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When Opportunity Knocks, Commercial Real Estate Tax Awaits

A door knocker illustrating the concept of Opportunity Knocks

First, let me introduce myself. I’m Sara Chepkoit, a recent graduate and analyst at Cavalry. As someone with zero tax experience prior to joining Cavalry, I want to talk a little about how the skills from my major turned out to be transferable to the commercial real estate tax world, what’s been surprising in my first year, and what’s been a little confusing.

Prior to graduating last year, I didn’t anticipate a career in commercial real estate tax. However, opportunities have a way of presenting themselves we can’t always predict. I’ve quickly learned that a good tax appeal is based on good research. In fact, almost everything we do at Cavalry is researched based – from knowing tax codes inside and out to understanding jurisdictional nuance. And even though I didn’t come into this field knowing a lot about taxes, I do know a lot about research. That’s because while majoring in political science at Mount St. Mary’s University, I spent a lot of time developing, perfecting, and consistently applying my research skills. I knew I wanted to begin my career in a research-based role, and it turned out that commercial real estate tax is the perfect place to apply my skill set. The challenge has been the change to a subject where consistency is the exception, not the rule. Which brings me to my next point. 

The most surprising thing I have encountered while being at Cavalry is how some assessing jurisdictions are not terribly forthcoming with information on the assessment and appeal process. Digging into the process for some of these jurisdictions has allowed me to put my research skills to the test. It has also helped me empathize with property owners who are forced to navigate the same confusing landscape. The opportunity to leverage what I’m good at to help them has been one of the most satisfying parts of jumping into the real estate tax world.

As I mentioned above, I’ve discovered that consistency in commercial real estate tax is the exception rather than the rule. To be more specific, it’s the lack of consistency between jurisdictions. For me, the most confusing aspect of commercial real estate tax has been that nuance between jurisdictions. To counter this, I’ve started to approach my research from a “top down” perspective. I’m finding the data can best be understood (by a newcomer) by beginning with how the state operates, then how the jurisdiction operates, and then delving into the many topics within that. While it doesn’t make the jurisdictional nuance any less confusing, it does help categorize things in a way that makes my research output more useful. That research output means a lot to me, as it forms a large part of the information my teammates at Cavalry use in service of our clients.

In closing, I want to say that you never know where an opportunity will take you; don’t be scared off just because something seems foreign. Look for the threads that will help you bridge the gap between what you know and what you can learn. For me, it was research skills. So, for individuals like me who find themselves jumping into a field they have no prior knowledge about, look at it as a fresh start and be open-minded to the experiences that can come from taking a chance.

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