The Swartz Report: Lobster and Unwritten Rules

Don SwartzPost written by Donald Swartz, President and Principal at Swartz + Associates, Inc. | Lover of Chiefs, Royals and golf | Avid “Cruiser” | Poker Enthusiast

My wife and I just returned from a trip to Maine. It’s one of the few states we haven’t participated in the local economy (i.e. – spent money on food and drink 🙂 ) and we both thought it would be a great place to visit and catch a little rest and relaxation.

As part of our journey, we ventured out on a lobster boat to learn about the industry and the art of catching lobsters.  Besides learning facts about lobsters (Did you know some female lobsters have over 40,000 eggs?), we also learned the industry is all about “rules of the sea” and “unwritten rules of the sea”.

While the rules indicate one only needs to receive a license to catch lobster anywhere in the State of Maine, the unwritten rules dictate the specific area where one can drops their traps. A person would be very wise to not cross that line, unless he/she would be willing to have the lines to their trap cut by lobstermen and women of the defined area.This led to our discussion of the unwritten and written rules of business and our respective fields. In the property tax world, I believe there are definitely unwritten rules we play by every appeal season. While statute may provide the legal basis and timing of an appeal, the unwritten rules may offer better insight on achieving results.

We’ve generally erred on the side of providing more information than less when appealing a property because information is power. The more information provided, the more we can look at various ways a property can be valued. The rules may indicate to supply “X” only, but if we were to supply “X”, “Y” and “Z” information, we may be in a better position to help the taxpayer in the long run.

As an example, suppose we have a sales price on a property that is less than the current appraised value. Under the written rules, a taxpayer can file an appeal and submit this information. However, in the “unwritten rules” we may decide to provide the sales price, but may also bring additional information to the assessor’s attention that would provide support for a valuation.

Is the property equalized with other properties?

If the property is income producing, what do the income and expenses look like?

How long are current tenants in place and what sort of lease extensions are there? 

What is the motivation of the buyer or seller? 

All of these components can play a part in the valuation of a property beyond the sales price of a property. Knowing these “unwritten” rules separates our business from our competition. Having the experience in many jurisdictions and/or knowing experienced professionals in other jurisdictions allows us to best represent our clients.

While it’s very important to play by the rules, you must also know the “unwritten” rules in order to be successful.


Happy back to school. For those that have been following my blogs for the past couple of years, I will be making my last trip back to college with my daughter as she enters her senior year. This trip will have an added adventure – the total eclipse will occur while we head to school. It will be interesting to see how accurate the reports will be concerning traffic along the interstates and highways. I will get a firsthand taste as we will be traveling right through the 70 mile band along I-70. Wish us luck!

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