Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fighting the Tax Man! Steps for Protesting Your Property Taxes.

Another in a series of posts about money and real estate and taxes. I know it's kind of dry---but you will thank me someday. That day may be when you successfully contest your property taxes!

Filing the Protest

The first step is to file a protest. The appraisal district has protest forms available, but you can hand write it on a piece of paper and fax it in. It simply needs to identify you as the owner, identify the subject property, and state that you disagree with the appraised value and wish to protest. If you’ve waited till the last minute, it would be best to fax it and then send a follow-up copy by certified mail.

The Informal Hearing

Next, the Travis County Appraisal District will schedule what they call an “informal hearing”. This may be months from now. The purpose of the hearing is for you to present your evidence that the appraised value is too high.

I’m going to stop here and point out a couple of things. It’s important before you attend a hearing that you understand the fundamentals of what the Travis County Appraisal District does. They simply set the appraised value of your home based on what they believe to be the market value. The tax rate multiplied against the appraised value determines the amount of property taxes you pay.

The Appraisal District does not establish the tax rate. Your elected officials do that. You can’t protest the amount you are paying, or the tax rate. All you are protesting is the Appraised Value.

When you show up for the hearing, make sure you bring data to support your protest.

Have Your Fact and Data Ready

Opinions and emotions are not data. In order to change your appraised value, the person you are working with at the informal hearing must have evidence and data to support the change. I’ve sat in the cubes over the years at the informal hearings and overheard other protesters arguing completely irrelevant gripes to the tax people. They don’t care how unhappy you are, how little you earn, etc. You’re there to discuss whether or not the appraised value on your particular home is too high or not, and that’s it.

If you know a Realtor, ask for a written market analysis on your home to determine the market value. You can take that along with you to use as your data and evidence. If your home has condition problems, take pictures and bring those. If you back up to a busy street, take pictures and print out your home’s location on a Google Map, and bring it in with you to show the tax people. Any “fact” that helps you prove a lower value may be helpful, but bring something to show to support it.

If the appraised value is higher than the amount you’ve recently paid to purchase the home, bring your Settlement Statement showing what you actually paid, and they’ll lower the value to the price you paid without a fuss.

You may be angry about the higher taxes, but unless the Appraisal District assessed your home at too high a value, and you can prove it, you have no grounds for a protest and you’ll lose. Since you know an awesome Realtor, me---you can get in touch with aforementioned awesome Realtor and I can do a free market analysis for you to determine the current market value of your home.

Be polite and courteous.

The person helping you at your informal hearing with has dealt with plenty of rude and uninformed people already – all day every day. You’re not going to get far if you present yourself as just another angry, unprepared and uneducated person coming in to yell at them and gripe about your taxes. Be nice, smile, dress professionally and have your facts ready with an extra copy for the appraisal person to keep. Make it easy for them to decide to help you by presenting yourself as a reasonable person who is well prepared and understands the process. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Two Bites at the Apple

If you are not satisfied with whatever reduction offer you receive at the informal hearing, you can move on to a formal hearing in front of a panel of the Appraisal Review Board. There will be an Appraisal District Representative arguing against you in support of the Appraisal District valuation, and a panel of three (usually old) people listening to both sides and making a decision.

If the informal hearing results in a deal you can live with, take it and avoid the time and frustration of the formal hearing.

If you truly are being hosed with an unreasonably high appraised value, then try your luck at the formal hearing. But know that once you forgo the offer made at the informal hearing, the formal hearing can result in an even higher value than what you passed up at the informal hearing. Your informal hearing deal ends when you decide to try your luck with the ARB.

For more information, check out the Taxpayer’s Rights, Remedies and Responsibilities document published by the State Comptroller.