Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Kootenai County Property Taxes and Mortgage Fraud

Within the next few days most Kootenai County property owners will have received their notice of 2007 Property Assesments. It is quite likely most assessed valuations will increase significantly. If you appeal your assesment and ask why your assessment is so much higher, you'll be given the usual reasons: many brand new and more expensive houses near yours, many houses sold at very high sales prices. Appeal denied. Just pay your taxes.

But what if the prices of the new home construction and the existing home sales had been artificially inflated? What if your home and others had been initially appraised for far more than they are really worth? What if your development and the homes in it were not built in compliance with required codes? What if lenders had either innocently or complicitly given you and your neighbors mortgage and construction loans for more that your homes were really worth?

The answer is that your property and nearby ones would be assessed by the County above their "actual" value. They would be assessed at an inflated value. And you'd be screwed. Thrice over. You'd first be screwed because your home is worth less than what you've paid for it. You'd be screwed the second time because you're paying higher property taxes than you should to Kootenai County. And if your home's infrastructure does not comply with applicable codes (e.g., inspections were not done at all, they were done from the office, they were done by unqualified inspectors, or they were "drive-by" inspections), you may be living in a home falsely certified safe by fraudulent inspections.

Please look back at a few Whitecaps posts about mortgage fraud. Pay particular attention to the information about appraisal fraud. Do any of the conditions in any of the posts apply to you? If they do, talk with your attorney to see what civil recourse you may have to protect the value of what for most of us is our largest investment, your home. When you're talking with your attorney, discuss mortgage fraud in Kootenai County with him.

If you believe you have been criminally defrauded (mortgage fraud is an umbrella term that includes several federal crimes), talk with your attorney about making an appointment to talk with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I'd strongly discourage you from going to the local, county, or state police or the county prosecutor. If you decide to talk with the FBI, please ask your attorney to help you prepare by drawing up a list of specific allegations with a list of the facts you have to support each allegation. You may want to take your attorney with you to the appointment. You're not a suspect; you're a victim, but your attorney may help save time and keep the conversation focused on items meaningful to investigators.

As homeowners we all have to pay property taxes. That's a fact of life. However, the assessed valuation of our properties should be based on honest data. If the values of our homes and the homes that influence our property's value have been artificially inflated, we are all paying too much in property taxes. Worse, our investment's true value has been reduced. Protect yourself. Educate yourself about mortgage fraud. Hopefully you will find you have not been a victim. If you have been victimized by dishonest developers, builders, appraisers, government inspectors, and lenders, then act!


Blogger DanG said...

I'll disagree with you on appealing an appraisal. Remember that the actual appraisal process is supposed to be done once every few years (3 or 5?). So between years it's a guess based on many factors. But the key to the appeal is the "appeal." You need three things. First, you need data. You need your home's data and the data from comparable homes. That takes work. Second, you need to compare the data that shows how your home has been unfairly appraised. E.g., a similar home values out to $70/sqft whereas yours shows $150/sqft. or that one home has a better lake view than yours. Finally -- and this is key -- you request not to lower your assessment but to raise the other guy's. The burden is on the Assessor to be equitable (by the Constitution), so if you can point out several homes that should have their valuations raised to match yours, the net result is that yours gets lowered.

And, naturally in Kootenai County, if you can engineer a bribe, that's worth something as well.

9:44 AM, June 09, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...


You made excellent points about appealing.

My principal concern is that properties have been appraised too highly by private property appraisers.

In some cases, information that would have lowered the appraisal may have been hidden from the appraiser (e.g., fictitious building inspections that say everything is just hunky-dory when, in fact, it is not). In those cases, the lender is (presumably) unaware of the property's reduced value and thus makes an overvalued loan. That increases the homeowner's debt. It also influences property tax assessments.

In other cases, the property appraiser is in cahoots with a realtor or a lender. That appraiser brings in whatever appraisal s/he's told to bring in. That justifies a lender's making a loan that in all probability just happens to be the same or very close to the asking price.

If the property's infrastructure and construction are substandard and code non-compliant, the property owner ultimately will lose. His property may degrade faster (cracking foundations and porches, mold and mildew because of inadequate vapor sealants, sink-holes, etc.) forcing him to make expensive corrections, corrections which will require building permits. Those building permits will affect the property's value at the assessor's office.

The bottom line is that mortgage fraud (particularly appraisal fraud) damage not only the immediate homeowner but surrounding homeowners as well. Given the amount of money involved, it's not surprising that there's very little interest among city and county officials to clean it up.

11:32 AM, June 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why shouldn't we go to the local cops, sheriff, state police or prosecutor?

7:44 AM, June 10, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...


Sorry. I should have explained that statement more thoroughly.

Mortgage fraud, including appraisal fraud, is widespread across the United States. It is a complex white-collar crime that regularly crosses state lines. Investigating it requires very extensive knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources that local agencies do not have or are unwilling to commit to lengthy financial crime investigations.

When it appears that local public officials may have been involved in one or more elements of the crime, it becomes an issue of public corruption. In Idaho, and particularly in Kootenai County, it would be difficult to convince the public that the investigation by a local agency was as probing as it could and should have been. There would be a legitimate concern that local political loyalties may take precedence over professional duties and responsibilities. If you need to be reminded, see this blog post.

But the bottom line is that the federal agencies are working cooperatively to address mortgage fraud. In addition to being used to suck money from unsuspecting victims, it is also used to launder money. Tracing the source and path of the dirty money being laundered is difficult enough for the feds, let alone state and local officials.

8:19 AM, June 10, 2007  
Anonymous monika said...

Yeah well, this is true not only for new home buyers that are facing mortgage fraud. My husband and I have owned our home in the country on 20 acres for almost 30 years. It always had been listed under farming. We grow grass for hay. Last year, our property taxes tripled because the appraiser came out during the spring months and determined, even though our field equipment was sitting in the field, that we were not farming. I appealed as they suggested in the form of an email which they totally ignored and turned down. Hay is not cut until August. The guy came out in May. The snow was still on the ground in places when he came and the remainder of the field was still too muddy. What can one do to fight this? I have been dealing with this for a year and still no results. In the meantime, they have collected the money.

3:20 PM, January 03, 2009  

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