It’s great when the value of your home goes up, but there’s also a serious downside. Homeowners all across America are getting notices that their property taxes are increasing and in some areas increasing a lot.
The question is, are those assessments accurate? If not, there are seven steps you can take to challenge your property assessment.
Real estate analysts predicted that a property tax reckoning would happen this year and they certainly were right. The dramatic rise in home values has led inevitably to higher property taxes because, in most cases, assessments are automatically tied to property value.
While it’s fun to get a notice from Zillow or Realtor.com that your home value increased thousands of dollars last month, that’s only a paper gain that you may never actually see if you don’t sell your home. Meanwhile, higher property taxes are very real and you have to pay them now.
The good news is, you can challenge your property tax assessment. That doesn’t mean you’ll win, but you can always try. By some estimates, you have a 20% to 40% chance of being successful.
Almost all jurisdictions have some form of appeal process, usually within 90 days of receiving a new assessment. Here are the steps to appealing.
1. Check when the deadline is for appealing.
It should be on your assessment notice, but if it isn’t, you’ll have to call your local assessment office. Mark that date on the calendar with a big red “X.”
2. Look at your assessment notice again to see how the process was done.
In most cases, it’s simply a percentage of the market value.
3. Make sure that your local assessment office has applied any reductions or credits you’re entitled to.
These are things like homestead exemptions, and credits for veterans, the elderly and the disabled. You may have to show evidence that you’re entitled to a particular benefit. Very often, homeowners fail to take advantage of these breaks.
4. Make sure the official description of your property is accurate.
Your local assessor’s office should have a record card on file describing your property. You can ask to see it. Look for discrepancies, like an extra bedroom or bathroom that you don’t really have. The assessor may be able to correct a mistake on the spot, so you don’t have to make a formal appeal.
5. More likely, you’ll need to compare your property to other homes in your neck of the woods, but make sure you’re doing it “apples to apples.”
That means comparing your property only to those with similar features, roughly the same square footage and lot size, and the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms. If you don’t have a basement, don’t compare your property to others that do. Even an unfinished basement can add 15% to a home’s value. If you see that you’re being assessed a higher amount than similar properties in your neighborhood, you have grounds for an appeal.
6. Start building your case.
The appeal process and requirements will vary, so you’ll need to check with your local assessment office to see how it’s done and to get all the necessary forms. Gather and organize your evidence, including the value of comparable homes you’ve dug up, photographs, and even blueprints if you have them. Use them to fill out the paperwork for your appeal.
7. File your appeal with the assessment office.
You may have to wait several months before you get an answer and it may not be the answer you want, but don’t give up.
Most jurisdictions have an appeals board, where you can make your case in person. But if you end up in front of the board, stick to the facts and don’t try to debate tax policy. Save that debate for your elected representatives.
You can also get help. If you’re willing to shell out a few hundred dollars, you can hire an independent appraiser to get a more accurate value of your property. Make sure your jurisdiction allows outside appraisals and that your appraiser is certified by the Appraisal Institute or the American Society of Appraisers.
Is all this worth it? If you appeal and win your case, you’ll enjoy a lower tax bill, not just this year, but in following years as well. That would definitely be worth it.