier this week that its Web-based property assessment service “takes the guesswork and expense out of filing your property tax assessment appeal.” The company says its website will initially serve the states of Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington—and that additional states will be rolled out on a weekly basis. Based on his own experience, Berkson says he doubts they can do it.

“You think it’s simple, and we’ll just pull the data and pull the forms and put it together online,” Berkson said, “but it’s a big data project. For our next startup, I’ve got to pick something that’s cheaper and easier.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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