Hampden Hills Tax Service thrives
VINTON–Children who grow up to be teachers often get their start lining up dolls and other neighborhood children to instruct. Future veterinarians often begin by practicing on stuffed animals. Phillip Gervase got his start in tax law and preparation by replacing pages in his dad’s tax code books to update them, before the age of computerized taxes.
Phillip Gervase is the Vice President of Hampden Hills Tax Service, a business begun by his father, Bill Gervase, in 1978 in the basement of their Hampden Hills home in the Mount Pleasant area of Roanoke County.
Bill Gervase, president and founder of the Hampden Hills firm, graduated from Fort Lauderdale University with a degree in business management. After college he served in both the Army and Air Force. Originally from New York, Bill was travelling through Roanoke on vacation. He stopped to spend the night at a motel on Route 460, fell in love with the mountains, and decided to make Roanoke home.
Bill Gervase worked for the Postal Service as a mail carrier and then as an accountant. He began to prepare taxes for colleagues at the Post Office, then for friends and neighbors. The family sectioned off an area in the basement for tax preparation and volumes of tax code books. The living room eventually became the waiting room for clients. Most of those first clients and their children are still clients, as are many fellow soldiers from his military service days.
Phillip Gervase graduated from Radford University with a Business Administration degree in Organizational Business Management. He became a full-time employee in 1999. A strong math student, he was even more attracted to the computer side of tax preparation and to tax law. In fact, he says nowadays tax preparation is more about tax laws than about the math.
Phillip is also an ordained minister, working as an evangelist and outreach minister in prison and street ministries. His wife Christie Gervase also works part-time in the business preparing taxes, although she has reduced her hours since the birth of their son.
When the tax business outgrew their home, the Gervases chose Vinton as the location for their first office, because the rent was affordable and Virginia Avenue was a highly visible site on a main thoroughfare. When their business continued to thrive, they moved two doors down into a larger office space.
In addition to the Gervases, the firm employs Sonja Assaid as an assistant tax preparer, and secretaries Vickie Rowe and Lynn Ellison.
The firm is open year-round, with extended hours during the height of tax season, which begins in earnest on January 17, when the Internal Revenue Service computers begin accepting tax returns. They are open for sixty hours each week for those months, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but actually work eighty- hour weeks until the tax deadline in April.
It’s always tax season at Hampden Hills though. After April 15, there are still payroll and unemployment taxes to deal with, amended returns and extensions to file, and 1099’s and W-2’s to prepare. The Gervases are not just tax preparers, but senior tax accountants who set up company books for tax purposes.
In addition, they are both Enrolled Agents, which means they passed a rigorous 16- hour exam and are able to represent clients before the IRS. Enrolled Agents must also take classes each year to maintain their accreditation, which is something the Gervases complete during the off season.
Hampden Hills has 1,400 individual clients and over 250 business clients. They have no advertising budget. Their only ads are a sign above their office door and one at street side. Their reputation has spread by word-of-mouth.
Lorraine Bratton, local Community Outreach Director for AARP, worked at Hampden Hills for six years as a part-time employee. She attributes the success of the firm in part to the family atmosphere people find there, as well as to their business ethics.
“Bill and Phillip Gervase were two of the best bosses I ever had the pleasure to work with,” she added.
“Our business philosophy is getting people every tax benefit possible while maintaining integrity,” said Phillip Gervase.
“The advantage for clients of using a smaller firm such as Hampden Hills is dealing with the same highly trained preparers year after year, who are familiar with their tax history and maintain their records,” said Phillip Gervase. “Our firm is open year round; we don’t close up and move on after April 15.”
And the advantage to having taxes prepared at all, instead of individuals completing them independently?
“Most of the amended returns we file are for people who do their own taxes,” said Phillip Gervase.
In recent years, their firm has also added financial services. In preparing tax returns, the Gervases noted that often individuals spend years building up retirement accounts only to be forced to withdraw the funds upon retirement to pay off debts. Their goal became to consider a client’s complete financial picture from taxes to investments to develop a financial strategy that will enable the client to live comfortably after retirement.
Hampden Hills has grown steadily through the years. They have loyal clients who have been with them since the business started in the basement office in 1978. Some of those clients and their families have moved to distant parts of the country and the world and still come back to the Gervases for their tax preparation. And they bring their friends and family as well.
By Debbie Adams