What You Need to Know About DIY Property Tax Appeals
Property tax appeals are a great way for residential homeowners and commercial property owners to save money, mitigating the impact of rising property tax assessments. However, filing an appeal is not for the faint of heart. Between the many hours it takes to collect supporting evidence and navigating the bureaucracy that varies in every locality, many property owners find the process overwhelming. Nevertheless, some property owners still prefer to file their own protest, negotiate with the tax assessors, and attend the hearings themselves. If that’s you, this guide will be especially useful. At Ownwell, we believe every property owner should evaluate appealing their property taxes every year. Check out these tips from our property tax experts to help you increase your chances of getting a tax reduction.
The process of a DIY (do it yourself) appeal typically requires these key steps: filing an appeal, collecting supporting evidence, disputing the tax assessor’s evidence and presenting your case.
Step 1: File an Appeal
To reduce your property taxes, you almost always have to file a formal appeal. Filing an appeal prior to the deadline preserves your right to contest your tax assessed value with the county tax assessor.
Review the Value Notice
Property owners receive an assessment valuation notice in the mail with the new market value of the property as determined by your county tax assessor. This notice typically contains information about how and when to file an appeal. In many jurisdictions, the appeal must be filed within a certain number of days after receiving the value notice, typically 30 to 60 days.
Determine if Your Property is Overvalued
Once you receive the value notice, you’ll need to determine whether the new value represents an overvaluation of your property. In some jurisdictions, such as Texas, it is recommended that property owners appeal every tax year. However, in many other jurisdictions, the new value for your property may be significantly undervalued or there may be a filing fee associated with filing an appeal. If this is the case in your jurisdiction, you should identify comparable properties, property condition issues that indicate a reduction, or inequitable taxes for your property prior to filing an appeal. Take a look at our advice as described in Step 2: Collect Supporting Evidence below.
File an Appeal
Once you have received the value notice and determined that your property is overvalued, it is time to file your appeal. The appeal forms for most jurisdictions are on the county assessor’s or appraisal district’s website. Once you have located the appropriate forms to file an appeal, fill out the form and mail it to the address stated on the appeal form, or submit the appeal online if that is an option in your county. If you are unsure of what to fill out on the form, typically the value notice has information about how to complete the form, and you can always reach out to your local assessor’s office for guidance. Some jurisdictions require a property owner to submit their opinion of value and supporting documentation with their appeal. If so, review and complete Step 2: Collect Supporting Evidence prior to arriving at your opinion of value.
Step 2: Collect Supporting Evidence
To reduce your property tax assessment and consequently your property tax bill, you have to present information that suggests your property is overassessed, otherwise known as supporting evidence.
Pictures of Deferred Maintenance
Damage to a property or maintenance you may have deferred at your property are always good to explain when arguing a property tax appeal. The assessor’s office rarely knows about damage or maintenance issues. Taking pictures of damage or deferred maintenance is one of the most effective types of evidence you can use to support arguing a lower assessed value. This is especially true when the data, such as comparable sales, might not support a reduction claim.
Getting and retaining all quotes or estimates you’ve received for any major repairs that are necessary can also be used as evidence. You are even able to use estimates for repairs as long as the quotes are for damage that was present prior to the date the assessor valued your property or “lien date”. This valuation date is typically January 1st for most geographies.
If you recently purchased the property within the last 2 years, this is one of the the best and possibly easiest ways to receive a reduction for your property. If you purchased the property on the open market and it was listed on the MLS, the price it sold for should be very close to the assessed value of your property. Typically, the county assessor/appraisal district identifies the sale price and values the property at the sale price. However, in some instances the county misses the sale or in non-disclosure states such as Texas, they do not have access to the sale price. So, if your noticed value is higher than the price you purchased the property for in the last couple of years, you should include that in your appeal evidence, along with the closing statements.
Sales comparables are another great way to support your appeal. Online tools like Zillow.com and Realtor.com are great for researching similar properties that recently sold in your area. In non-disclosure states, such as Texas, this can be more difficult and you may need to enlist the help of a realtor or tax consultant. Ideally you want to identify sales of properties that are as similar as possible to your property, also known as comparables. When comparing properties, keep in mind the property’s location, age, building size, lot size, and sale date. Ideally the sale date will be close to the tax valuation date, or January 1st. It’s fine if the sales are a little after the new year, but sales finalized at the end of the previous year will hold more weight.
Step 3: Prepare a Rebuttal to the Tax Assessor’s Evidence
In most situations, your county tax assessor will send you an evidence packet regarding your property's assessed value 15-30 days prior to your hearing. This evidence packet will contain the comparable sales the county used to determine the value of your property. When you receive this packet, it is important to thoroughly review the evidence and form a rebuttal. If you have personal knowledge of the sales the county used, such as a recent remodel or repairs done on a property you’re familiar with, consider the characteristics of these sales and then compare them to the characteristics of your property. If you do not have any knowledge of the sales, look for photos online to help you compare.
After reviewing the comparable data points, consider the following:
- Are the comparable sales superior or inferior to your property in any way?
- Are the comparable sales close in proximity to your property?
- Is there any reason these comparable sales would indicate a higher value for your property that could be explained by some characteristic these properties possess that yours does not?
From these answers, create a game plan for your rebuttal with all the necessary information you’ve gathered that could disqualify the county’s evidence. In some parts of the country the burden of proof is on the county to provide adequate evidence to support the assessed value of your property. If the county is unable to provide adequate evidence as to why your property’s assessed value increased, they are required to revert your assessed value to the prior year's value. Regardless of who has burden of proof, it is vital to create a sound rebuttal to the county’s evidence and be able to provide enough of your own collected evidence to increase the likelihood of receiving a reduced valuation.
Step 4: Present Your Case
(Optional) Receive an Offer
Occasionally, prior to any discussion with the assessor/appraisal district, you will receive an offer of a reduced value. Typically, these initial offers are not substantial reductions and should be reviewed thoroughly prior to accepting. If your property sold in the last year, the assessor/appraisal district may offer a reduced value equal to the sale price which you should consider accepting in most instances. Be cautious before accepting an early offer, as this often indicates you have a good case to appeal.
Schedule an Informal Hearing
An informal hearing is a meeting between a property owner and a representative of the assessor’s office/appraisal district. Informal hearings or discussions can be held in-person, via telephone or email. As a property owner attending an informal hearing, it is important to be clear and concise in delivering the points you would like to make in reference to the value of your property. It is equally important to be friendly to the representative because they ultimately decide the value they are willing to offer. After both parties have reviewed the evidence, the assessor’s office/appraisal district’s representative will either offer a reduced value or no-change in value and you can either accept or reject the offer. If you reject the offer, the appeal will be scheduled for a formal hearing.
Schedule a Formal Hearing
Formal hearing formats vary by jurisdiction, but typically consist of the property owner, a representative from the assessor’s office/appraisal district, and a panel of three to five taxpayers who typically have some real estate experience and that ultimately decides the outcome of the appeal. Prior to attending the formal hearing, you should have thoroughly reviewed the county’s evidence and made any necessary changes to your own evidence. In the hearing, you will be given an allotted amount of time to present your evidence, typically ten to fifteen minutes, and the representative of the assessor/appraisal district is given the same time to present their evidence. After both parties have presented their initial evidence, they are both given the opportunity to present a rebuttal of the other party's evidence. The panel then decides the value of the property after listening to testimony from both parties and reviewing the evidence submitted. Depending upon the jurisdiction, you will either learn the decision of the panel at the time of the formal hearing or within sixty days of the hearing. The format of this hearing is much more formal, hence the name, than the informal hearing, so it is recommended to have a script, notes, or an outline of what you’d like to say and the points you would like to get across to the panel.
(Optional) Escalate Further
If you are not satisfied with the results of the formal hearing, there are options to further escalate your appeal. However, if you have decided you would like to pursue further escalation, we recommend that you involve a real estate professional. In some instances, it may be necessary to involve an attorney as well.
We understand that many property owners don’t have the time or desire to file their appeal and attend the hearings themselves. Ownwell’s team of local property tax experts handle everything from signup to savings. We combine proprietary, cutting-edge technology and several data sources, many requiring licensed and paid access that is otherwise unavailable to DIY protesters, with local expertise to maximize your chances of getting the most tax savings possible. You can sign up here in less than 5 minutes. After signing up online, our local property tax experts will personally construct your appeal, file your appeal, preemptively negotiate with tax assessors, craft rebuttals of county evidence, and attend all necessary hearings on your behalf. We offer a Savings-or-Free Guarantee, meaning that you’ll only pay if you receive a saving. For successful appeals, you’ll only pay 25% of the tax savings after you save. Start your appeal today and save yourself the hassles of DIY protesting.