It seems like taxes are one of those things that people consistently pay too much for simply because they don’t understand how they’re being taxed or what is involved with questioning or challenging those taxes. Some people overpay just because the process of disputing property taxes seems daunting at first glance.
They get the bill and pay it so that they don’t have to think about it again until the next bill arrives.
Out of the millions of homes that get assessed and taxed every year, only about 2% of homeowners appeal their assessment. This is despite the thousands of dollars in potential savings they could have coming their way.
To make matters worse, according to the National Taxpayers Union, up to 60% of properties are assessed above their actual value.
But this is no reason to despair. The fact of the matter is that getting a reduction in property taxes is not a Herculean task. Here’s what you need to know:
While the details will vary depending on your location, local governments usually send homeowners assessments during the first few months of the year. Some regions give you 90 days to appeal. Some will only give you 30, so it’s essential to check the deadlines for challenging your property’s assessed value.
You have a bit of work ahead of you, so if you intend to make a challenge, don’t wait too long before getting started.
When your property tax bill arrives, check it carefully for your tax rate, assessment figures, and payment schedule. Are you getting all the tax breaks you deserve?
Again, a lot depends on where you are located. Some states protect a portion of a home’s value from taxation if it is the property owner’s primary home. If you’re a veteran, disabled, or a senior citizen, you could also qualify for additional credits. The same could apply based just on your income. It’s worth looking into all the credits you deserve.
Mind you, credits, rebates, and other property tax breaks are not automatic. You have to go through the process of applying and will have to provide proof of eligibility. Visit the website for your state’s department of taxation, or call them to find out what breaks you potentially qualify for.
Go online or to your tax assessor’s office and check your property’s record card. This is the official description of your house and is usually the basis for your assessment. If you see an outright error—such as showing a two bed/two bath house having four bedrooms and three bathrooms—the assessor should correct the discrepancy right then and there, thus reducing the assessed value of your property and its tax bill.
Honestly, this is the best and easiest outcome as it saves you the trouble of making a formal appeal.
Should things not go so easy for you, then it’s time to prepare for your appeal.
Comparing homes with each other seems to be a bit tacky on the surface, but conducting a local evaluation is going to be important when it comes to determining how good of a case your appeal will be.
Look at the property cards of nearby homes of similar age and square footage as yours, and with the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms to see how their assessments line up with yours. Are they comparable, or are other properties being assessed at a lower value than yours?
First, document everything. That’s important. And have backups made—either physically or digitally—in case you lose some paperwork.
Next, if you discover that your property has been assessed at a value higher than similar homes, you likely have grounds for appeal. Even if the assessment seems to be somewhere in the middle of the average, you may still have a case. Are there structural or property issues that work against you, such as a leaky basement or lousy grading that doesn’t allow you to have a garden or a pool? An assessment should properly be based on your property’s market value. If any issues may be unattractive to potential buyers, this can use used to your advantage.
As with many things related to challenging a tax assessment, the process will vary by region. In most cases, you can expect to send to the assessor to review the following evidence: blueprints, data on comparable properties, photographs, and possible repair estimates.
Know that the decision could take up to a couple of months.
Should the assessor not rule in your favor or not rule to your satisfaction, you can then take your case to the appeals board. Be persuasive and personable. Don’t go into attack mode, whine, or rant about politics or local corruption. None of that will give you any kind of edge and may even work against you.
If this seems like a lot of work, don’t forget that you can always hire someone to help you. An independent professional appraiser can provide you your best evidence for your property’s value. A certified appraiser may run you a few hundred dollars, but it could be worth it in the end.
A successful reassessment of your property can pay dividends year after year in savings. During a time when everybody is feeling the pinch, you’re well within your rights to do what you can to lower your tax bill.
But you can’t enjoy those dividends until you decide to take action. So take action.
If you are in need of legal assistance disputing your property taxes, contact our team of experienced attorneys.