Author: Adam Stephens

How To Protest Property Tax Values

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

Tips For Protesting Property Taxes

It is that time of year again and I’ve been fielding questions about property taxes. There has definitely been an increase in values in Texas cities, but that doesn’t mean the value the county appraisal district has for your home is correct. Below is the information I posted last year, which outlines the steps to protest the value. The most important thing to take is data and documentation. Good luck, Adam

Are you one of everybody in Travis County who received a notice this week that your home’s appraised value is higher than last year? I usually protest appraised value on at least one of my properties every year, and I’m generally successful. The steps included in how to protest property taxes are:

    1. As quickly as you can, send in the form on the back of the 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.
    2. If you purchased your home in 2014 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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, 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?
    9. 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.
    10. Attend the informal hearing with data, and reschedule it if the time they assigned you doesn’t work. 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.
    11. 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 three formal hearings. Two 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.

My opinion is generally that you know your neighborhood and property better than anyone else, and generally you will make your own best advocate. Good luck, Adam Stephens NMLS 216606

Protesting County Property Tax Values

How To Protest Property Taxes

Are you one of everybody in Travis County who received a notice this week that your home’s appraised value is higher than last year? I usually protest appraised value on at least one of my properties every year, and I’m generally successful. The steps included in how to protest property taxes are:

  1. As quickly as you can, send in the form on the back of the 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.
  2. If you purchased your home in 2013 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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, 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?
  9. 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.
  10. Attend the informal hearing with data, and reschedule it if the time they assigned you doesn’t work. 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.
  11. 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 three formal hearings. Two 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. My opinion is generally that you know your neighborhood and property better than anyone else, and generally you will make your own best advocate. Good luck, Adam Stephens NMLS 216606

Closing

At the end of the mortgage loan process is the closing, where all the loan documents are signed, typically at a title company or attorney’s office. I like to attend as many of my closings as I can, and not just because most title companies have coffee and cookies in the lobbies. Most closings are fairly straightforward. It is at an office I’m familiar with, the closer is knowledgeable and friendly and my clients are happy they are buying a new home or refinancing to save money. It is a good time to see everyone after most of our work has been done over phone and email.

The exceptions are more memorable. Once I showed up for a 10 am closing where the buyers and the seller, a small builder, each had an attorney and they were all yelling at each other. After a while I went to eat lunch, when I returned they were still yelling at each other so I went back to my office. At 4:55 they sent over the signed closing documents, I called the title officer to confirm we were ready to fund the loan and I could hear them all still yelling at each other in the background.

One investor I was working with was using the proceeds from selling a property as the down payment for the property I was financing. The sale of his property was delayed which delayed our closing by about a week. This upset the seller greatly, which is understandable but sometimes these things happen and the fault wasn’t with me or the buyer. This didn’t stop her from calling to threaten the buyer and me if the closing didn’t happen on time. When the buyer and I arrived at closing seated at the table was the seller and three large, scruffy guys she identified as her sons. They didn’t say a word through the whole closing and fortunately didn’t follow us to the parking lot.

At closing everyone is signing legal documents and the title officer does have to make sure everything happens correctly. I wasn’t present to witness this, but one of our closings was finishing a divorce and the now ex-husband had to come in to sign over his part of the house and receive his proceeds. The first thing he told the title officer was, “I had to have three drinks to get myself in here today.” Since legal documents can’t be signed while impaired, she rescheduled him to come in first thing in the morning. I had another buyer who was ready to celebrate the purchase of her first home with a bottle of champagne, at 9:00 am. The title officer let her know that would be OK, after everything was signed so the cork wasn’t popped for another 30 minutes or so.

I’ll keep going to closings, where hopefully there won’t be any drama bigger than a coffee spill.

Adam Stephens /  Residential Mortgage Loan Originator  /  NMLS#216606