Former Altus Group Exec Launches New Real Estate Tax Firm

Courtesy of Cavalry Real Estate Advisors

Ross Litkenhous, Founder of Cavalry Real Estate Advisors

A property tax expert and elected civil servant has started a new company with the aim of improving tax complaints. An outdated process that he believes will be billed this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ross Litkenhous, previously global director of business development at real estate software and consulting firm Altus Group, launched Cavalry Real Estate Advisors this month.

In addition to the co-founder and partner Heidi Gilbert, who previously worked for the Altus Group, he is managing partner.

Cavalry Real Estate Advisors provide property tax advice, assist property owners with tax complaints, and provide other related services. The company is using technology to improve the tax complaint process, and Litkenhous said it plans to raise $ 2 million to launch what it calls “TurboTax for real estate tax complaints.”

Litkenhous is also a member of Falls Church City Council, an elected position he has held since 2017. He left the Altus Group in 2019 and has since focused on the role of the city council and spending time with family.

He previously worked at SC&H Group, where he ran a Tysons-based property tax department that he sold to the Altus Group in 2014. Along with the acquisition, he joined the Altus Group and rose from Senior Director to Vice President to Global Head of Business Development.

Finally, he said he was tired of working for a large company that was reluctant to use technology to change the property tax appeals process. This strategy will be central to Cavalry’s business model.

“There was a lot of talk about developing new technology and dragging these services into the 21st century, but nobody wanted to change,” Litkenhous said. “I pushed and pulled and kicked and scratched trying to innovate and do things for the company that would separate us from the old thing that everyone was providing.”

He said starting his own company gives him the freedom to innovate at his own discretion. He said he was using artificial intelligence to speed up the tax complaint process by breaking down proprietary and public data. This data would then be fed into a model that determines whether there is an appeal, how great that opportunity is, and how likely it is to be successful.

He said he laid the foundation for this technology and wants to raise funds to develop additional machine learning applications and models.

“It enables us to get things done faster and more cheaply than our competitors, and to mine data and results from previous appeals and other data sources in the industry to achieve a better result for our customers,” said Litkenhous.

The pandemic has created a number of issues with property tax assessments, which Litkenhous says is a particularly important time for consulting firms like Cavalry.

He said some jurisdictions are making their assessments using information they gathered in late 2019, but many properties have seen their incomes drop dramatically during the pandemic, a shift that should lower their property tax bill. This interruption is likely to trigger a wave of tax complaints.

“I haven’t seen a more mature opportunity to appeal tax assessments since 2009,” he said. “This will be the busiest year for us in the industry since the great recession.”

The cavalry plans to work with all types of property owners, but said they will specialize in retail and mixed-use property types, which he says have complicated valuation processes and have been disrupted by the pandemic.

The company has a small team of employees who are currently working remotely. However, Litkenhous said he would move to a physical office when it is safe.

Looking ahead, he said he wanted to grow the company’s technology product so that it could stand on its own and be licensed to other companies or sold to a proptech company.

“With the roadmap I created, there is a service component and a proptech component,” said Litkenhous. “After 10 years I have the service part that is still using the Proptech we built, but the technology itself is a stand-alone unit.”