2014 Affiliate of the Year

by Mary T. Prenon

Property Tax Consultant, Rich O’Donnell, remembers the moment he heard his name called for the “Affiliate of the Year” award at HGAR’s Annual Meeting at Members Day this year. To say he was surprised would be an understatement. “I was shocked,” he said. “I had absolutely no idea!”

O’Donnell was in the back of the room, talking with another recent award winner when he vaguely remembers hearing a description about the “Affiliate of the Year” having worked in local government for many years. “At that point, I really started to pay attention,” he recalled. “I am just so honored and so grateful for this award.”

The HGAR “Affiliate of the Year” Award is based on an affiliate member’s participation in HGAR events and involvement with HGAR members. O’Donnell has been involved with the Association for the past eight years.

He has supported RPAC events, charity events, CID breakfasts the annual Members Day, New Year’s gala and more. He also teaches the Tax and Assessment Class as part of HGAR’s School of Real Estate Licensing Class. “I’ve met so many wonderful Realtors over the years, and it continues to be a great experience for me,” he said.

O’Donnell often finds himself making presentations at real estate offices, with subjects including assessments, grievance procedures, exemptions, and the “five most frequently asked questions by Realtors.”

He started his tax consulting business on a part-time basis in 2007, while working as a tax assessor for the Town of Eastchester. After spending a total of 28 years in public service—which also included stints with the Town of Mount Pleasant and Village of Tuckahoe— O’Donnell looked forward to retirement, but wanted a second career as well. “With the children’s college expenses, I started my next career early on, and it just took off, mostly by word-of-mouth,” he said.

O’Donnell eventually retired from local government in 2010 and began his tax consultant business full time. By the following year, the business had grown so much that he hired an assistant.

Most of his clients are in Westchester, with some in Putnam and Rockland as well. “We take tax assessment cases on a contingency basis,” he explained. “Unless I’m successful in getting a reduction, no one pays.” All cases are pre-screened, and the average savings for single-family homeowners is $2,800 a year.

O’Donnell also handles some multifamily and commercial properties. In fact, there was one case where he was able to save a commercial owner more than $75,000 a year in taxes.

All valid cases are subject to a third party appraisal before they are submitted to the board of assessment review. “Tax reductions will make properties more saleable, but won’t affect the listing price,” added O’Donnell.

Always “wired for numbers,” O’Donnell studied accounting in college and fell easily into a tax assessor career. “A lot of people tend to dislike math and bureaucracy, so I think that’s probably why my business has been so successful,” he quipped.

In addition to being named as Affiliate of the Year, O’Donnell also has some other exciting news—he just became a grandfather. His daughter Ashlee, 26, just gave birth to a baby boy, Patrick. He and his wife Lee Ann, also have two other children, Emily, 23 and Richie, 22.

O’Donnell lives in the same Scarsdale home where he was raised. When his mother passed away, the family bought the house. In his free time, O’Donnell likes to play golf and travel.

He prides himself in providing property-specific and generic information about taxes and assessment for no fee, seven days a week. “I’ve created my business model to help Realtors, attorneys and taxpayers with any questions,” he said. “Just about 95% of my day is spent answering questions that may or may not evolve into a case.”