Mind your manners.
And don't argue with the Ocean County Board of Taxation commissioners if you are pleading your case in a tax appeal trial.
"Be nice," says attorney Michael R. Beck. "Address them by Mr. Commissioner or Mrs. Commissioner. the more the commissioners like you, the better you are going to do."
That was just one of many tips Beck and certified real estate appraiser Eric J. Birchler had for the roughly 100 people who attended the 's second annual tax appeal seminar on March 14.
The coalition was incorporated in September 2010, shortly after Berkeley residents received their new tax bills, which reflected the first since 1990.
Beck and Birchler walked residents through the steps to take on how to file a tax appeal on your own, or with the use of professionals.
Residents who want to appeal on their own can do so, but have to appear at the actual trial and argue their case with comparable sales from their neighborhoods, Beck said.
"This is about your assessed value," Beck told the group. "This is what the town believes your property to be worth. It's your job to prove to the Board of Taxation that you are overassessed."
Residents who want to handle their own tax appeal need to give the Board of Taxation notice by April 1. The filing fee for properties assessed $500,000 or under is $25. The fee for properties over $500,000 is $100. The fee for properties assessed at over $1 million is $150.
"If you do not have an attorney, you must appear," Beck said. "You have to go."
Residents arguing their own appeals must provide comparative sales - also known as comps - from their neighborhood or like neighborhoods. Comp sales can be obtained from local realtors or the Multiple Listing Service, he said.
A comparable sale is an "arms-length" transaction, where both buyer and seller are in agreement. Short sales, foreclosures, estate sales and sales from relative to relative are not usable comps, Beck said.
"Don't tell the commissioners I pay too many taxes, I can't afford my taxes," Beck said. "You yell at the mayor and council on that. You are appealing your assessment. You are not comparing your assessment to your neighbors.
Residents who don't want to appeal on their own can hire professionals to do it for them. Beck and Birchler work in tandem on tax appeals and will not work separately.
"I don't work without an expert," Beck said, pointing to Birchler. "I do everything for you," Beck said. "That's what you get. We process everything for you before going to trial.
The two are often able to settle cases with Township Tax Assessor Eric Zanetti without going to trial, Beck said.
"We were very successful last year in settling a lot of cases," he said. "He doesn't want to go to trial on these cases. He wants to settle the case."
How much does it cost to use a professional?
Beck doesn't charge an upfront fee. He takes one half of the savings the first year, if the tax appeal is successful.
"If I save you $1,000, my fee is $500," he said. "But your reduced assessment is good for three years. As far as how many people have been successful from the Berkeley Township Taxpayers Coalition? Last year, every single one of them."
Birchler comes out to a home, measures rooms, takes pictures, does a full appraisal of the property and provides the comps needed for the appeal. He then either meets with Beck and Zanetti to hammer out a settlement or goes to trial with Beck.
"The township must provide comparable sales," Birchler said. "They have a burden as well and that's to show you are correctly assessed."
If Birchler doesn't think it's worth it for a homeowner to appeal an assessment after he has performed the assessment, he will tell the property owner.
"I will refund half of my fee to you," he told the audience.
If a property owner settled successfully with Zanetti last year, don't file another appeal this year, Beck said.
"I don't recommend what I call double dipping," he said. "The market hasn't dropped that fast."
Residents with waterfront homes on the mainland and in the South Seaside Park section of the township when the new assessments came out in 2010.
More information on tax appeals and tax appeal forms can be found at the coalition's website at www.bttcnj.org or at the Ocean County Board of Taxation's website at www.tax.co.ocean.nj.us.