BLOODHOUNDBLOG.COM

There’s always something to howl about

Attempted Censorship of a real estate blogger in Virginia

Right or wrong? What do you think?

Update 12/30/2007: The Broker stands her ground and defends the agent. This should prove very interesting.

Related posts:
  • In Need of Migration Assistance – Please!
  • How to Become a Famous Blogger
  • Stopping traffic in Northern Virginia: JustNewListings.com is building custom yard signs for its listings

  • 42 comments

    42 Comments so far

    1. Allen Butler December 29th, 2007 6:04 pm

      Absolutely Redonkulous.

      I am hoping some of you more professional folk will fill me in as to how this is a violation of the COE. Sounds like a legitimate gripe about the way local government bureaucrats are doing their job. I am certain that if prices are dropping everywhere, it stands to reason that assessed values will also decline. Am I wrong? Is that too good to be true? Could mean loss of revenue for the govies. Seems that THAT is what the “government official” was upset about. SOmebody take me to school. . .

      Allen

    2. Greg Swann December 29th, 2007 6:15 pm

      What say you, Jim? I think you have a better bead on the COE than most of us.

      For my own part, I think this is an outrageous attempt at censorship. The functionary responsible for this stunt should be fired at once. Joining the NAR does not make Realtors less than citizens, and many brave people fought and died for our right to petition the government with grievances.

      That said, this is another perfect argument for flying your own flag as a self-employed broker.

    3. Jillayne Schlicke December 29th, 2007 6:23 pm

      Hi Allen,

      Welcome to the classroom. It sounds like in the original blog article, the Realtor author may have presented inaccurate facts.

      I believe that it’s really important for bloggers to go back and update their original blog article if they learn something after they’ve originally published the blog article, that could help their readers, especially if that something happens to be more accurate data.

      Sometimes our commenters teach us more than we could have imagined when we originally set out to write the article.

      Listening carefully to the message the commenter is trying to convey, researching facts, thinking about all the possible consequences (known and unknown) are all time consuming yet could be thought of as being a “responsible” blogger.

      The value of responsibility is embedded within the Realtor Code and many other professional codes and corporate codes of ethics, and I have read thousands of codes.

      We all can learn from his mistake. The lesson is, if we accidentally got it wrong, correct the data.

      Professional codes were never designed to tell the Realtor what to do in every single ethical situation. Instead, the code should motivate and help guide us to be better than we are.

      I don’t see this as censorship but rather a question of duty.

    4. Bob in San Diego December 29th, 2007 6:30 pm

      I would hire an attorney, but that’s just me.

    5. Bob in San Diego December 29th, 2007 6:42 pm

      >We all can learn from his mistake.

      Who is to say he made a mistake? The way I read it, the guy is saying “you are entitled to your opinion, but since you are a Realtor, your opinion has to match my version of the facts.”

      Would he send that letter to a reporter’s boss if it was written by a journalist?

    6. Jim Duncan December 29th, 2007 6:53 pm

      Jillayne –

      I would agree with you if two things were true –

      1) The gov’t employee had identified what the factual inaccuracies were.
      2) There were actual inaccuracies in either post.

      As far as I can tell, the only ethical violations that occurred are those perpetrated by the county official.

      I nor any member of my staff will engage you via your blog regarding your perceptions of the operations of local government. Your blog is set up as a promotional tool for the services that you provide as a Realtor. I do not condone or advocate your positions nor your personal approach at generating real estate related business for yourself. Therefore a response to your blog postings is not warranted.

      By choosing to attack the person rather than participate in a substantive conversation, the gov’t employee took this situation to an entirely different and unnecessary level.

      Credibility was lost when the county employee demanded a retraction of the entire post rather than point out what part(s) was inaccurate.

      If the original author made a mistake, he should absolutely admit it, openly and freely and post a clarification/retraction. That’s what makes good blogs great.

      The Code of Ethics purportedly does help Realtors hold themselves to higher standards, but as far as I can tell there is clearly not even a hint of a violation here.

    7. Bob in San Diego December 29th, 2007 7:08 pm

      Given the market conditions, I would think it will be easy to show that the tax man is off on more than a few assessments. That is all it takes for the author to be factual.

      What the official cant do at this point is put the genie back in the bottle.

      Anyone want to see how to work social media for SEO and PR (public relations) leverage?

    8. Brian Brady December 29th, 2007 8:18 pm

      I think the assessor’s office is correct when they say that he is disseminating incorrect information. I inquired about the damning statement here:

      http://realdiablog.typepad.com/loudounstats/2007/12/everyone-knows.html?cid=95201866#comment-95201866

      While the county assessor’s office is probably correct, they sure could use a lesson in dealing with the private sector.

      …but what’s new about that?

    9. Brian Brady December 29th, 2007 8:21 pm

      I think, in this instance, the county assessor’s office is factually correct. I point out (what I believed to be) the incorrect conclusion here:

      http://realdiablog.typepad.com/loudounstats/2007/12/everyone-knows.html?cid=95201866#comment-95201866

      Still, the county assessor could use a lesson in diplomacy.

    10. Jeanne Breault December 29th, 2007 8:29 pm

      This is amazing! Wonder what the broker’s position is?

    11. Matthew Rathbun December 29th, 2007 8:42 pm

      I hate that the agent has to go through this, but I would be interested to see what a court case would reveal. This is my fear about some of the stuff that I read on Agent blogs. I am a COE instructor and Professional Standards Certified Administrator. I also happen to know some of the Association folks that were referenced. I don’t know them well, but what I do know makes it hard to believe that they would agree with this county official without having all the facts.

      From a liability standpoint, I don’t agree that we’re being treated as sub-citizens in this regard, because we’re REALTORS. I feel that we’re held to a higher standard. We cannot make any rules as an association that is contrary to Federal Law (1st Amendment), but we can make rules that are more restrictive, just like HOA’s can. Virginia Law has this ambiguous code section that outlines our fiduciary duties. One of the items is “ordinary or reasonable care”. I feel that this code section deputizes the REALTOR Code of Ethics as a reasonable measure of reasonable care. When we become REALTORS and subscribe to the COE I think this fiduciary duty would be upheld by a court as a higher theoretical level of care, because people hire us as REALTORS. (I am not an attorney, I just talk to them a lot).

      This is where the argument comes in, as to if blogging is an expression of thought or is it really marketing. My personal opinion is that it’s marketing if it has anything to do with your business. Article 12 is very specific that we “shall” be truthful and honest in our marketing and the 2008 changes are better defining internet specific marketing. I would hope that any Professional Standards review group would take into consideration “intent”. I don’t know what’s true or not about the post in question, but I think the county official would have a hard time illustrating that he intended to deceive anyone.

      I don’t know… there are lots of things to consider here. Blog at your own risk, but for goodness sakes, make sure your information is accurate! In Spotsylvania county, there was a county employee for the code compliance office file a complaint because a REALTOR was advertising a 4 bedroom house with a 3 bedroom septic. Of course it was dismissed from VREB, but still what a pain. This is a very litigious industry. We need to be care. Perception is sometimes more dangerous than intent and facts!

      Lastly, this is a prime reason why in my lectures to brokers, I stress that they must be reading their agent blogs to ensure they have a heads up in case something like this happens.

      I wish this agent the best of luck and hope that it works out. Trying to keep the County Officials in check via a blog is like sticking your finger in a bee’s nest!

    12. Todd Carpenter December 29th, 2007 10:09 pm

      It’s not censorship until they take legal action. It’s intimidation at this point. In my experience, government officials resort to intimidation when they don’t have the standing to take real action.

      If it were me, and I knew the data was correct, I’d tell the county official to go pound sand. I think that’s what he’s doing right now by posting the email.

    13. Danilo Bogdanovic December 29th, 2007 11:54 pm

      I am the author of the post on Loudoun Stats and here’s the information I used and my question to everyone:

      The property located at 904 Amelia Street in Sterling, VA 20164. It settled on December 10th for 30 percent less than it’s assessed value.

      Here’s how I came to that conclusion (simple math):

      Assessed value of $392,200 (based on public tax records) – net sales price of $276,450 (public records) = dispcrencancy in dollar amount and percentage ($115,750/30 percent).

      No opinion…only facts and simple kindergarten math. I’m only quoting public information and pointing out the obvious. Is that wrong?

    14. Tony Sena December 30th, 2007 12:32 am

      Danilo,

      I am not an attorney, so this is strictly my opinion. I see nothing wrong with your blog post and I find it ridiculous that you were never contacted directly by the county assessor’s office! If they had an issue with what was written, a direct call or email should have been the proper procedure in handling this issue.

      The fact that they want the blog post removed is even more ridiculous! I sure hope your broker and local association is backing you on this! Can you share with us what their response has been?

    15. Jay Thompson December 30th, 2007 2:23 am

      “Is that wrong?”

      Not in the least.

    16. [...] (more interesting comments on Bloodhound)  [...]

    17. Linda Davis December 30th, 2007 8:41 am

      Brian is heading in the right direction.

      I have dealt with the subject of real estate assessments on my own blog and one must tread lightly to be sure the information presented is accurate. I find that very few people actually understand the whole real estate assessment/mil rate thing.

      If every house in a town is assessed 30% too high, the mil rate will balance it all out in the end. Additionally, assessments are usually published months and months after a visit so if the market is on a downward trend, they will appear high. It takes a lot of analysis and comparison before making a determination. You need to look at a town as a whole not just at specific listings.

      In my case, the tax assessor called me directly and we were able to correct some issues and agree to disagree on others. In one case, one street in a subdivision was treated differently than others in the same subdivision. Turned out to be a math error.

    18. Russell Shaw December 30th, 2007 10:16 am

      Is Todd Kaufman the person who wrote the letter to Danilo? http://www.loudoun.gov/Default.aspx?tabid=624

    19. Tony Arko December 30th, 2007 10:52 am

      I can confirm that Todd Kaufman is the person who wrote the letter to Danilo.

      Also, I have sent our broker’s response to Mr. Kaufman’s allegation that our broker felt the post was inappropriate to Jim Duncan.

    20. [...] at Bloodhound and [...]

    21. Brian Brady December 30th, 2007 3:21 pm

      “No opinion…only facts and simple kindergarten math. I’m only quoting public information and pointing out the obvious. Is that wrong?”

      I think it is, Danilo. The County Assesors’ offices typically apply blanket formulae to determine assessed valuations. In Loudoun County, it looks like the “revalue” every Jan 1. So this statement would not be factually correct:

      “That means that Loudoun County residents are paying up to 30 percent more in taxes than they should.”

      If the revaluation for the specific property had a wide variance from the formula, the property owner can petition the County for an adjustment.

      It’s been a while since I lent in Virginia but I believe I understood the assessment process. If it hasn’t changed in 3-4 years, your conclusion is probably incorrect.

      That doesn’t excuse the high-handed tactic of the Assessor’s office. I would think that they aim to educate rather than punish. Then again, I haven’t lived back East in 15 years so I’m apt to forget the arrogance of the bureaucrats there.

    22. Thomas Johnson December 30th, 2007 4:18 pm

      Danilo is not alone in finding corruption and greed in the property appraisal process. Here’s a taste of another jack booted appraiser, Tylene Gamble, Chief Appraiser of Wharton County, Texas. She sued taxpayers after her own appeals board sided with the citizens. Read all about it at http://maximstench.com/

      Tom Johnson

    23. Dave December 30th, 2007 5:47 pm

      My only comment is that it appears that the broker’s course of action is wise and prudent: Upon the advice f counsel, she has asked for the assessor to point out the specific errors/inaccuracies in a manner that will be admissible in court.

      If the assessor doesn’t respond appropriately then he is engaged in just a bunch of bluster.

    24. Arlington Virginia Condos — Jay December 30th, 2007 9:04 pm

      Jim, thanks for bringing this to our attention. I’ve contacted my person at the Post with the story and Danilo’s info. There can be no way of justifying assessments that are 20-30% off. What will be the critical variable is how close the 2008 #s are by Loudon County. If they have not dropped significantly to mirror the current market values they will be without excuse whatsoever as they’ve had a year to feel out the market and study its new position. This is a consumer (homeowners) protection as well as first amendment issue that needs more attention for all the parties involved. $100s in the least are at stake to individuals homeowners in the county. For those with more pricey homes the numbers can equal $1000+.
      The employee made a fool of himself and sounded like by 5 year old telling on her 3 year old brother….Pathetic to say the least.

      And as I stated on Danilo’s blog comments:
      If you’re broker wants to look like he/she is on the side of his agents when issues arise then he/she better stand by you. Otherwise they’d lose all the positive branding and following that your blog represents for your brokerage–perhaps 1000s of local consumers (buyers and homeowners) who are on your side because you’re on their side.

    25. Brian Brady December 30th, 2007 10:25 pm

      Jay,

      What if Danilo’s information is incorrect? You said:

      “There can be no way of justifying assessments that are 20-30% off.”

      Read Linda Davis’ comment. What does it matter if it doesn’t affect the tax bill?

    26. Arlington Virginia Condos — Jay December 31st, 2007 5:38 am

      Brian, I’m open to be educated. Linda stated the following:
      “If every house in a town is assessed 30% too high, the mil rate will balance it all out in the end.”

      I think that is overgeneralizing and seems naive. That assumes a county will be aware that their assessments are way off, and then it assumes the county agrees that the peoples’ money is the peoples’ money and they should adjust their rate accordingly immediately. That’s not the government mentality; it never will be.

      She also said,

      “Additionally, assessments are usually published months and months after a visit so if the market is on a downward trend, they will appear high. It takes a lot of analysis and comparison before making a determination.”

      I agree and that’s why I said the telling variable in this issue is whether the new 2008 values have been adjusted according to the Loudon county’s market significantly downward as the big drops in market values started over 18 months ago. There has been time for the government to get it right with the new assessments coming up. In a shifting market I assume the government will be behind a full year. 2008′s assessments will tell the tale.

      Also:
      “You need to look at a town as a whole not just at specific listings.”

      That could be true if the county was more receptive to individual homeowner’s protests about their assessment. It sounds like the county is not willing to correct bogus assessments. Therefore I do not buy that line of reasoning. It sounds like something the government employee would say to a reporter.

      Brian, you said,
      “What does it matter if it doesn’t affect the tax bill?”

      I’ll tell you why it matters, Brian. It matters because keeping the process muddied and confusing to people who are too busy to study it in depth is how the government is able to get away with keeping so much of the population’s money (taxes). Imagine if everybody paid their taxes on a monthly basis like their other bills. Imagine if they received a bill in the mail each month for their taxes instead of it being withheld from the paychecks….Do you think the public would have allowed the tax rates to get so high? Never. Keeping taxes complicated and confusing is one reason government has succeeded in taking away so much of peoples’ money to pay for Hillary’s Woodstock museum, etc.

      But as I stated, I’m open to being educated so I’ll continue to hear what others have to say or explain.

    27. Linda Davis December 31st, 2007 5:49 am

      Let me try this Brian. If my house is worth $100,000 but is assessed at $200,000, that is just fine as long as my neighbors house that is worth $125,000 is assessed at $250,000. Looking at the big picture is mighty important.

    28. Arlington Virginia Condos — Jay December 31st, 2007 7:37 am

      But, Linda, wouldn’t that mean you and your neighbor are paying too much in taxes? Isn’t that the big picture–that you’re both being overcharged?

    29. Linda Davis December 31st, 2007 7:52 am

      But, Linda, wouldn’t that mean you and your neighbor are paying too much in taxes? Isn’t that the big picture–that you’re both being overcharged?

      No, actually not. The budget gets set first. Then the mil rate is adjusted accordingly using the “Grand List” which is the assessed value of all the property in town. Mil Rate x Grand List = Budget Our budget has increased very little in the past 4 years but our assessments have. As a result our mil rate dropped.

      Disclaimer: I am on the Ledyard Town Council (We set the mil rate) as well as the local friendly realtor. I’m as conservative as they come.

    30. Jay Thompson December 31st, 2007 7:52 am

      You know what? I don’t really care if what Danilo wrote is accurate or not. It was Mr. Kaufman’s “holier than thou”, pompous, arrogant demands that it be removed that chaps my hide.

      The assessor may be factually correct. But that doesn’t give him the right to be a dick about it.

    31. Linda Davis December 31st, 2007 7:57 am

      Jay – Now, on that we can agree. The tax assessor should be a steward of the people, not an ass.

    32. Arlington Virginia Condos — Jay December 31st, 2007 8:20 am

      Then shouldn’t people’s taxes have gone down in past few years? If the annual budget stayed the same and the population increased dramatically, then shouldn’t have everybody’s annual RE taxes (not mil rates–actual taxes) gone down the past 3 years as now there were a lot more individuals who were paying taxes so therefore the annual taxes could be lowered? Aren’t homeowners paying more in annual RE taxes than they were 3 years ago? If so then mil rates were not dropped enough from my perspective. The county should have plenty of new $$$$ from new homeowners without raising in terms of annual taxes due to higher property value the payments of already existing homeowners in the county. Lower the darn mil rates to offset increases in market values. The county can the get extra dough from the increase in the number of individuals paying the RE taxes.

      From my perspective in Arlington county mil rates were given token adjustments downward while the county’s coffers overflowed with people’s money in excess. So what was the solution? Give the money back to the homeowners via refunds or actual corresponding decreases in mil rate percentages. Of course not. They just increased their budget. The county lowered mil rates a few percent even though the amount being collected from the homeowners probably increased 15% in a year which upset many retirees budgets who were being taxed out of their homes….This process happened for 2-3 years to some degree.

    33. Linda Davis December 31st, 2007 8:34 am

      For every new house that is built with 1 or 2 kids in it, our town loses money. It costs more to educate one child than the house generates in taxes.

      You make good points. In general, personal propety taxes are too high. School budgets are nuts. Get involved. If you can’t run for elected office yourself, support people who do. And encourage those in office now to do something for seniors like tax freezes.

    34. Arlington Virginia Condos — Jay December 31st, 2007 8:51 am

      That is believable.

      I’ve seen cost of living adjusted graphs of what per pupil spending is around the country and they did not correlate with test scores….It doesn’t take a bunch of extra $$$$ to have a good school district. Of course special interest groups don’t want people to know this. My per pupil spending in education dollars should be in an account for me to spend on whatever school I want my child to attend. That’s giving parents the say they should have in their children’s education. If my kid isn’t attending your public school then they should not get my $$$$. It’s common sense. After all, losing that money which is absolutely necessary to pay all the expenses of my child’s education at that school :) wouldn’t hurt the school at all since my kid wouldn’t be there for the school to pay the extra expenses he generates by being a student there. Of course it would hurt the school, because the per pupil spending on him at that school is MUCH higher than the actual expenses he generates by being a student there. That’s why the school officials fuss about it. They know the parents get charged much more than the actual costs associated with the child’s education. So crediting it to the parents to spend at another school would be painful….Competition can be painful, but it helps produce excellence.

      This is not even on topic and I apologize, Greg. If you feel it necessary, edit this last paragraph out as it’s not on the RE topic–just a personal rant that I (any homeowner in this situation) get charged even though my 3 and soon to be 4 kids are not even in the public schools. To speak euphemistically, that’s bogus.

    35. Bob in San Diego December 31st, 2007 10:51 am

      Arlington, while it is somewhat off topic, it goes to motivation. For example:

      For every new house that is built with 1 or 2 kids in it, our town loses money. It costs more to educate one child than the house generates in taxes

      and

      If my house is worth $100,000 but is assessed at $200,000, that is just fine as long as my neighbors house that is worth $125,000 is assessed at $250,000. Looking at the big picture is mighty important.

      The logic is that it’s okay if the values are off as long as they are off across the board and no one is getting screwed any more than anyone else. The problem with that rationale is that a) the end shouldn’t justify the means, and b) there can never be a guarantee of equitable treatment if any part of the data set is incorrect.

      If schools need more money, then raise taxes, but don’t complain that the house you allowed to be built to generate revenue via permit fees and additional property tax revenue is a financial drain. That only reflects badly on the planning, or lack thereof, of the elected officials who oversee this.

    36. Brian Brady December 31st, 2007 1:49 pm

      Bob, they do things differently than California. The assessed valuations are uniformly inaccurate. This is why I question the accuracy Danilo’s conclusion.

      Again, the County Assessor would have been right to ask Danilo to correct inaccurate conclusions; he was an arrogant bastard to demand it.

    37. [...] Can Todd Kaufman Tell Me What to Say and Not Say? Attempted Censorship of a real estate blogger in Virginia [...]

    38. Thomas Johnson January 2nd, 2008 12:25 pm

      Let me get this straight- the budget is set by the government and then the tax rate is adjusted to match the the aggregate property value? Isn’t there a VA State statute that requires property valuations to match market values? If there were, then the falling tax base would require an ever larger mil rate. I bet the government’s borrowing ability hinges on the property tax base, which is why no one objects to inflated property valuations, as long as the mil rate goes down, they “lowered taxes”. Kind of like governmental mortgage fraud using bogus appraisals. Todd Kaufman, Tax Assessor exists behind two layers of of appointees so that the elected officials are protected from his actions. Never mind that the elected officials appointed him.

      In Texas our property values are required by statute to be market value. This gives the government a way for the politicians to claim they never raised taxes (mil rates). They just get the appraisers to crank the values every year. It is so corrupt here, that the governments budget the max 10% increase in October before the appraisals are published the following April. If you dare protest, the appraiser can sue you for your temerity. See the sordid affair at http://www.MaximStench.com

    39. laurie sweet January 2nd, 2008 8:50 pm

      Isn’t the Assessed Value of Properties for assessment based on a specific date, such as Jan 1 of a given year? That means the price drops or increases during the year (such as when prices increased dramatically in 2004) that occur throughout the market would have no effect on that years assessment, only the next years assessment. So…just like stock prices (and realtors business), the market values change constantly. I think VA assesses yearly, and MD every three years. So the “Assessed Value” is not market value for every date in the year, only the market value for the DATE OF VALUATION, which is only one day a year. I think regular REAL PROPERTY APPRAISALS, PERSONAL PROPERTY APPRAISALS work the same way and are very time sensitive.
      So…are we blaming Todd Kaufman for the market drop (and assessment staying at the 1/1/2007 level)because he made himself an easy scapegoat with his e-mails? Or is it because he was unclear and adversarial? He may not be lovable, but he also does not set the tax rate.
      Are we setting the blame for taxes in the wrong place? In Loudoun County, the Board of Supervisors sets the tax rate after finding out what all the assessed values will be.
      SO ASSESSED VALUE x TAX RATE = BUDGET.

      Attend some meetings, it is there that the spending decisions are made.

      Because…as much as I don’t like taxes, I use roads, schools, go to a church, appreciate police protection, firefighters, ambulances and the parks! PS I voted against building some of the schools, I hope you all vote too!

    40. Jim Duncan January 3rd, 2008 4:27 am

      Laurie –

      You are correct that the assessments are set on 1 January. Also, if Loudoun works like my county just to the south, they set their budget in the fall based on what they want the budget to be, using property taxes as the bulk of their income not on what the assessments actually are. So – if the assessments come in 30% low, they will most likely raise the mil rate to account for the “lost revenue.”

      Todd Kaufman has not, in any of the writings I have seen, been blamed for the taxes/assessments/etc. He has been taken to task for demanding that the author remove the misleading/erroneous information – without specifying what that information was.

      This new world is one in which his demands will not be met, and he will be exposed for trying to use his position to control information and conversations.

      He had an opportunity to contribute to the conversation. He chose not to take that route.

      Governments have been so spoiled for so long with the excesses provided by our property taxes that this new market is exposing them for the gluttons they are.

      BTW – I vote and believe that those who do not thereby relinquish their rights to complain.

    41. [...] Assessor Loudoun County, VA and Tylene Gamble, Chief Appraiser, Wharton County kindred spirits Real Estate Bloggers are not citizens Local Tax Assessor gets hammered… Attempted Censorship or [...]

    42. [...] Todd Kaufman, the Loudoun County Assessor (who was in the news again recently). – Note that this example is from nearly a year ago – the internet never [...]