Have you protested to lower your property taxes? I just filed to protest mine. There is a good chance you should. There are several services that will do this for you. Usually they charge a percentage of the tax savings, so if they wind up being unsuccessful you will not owe them anything. However, I prefer to protest my own taxes. It doesn’t cost anything and I feel I know my neighborhood best. Below is a very detailed step by step guide I put together several years ago.
- As quickly as you can, send in the form on the back of the county’s appraised value notice to protest the property taxes. There is a deadline, you don’t want to miss your opportunity. If you request a protest, you don’t have to follow through with it if for some reason you change your mind.
- If you purchased your home in 2017 and it appraised higher than the price you paid, make a note of this. With a copy of the settlement statement, they’ll usually simply lower it to the price you paid. You are not obligated to provide them with any information, so if the appraised value is lower than the sales price it is a good time to stay quiet. If you have owned your house a few years you may discover the county has it appraised for less than it is worth, so you may not want to protest at this time.
- When sending in the protest form, make sure to request the data the county appraisal district used to assess your home. They are required to provide it if you ask for it. This will be important in step 6.
- After a long time, the county will reply with a notice of a date for an informal protest and a formal protest. They will also include a packet with their details about your home as well as a spreadsheet of the comparison homes they used to arrive at their data.
- Make sure the data they have for your home is accurate. I’ve had properties where the square footage in the county records was larger than the actual square footage. Simply showing the square footage calculations from the appraisal lowered the appraised value not only for that year, but going forward. Other inaccuracies might include the condition of the property or structures that are no longer there. This also can go the other way, which you may not want to bring the assessor’s attention with a protest.
- Make sure the properties they are using for comparison are actually similar to your property. The comps should be of the same type and within the same neighborhood. I’ve had single family houses incorrectly compared to commercial property, much larger properties, duplexes and properties in other non-comparable neighborhoods. More commonly, houses that may look similar from the data on their spreadsheet are different in real life. For example, if you have a 20 year old kitchen and all the properties they are comparing your home to have been fully updated.
- Find properties that are more comparable and support a lower value. The best data is closed MLS listings from your immediate neighborhood. Most real estate agents are more than happy to help with locating these. Of course, these listings must support a lower value. It is very possible that the values in your neighborhood have gone up and the tax assessor is correct.
- Make notes of all items with your property that may negatively affect your home’s value compared to any higher valued properties, especially items that won’t show up on their spreadsheet. For example, do the comparable properties have similar-sized lots but your lot has a portion that is not buildable due to a flood plain, terrain or irregular shape? Is your lot on a busy road or adjacent to commercial buildings? Does it lack the view that other nearby properties might have? Have the comparable properties been updated and remodeled or expanded while your house has not? If your house needs foundation work or a new roof, bring in bids, photos or other documentation.
- By state law, the value the appraisal district is considering is as of January 1 of this year, so what is important is the condition of the property at that time. Comparable properties from the previous year can be used.
- Attend the informal hearing with your data. This hearing is a meeting with a county appraiser in his or her cubicle. Usually there will be an unhappy property owner with no data ranting at the appraiser in the adjacent cubicle. That approach will not be successful, and the appraiser will be happy to have someone in front of them not doing that. Show the appraiser everything to support your claims. He or she will want copies of anything that they use to update your file. Photographs are helpful, as are documentation of closed sales and maps. I have found the county appraisers very reasonable when they have data to review. However, they will never take your word for it that you think your house isn’t worth that much and they should just lower that value right now.
- If you are not successful and still feel you have a good case and good data, you can move on to the formal protest. This is a hearing with a county appraiser on one side and you on the other. Three paid, citizen appointees listen to documentation from both sides and vote on an outcome. I’ve had four formal hearings. Three were successful, with the appointees asking relevant questions of both sides and considering the documentation. The third was unsuccessful and featured one of the appointees who couldn’t do simple math and one who fell asleep during the hearing.
It doesn’t cost anything other than time to protest, and a successful protest may lower your taxes this year and in future years if there is incorrect information in the county records. If you do not want to spend the time to protest, there are services that will protest your taxes and their fee is a portion of the savings.