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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, 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?
- 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 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.
- 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