This is a Guest Post from Erin Vaughan at Modernize
Property taxes got you feeling faint? If you’ve seen your taxes go up in a big way since last year, there could be something fishy going on. One of the best ways to get them down is to go through and review your property details—then state your case to the assessor in the form of an appeal.
However, when you file an appeal, you assume the role of your defense. You’ll be like your own lawyer, making your case to the the county board for why you feel your home was overassessed. That means you’ll need to come armed with hard facts to convince your assessor that you’ve been overcharged. Here’s how to do it right—and a few other ways you can save, as well.
Get Informed About Your Property
Wondering what secrets your assessor knows about your property? Guess what—it’s not actually a secret. Your home’s property records aren’t kept in a locked vault somewhere. They’re classified as public information that can be accessed on demand. Your county assessor should be able to get you a copy if you ask.
On your property card, you’ll find details about your home and lot, including the dimensions and owner history, as well as the size of your home’s rooms, and possibly information about improvements that were made, as well, according to Investopedia. Your assessor should also be willing to provide the property worksheet, a package of materials used to make their final assessment.
Reading over these details will help you understand how your assessor got their numbers, and root out any obvious errors. Plus, you’ll be able to form an informed case should you need to file an appeal.
Actively Participate in the Assessment Process
One of the best ways to avoid errors early on is to make sure they don’t happen in the first place. Most homeowners don’t participate in the assessment process, but instead allow their assessor to go around their house without them.
That leaves you more vulnerable for errors, however. The assessor is left to make their own—albeit educated—assumptions about what things cost and what they’re worth. Don’t make yourself a nuisance, obviously, but you’re well within your rights to walk the property with the assessor. That way, you can point out various flaws on the property and make sure they’re accounted for.
Appeal to Your Assessor
Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, even property assessors. It could be that there’s a clear error responsible for the hike in your property taxes. Let’s say you just purchased your house three months ago for $10,000 less than the assessed value. Or maybe your property card says you have three baths, and you really only have two. Clerical errors do happen—and when they do, they offer the most clear-cut path to making a successful appeal.
A second and more difficult approach is to argue that your home was overvalued because of the surrounding properties. In this case, you’ll need to prove that your home isn’t worth as much as your neighbors’—which can be tricky. A realtor in your area can pull you “comps,” a selection of comparable properties that have features that closely match yours.
Next, head down to the tax assessor’s office and pull the property cards for those locations. Look at the size and improvements of those homes and compare them to yours. If you’ve just suffered storm damage or some other severe event, you may be able to make the case that your home’s overvalued.
Either way, you’ll need to set up a call with your county tax assessor to discuss your findings. Usually, this occurs as an informal meeting in their office—no need to stand before a jury. If you make your case eloquently, the assessor may agree to have your home reevaluated, in which case, your tax rates could go down. However, if they reject your findings, you’ll have to file a formal appeal to continue.
Apply for Income Based Tax Relief Programs
If you’re over 65, a disabled veteran, or qualify for low income relief, you could find some assistance in the form of state property tax relief programs. These offerings, sometimes called “homestead exemptions,” provide special tax breaks by age or household income. The exact requirements differ from state to state, but you can use George Washington University’s database of Residential Property Tax Relief Programs to get some idea of what’s available in your area. PBS’s Next Avenue indicates that in some cases, exemptions have helped homeowners save $1,000 or more, so they’re definitely worth looking into.
With property rates soaring in many parts of the country, it may well save you some serious money to investigate your property taxes—even if you have to do some homework in between.
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