Obtaining accurate information from the various taxing agencies can be, in itself, taxing. Each agency operates differently, with some handling real estate taxes from end-to-end, while others manage only a portion. When taxes become delinquent or go to tax sale for example, many agencies will send the bill to a third party to be collected. To further cloud the waters, the different agencies may also use their own specific terminology for what happened to the taxes or where to locate the appropriate information. However, servicers can help expedite and streamline the information gathering process.
When trying to obtain accurate and current tax information, servicers should prepare and organize what information is needed before calling the agency. This will prevent wasted time for everyone involved. Also, keep in mind that most tax agencies are extremely busy around collection time and are less willing to work with companies if they call without adequate preparation or a clear understanding of what is needed. Some agencies can go so far as to block a company from calling again. When this happens, companies lose the ability to gather the required material and must go through other, less efficient routes such as mailing the request in or even making an in person visit to the agency.
Streamline, Don’t Complicate
By being proactive and working closely with the taxing agencies, companies can prevent an information bottleneck and ensure that communication is being fostered. Most importantly, it ensures that the information obtained is correct and up-to-date. Here is what you do before contacting an agency:
1.) Gather all tax information available, such as the parcel number, homeowner’s name and address.
2.) If possible, familiarize yourself with some of the specific agency’s terminology. For instance, some other common terms for “tax sales” are lien, tax title, tax taking, in rem, tax foreclosure, forfeiture, tax deed, certified sale, tax suit, upset sale, judicial sale. Its important to stay abreast of what an agency uses to prevent miscommunication.
3.) Perform any website searches first to see if it can help you in the information gathering process. Be prepared to have information ready to validate with the tax office. When using a website, do not assume that all information is listed and up to date. It may be necessary to contact the tax office and ask:
>>Does the website provide delinquent tax and tax sale information? If the answer is no, you need to always call to verify delinquency/tax sale details.
>>If taxes are listed as paid, does the website provide the payers name? If the answer is no, you need to call to verify who paid the taxes.
>>How often is the website updated?
>>Are there other websites you should reference to obtain delinquent or tax sales information?
4.) Prepare a script to direct the conversation in order to get all the data needed in the most efficient manner. When calling an agency for the first time, open the conversation by being professional, positive and polite. If you can build a relationship with the person you speak to at the agency, it could result in help with future inquiries and a more streamlined process.
5.) Have questions prepared such as why are you calling and what you need from the agency? Try to stay away from stand-alone “yes” or “no” questions, and instead, ask leading questions for more detailed answers, such as:
>>Do you collect your delinquencies? If not, then you must get the name and phone number of the appropriate party to contact. If the agency does collect delinquencies, then the next question should be, “Are the taxes delinquent?” If you are told all taxes are paid, make certain to ask if taxes were paid at tax sale or by a third party.
>>Were taxes paid at tax sale?
If they were, then when were taxes sold?
Can we still redeem taxes?
When does the redemption period end?
What is the redemption amount?
6.) If time allows, and if the agency will comply, request that the agency send you a document that breaks out any amounts owed so that there is no room for error with the amounts being obtained.
There are a number of unique challenges when working with the different taxing agencies around the country, but understanding the organizational nuances and procedures can help to overcome these hurdles to ensure cooperation and success.
About The Authors
(Left) Louise Byrnes, vendor manager, is responsible for the research of claims and lost properties at LERETA, a leading national real estate tax and flood service provider. (Right) Shelley Lucas, vice president, Tax Operations, has more than 25 years of industry experience. She currently oversees the management of agency and other proprietary information for LERETA, a leading national real estate tax and flood service provider.