Despite declining home values, many homeowners are not seeing their property taxes decline or at least at a rate they believe should reflect current market conditions. Also, if you’ve recently completed a home renovation, then you may have been hit with a larger property tax bill then you had expected. In any case, you can fight city hall (or your county seat) and successfully contest your taxes, but only if you act quickly and follow the procedures for contesting your taxes as outlined by your taxing authority.
What are the best ways to fight your property tax assessment? According to Bloomberg Businessweek (see resources) there are three ways you can respond, the easiest being to find a mistake on your tax bill and notifying your tax assessor of the error. This may involve making a phone call or writing a letter, to explain your findings. If the tax assessor agrees that the mistake in on his end, then an adjustment can be made on the spot.
Keep in mind that what you think is a mistake may not be. Obvious errors include reporting a half-bath as a full bath, misstating the number of bedrooms in the home and incorrectly listing square footage or lot size. Be prepared to show evidence of a mistake or to allow the tax assessor to come to your home and take measurements or verify the number of rooms.
A second way to fight back is to compare your property values with what your neighbors are paying. If you can prove that a home in your area of near identical size is paying less, then you can use that evidence to gain a lower valuation. Other considerations include where your home is located. If you live on a busy street, within sight of power lines or are located next to a retail establishment, your home’s value should reflect that.
A third way to right back is if you own a condo or townhouse, you may be able to demonstrate that these types of homes aren’t selling in your market, thereby reducing values. In some markets, the value of cluster housing has fallen much faster than single family homes, but not all taxing authorities have acknowledged this trend.
Appealing a revised property tax assessment means you don’t have much time to act. Most communities give homeowners just 30 days to respond with some allowing as many as 60 days. If you act too late, then you may have to wait a full year before filing an appeal. This means you’ll be required to pay the higher taxes and don’t expect a refund if you win later on!
You may also need the help of a professional such as an attorney who specializes in fighting taxes. Lawyers don’t come cheaply, but if she is able to shave off $800 from your tax bill, those savings can realized down through the years, perhaps saving you $8,000 over the next 10 years. You may pay a few thousand dollars for legal assistance, but you can gain more if you win. Only hire an attorney if she thinks that you have an excellent chance at winning your appeal.