Property Tax Assessment Appeals: Share Your Story

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Another problem with escrows is by mixing it in with your mortgage payment, it can obscure what you’re paying towards property taxes and homeowner’s insurance premiums. Do you know how much you paid in property taxes this year versus the last? Or how much of each month’s mortgage payment goes towards taxes and insurance? I probably only knew within about $500 the annual total.

Property taxes are usually based on an quick assessment of how much your home is worth. However, local governments rely on these taxes to fund much of their services, so they have an incentive to keep this value as high as possible. With housing prices dropping, the number of property assessment appeals last year doubled in many states.

Should you appeal as well? Here are some quick tips on getting your property tax bill lowered:

  • You can find out how often your state does reassessments at this Tax Foundation page. It ranges from annually to 10+ years. For details on how your municipality calculated your assessment, contact your local tax assessor’s office.
  • Check your assessment and county records to make sure your land size, house square footage, and other information are accurate. By correcting these measurements, your assessment may automatically be lowered (or raised!) .
  • Collect documents that show your home’s value should be lower, such as recent sales of at least three comparable homes nearby. Try using real estate websites such as Zillow or Trulia. You can also see all your neighbors’ property taxes at PropertyShark.com.
  • Submit any reports by inspectors or contractors, or at the minimum photos, to prove that your home needs major repairs and is thus worth less. Also document any material changes such as easements, re-zoning, heavy traffic, nearby railroad tracks, or freeways.
  • If the amount is significant, you may decide to hire a lawyer or real estate appraiser to help you through the process. Many online sites have popped up that offer to do the legwork for a fixed fee of $100-$300. I have not used any of these sites, and don’t think they are necessary if you are willing to spend a few hours of your own time. If you decide to try one of them, please do your due diligence, and then let me know how it goes! Examples: EasyTaxFix.com, ValueAppeal.com, ReduceHomeTaxes.com.

Have you appealed already? Share your story in the comments below. I hope it’s a success story, but all experiences can be helpful to others.

Sources: AARP, ConsumerAffairs

Comments

  1. I appealed my property tax when I first moved into my house and was successful. The tax records on my house actually said that I had 3 bathrooms in my house rather than 2, so it was a no brainer for the adjuster when he saw my dispute. My appeal was literally a one page fill-in-the-blank form letter that submitted to the county office, they called me within a couple days and the adjuster was at my house within a week.
    I can’t remember the actual amount that my taxes when down, but it dropped the tax value of my house about 10-12K

  2. So, on the flip side, what would you suggest if you think your most recent tax assessement is entirely too low? Won’t this come back to bite me when I go to sell the house, if it does occur in the near future?

  3. I do and did appeal my residence and rental property as I knew real estate values were way down and yet my lot and house values were way up in the wake of the five year reassessment.

    The assessor explained to me that they had done a block valuation which means computerized value assessment. I live on a busy street and had just improved the property so giving this information to the assessor was essential. He said he knew he needed to make an adjustment already and yet a month later asked for another “field visit” to assess the inside and outside of the house. Eventually my file was thick and prices continued to fall on the few houses that sold in my area.
    We were also experiencing some foreclosures along the street as well.

    Eventually I received the notice of determination and it was a sizeable amount considering it will be savings for the next five years. we have a 15% cap of market value so, if a high value stands and the cap is lifted you get hit double…

    I plan to protest my improvement which doesn’t get added until this year.
    The assessor says they pay no attention to the contractor’s permit amount that is listed and if it is high I have a very low value by a bank appraiser last year that I will use for an appeal.

    It pays to let them go though everything and wait it out as the number of appeals rise and they get bogged down like the rest of us. Have documentation ready to support your side.

  4. I bought a new-build home in early 2008. In Dec 2008, the builder sold the last few houses at about 10% less to get rid of them since the had fallen through escrow and the office was already packed up. When I got my taxes in 2009, of course it showed the amount I paid for my house. So I appealed the assessment online, printed out the form and sent it in.

    They came back and gave me a hearing date and told me I needed to come to court with at least 3 copies of 3 comps in the area from before Jan 09. I only had 2, the third comp was actually a house that sold for more than mine. The note also gave me some dates of free workshops and said that 3 weeks before my hearing, I could call the assessor that would defend the value and discuss the case.

    3 weeks to the day, I called the assessor up and explained how two of the houses sold for 10% less then mine. She said, thanks for calling, let me look into it. She called me back 2 days later and said, I see those comps but I also see another one for about $20k more then yours. I explained that that homeowner bought a lot of upgrades and wasn’t really comparable. She said “oh, okay, I can’t see that kind of information, I’ll go ahead and adjust your taxes”..

    In the end, I didn’t have to go to a hearing at all, I was just polite and had my information ready for the assessor. It took one more case off her plate before the hearing, so that helped her as well. I got a credit back for my taxes in about 4 weeks from the hearing date.

  5. Couple more notes… This was in Orange County, CA.. Also I figure my total time outlay was 15 minutes for the form, 15 minutes for the research and about 30 minutes total in phone calls with the assessor. 1 hour of time saved me 10% on my taxes and no downside (at worst, I would have gone to the hearing and they would have told me my assessment stood).

  6. In this market, I would say fight your assessment first thing when moving into a new home. You have 30 days, at least where I leave, to put in the appeal after you purchase. Most appraisals are coming in lower then what the county tax assessment says. That only will win you a lower assessment. The game is to get the lowest possible assessment on your home until you sell. If you make major improvements to the interior of your home, don’t let them in your house. If they have to do an evaluation from the exterior alone, you should get a lower assessment because they can’t see all your interior improvements. Keep those taxes low and then when comes time to sell, your appraisal will come in much higher than you have been assessed at, hopefully, because of improvements.

  7. We successfully appealed last year, after having lived in our home for over five years. Our protest was simply based on falling market prices of homes in the area (rather than any changes to the house or neighborhood infrastructure), so I had to fill out a form and provide three “comps” or comparable sales in the area that showed that my tax assessment had overvalued my home in the current market. The form came from the tax assessor’s office, but I think I got it from the agent who sold us the house five years back. He was also able to provide us with the “comps”. Many realtors will be happy to help you out with this, since it’s a relatively easy way for them to generate some good will. In the end, it dropped our taxes by about $200. Not a huge amount (about a 3.5% reduction), but still definitely worth filling out a form. Remember also that this is just my savings in the first year. Even if my assessment goes up next year, it’s conceivable that it will always be $200 lower than it would have been had I not filed the protest.

  8. I have successfully appealed my property taxes twice now. In Cook County, IL, it is very common, and necessary in order to have a fair tax bill. You get a credit just for telling them you are a resident-owner. Then, you get more by getting comps with others property taxes and seeing just how much lower they are than yours. (It’s all online…)

    There are many, many attorneys here who specialize in this type of work, usually charging anywhere from 25% to 50% of the first year’s tax savings. The annoying part of the process is that your first appeal usually doesn’t work. You need to escalate to a further step in order to get the big discount.

    We cut our taxes by a THIRD in this manner, and we’re hoping to get some more in our current round. In our case, we let a lawyer do it on contingency, as the paperwork and process are annoying and poorly documented. Needless to say, we’re happy with the results!

    Here is a web site of one of these specialists. They do free seminars (and some for a small fee as well) on how to appeal your taxes yourself, and they’ll also do it for you for a fee…
    appealmytaxes.biz

    (I have no affiliation with this site.)

  9. We tried to refinance our home to get a lower interest rate, and in doing so, had our house appraised. It came in around $20,000 lower than our assessment of our house. In the research we did, we found out the county has been putting in the wrong figures of sales data on public records. On many of the houses in our neighborhood they have the sold price as the original listing price of the house, even though the final sales price was much, much lower. We verified this through the resources of a Realtor friend of ours. I personally think this is a criminal act by government and we obviously have appealed. We sent in the final paperwork necessary and are still awaiting a response.

  10. I appealed successfully this past spring in Montgomery County, MD. My house value was assessed too high for the current market, When I received the assessment in January, I filled out and sent in the appeal form (which was already printed on the assessment letter). The county then scheduled an interview with the county assessor. At the interview (which lasted about 15-20 minutes) I provided several comparables from recent sales in the area. In about 6-8 weeks I received a letter with the new assessment, which was about 18% lower than the previous one.

  11. I just had to say, our County was hard hit (prices down 60% from peak?) and our assessment was about $40k lower than an appraisal we happened to have around the assessment date (& assessment was obviously on the low side, regardless). OF course, I don’t think they were necessarily aiming low – they just had hundreds of thousands of homes to re-value after many years of no increases. I do think our County was trying to limit a flood of appeals. Cost savings, in a sense.

    I am in California so assessments can only go up 2% every year (while prices went sky high for a couple of decades). Thus, there is really no relation between assessment and value of home, so not sure how it matters in regards to resale. Maybe depends where you live. Home assessments here may actually mirror values, at this point in time, but historically they haven’t and I still know a LOT of older people with homes worth $500k+ and assessments in the $100k range because they bought so long ago.

  12. I meant to say “after many years of no DEcreases.” End of first paragraph.

  13. Not that this is ethical, but is there some financial sense in letting your yard go to crap around the time of your next appraisal? In others, make your house look worse than it is and then do all of your maintenance right after the appraisal is done? I guess this requires you to know when your appraisal will be done and for your neighbors not to call you in for letting your place go to junk.

  14. I appealed two rentals I bought last year with minimal fuss. I used the best known law firm for property tax appeals and they got the value re-assessed from $99k and $30k to $19k and $8.5k (the price I paid for the properties).

    My tax bill went from $1300/yr to $300/yr and is locked in for 3 years. The attorney fees to do this including the county filing fees were $98.

  15. I bought my house in October 2009 for $111k. That price included about $5k worth of items that were not part of the real estate itself (personal property, home warranty, etc). Additionally, I got an $8k “rebate” for the first time home buyer credit. In effect, I only paid about $98k for the house and land. All the neighboring properties on my block decreased in value per the assessor 10% vs. the prior year.

    When I got my assessment in spring 2010, it was for $114k. Not only was my property value not equal to my sales price, but it went up vs. all my neighbors that saw reductions in their values.

    I appealed to the assessor. He denied my appeal. I appealed to the Board of Review. They denied it too. The main reason they gave me was that they felt my house was worth more than I paid for it, even though the house I bought was sitting on the market for 1+ year.

  16. I live in Orange Country, CA and picked bought my house in 2006 which means i am stuck for awhile. But I am expreinced in this since i have done it every year since. It is simple in the O.C. You go online and send in your dispute online and the first time I actually went into court where the assessor reduced my value when he saw that i showed up and every year since then he must approve it by the comps i send in without any trouble.

    I do the hour or so of work and it saves me some cash. I could always get a few more dollars off your property value but even if they take $1,000 more off the value it only saves about $1.50 off your yearly bill so I don’t fight to get larger reductions, to go all the way into court is a bit of a hassle for me so I take the mailed out decision.

    Another thing that you can do is ask every year (that you think it has gone down) for a free evaluation of your property value and often times that value will be what they use for your tax bill later that year. Each one has a valid period for the request so you have to go to the website and check.

    Good luck!

  17. No need for appeal in my county. They lowered my assessment automatically (got a letter in the mail) and it came in lower than the appraised value of my home by about 9.5%

  18. When I bought my house in 2003, I paid about $12k less than the tax value (which was oddly out-of-whack compared to my neighbors — my house is smaller but was valued higher than theirs despite being roughly of similar quality and age.)

    In my state you can only appeal in the year when your entire county gets re-appraised and marked-to-market. When that time came two years ago, I just went down to the office that they had set up for appeals, and went through the info they had in their system on my house (basically they had various square footage numbers and what they corresponded to — first floor, second floor, utility closet, deck, shed, etc.)

    Turns out something on my property was just mis-coded — they fixed it and my tax value went down. No third-party appraisal or arguing necessary– it was just a data entry error on their part that the previous owners for whatever reason did not appeal.

  19. I’m unable to appeal, similar to Peter’s situation. I called and spoke with 2 different people who couldn’t explain intelligently why I couldn’t appeal. One line on the webiste helped though.
    Per my county’s tax website:
    Real estate values in __ County reflect the market value as of January 1, 2008. Any inflation, deflation or other economic changes occurring after this date do not affect the assessed value of the property and cannot be lawfully considered when reviewing the value for adjustment. The January 1, 2008, values remain in effect until the next county-wide revaluation, which is currently performed every eight years.
    This means that the taxes on the house I bought this year for $65,000 below the tax assessment value stay the same until 2016. Roughly a $400 per year difference.

  20. JimmyDaGeek says:

    I bought my house a few years ago, so I was assessed its full sales price. Just after I refinanced my house late last year, I appealed my assessment because the appraisal came in about 20% lower than the sales price. The assessment came in 25% lower. A Pyrrhic victory. I pay a little bit less tax because I lost a lot more equity.

  21. A lot of interesting stories and good to hear some successes.

    For those that are considering moving to the country I highly recommend you do it sooner than later. We live on 18 acres (17 of which are ag-exempt) in a small, older manufactured home and our total taxes last year were $229.22. Even out here in the country (about an hour from DFW, TX downtown) a large, newer home can get hit for around $3-4K/year but if getting ag-exempt acreage a large spread can be very cheap.

  22. Thanks for including my company ValueAppeal in your post. One key difference between us and our competitors is that we offer a 100% moneyback guarantee. If you lose your appeal using our data then we refund our $99 completely.

  23. I appealed my property taxed and got a letter in May ’10 that the Assessor reduced the assessed value of my property therefore my taxed would decrease. However, my taxes are paid through an escrow account. They just did an escrow account review and are telling me that I will not have enough money in the account for the coming year and my payments will increase $75/month. I called them to tell them about the appeal and they told me they just need to know the amounts of the 2 installments. I then called the Treasurers office and was told there is no way for them to know the amounts until the tax bills go out- basically that it hasn’t been determined yet. Has anyone dealt with this situation or know how I can get my mortgage company to realize that I will be paying them way more than what will actually be needed? This is upsetting to me b/c they are getting interest on money that I could be using or getting interest on myself.

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