How to Challenge a Property Tax Assessment

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If you were only looking at some property tax assessments, you might not get the idea that the housing market recently crashed. Many counties continue to value homes at what they used to be, before we saw a drastic drop in home values. While this isn’t true for all localities, you might find that your property tax assessment is higher than you feel it should be. Especially if “market value” has changed in your neighborhood.

Obviously, because you pay property taxes based on what the county (or city or state) says your home is worth, the higher your assessment, the more you owe. If you feel that your property tax assessment is too high, you can challenge it, saving yourself some money if the assessment is adjusted downward.

Do a Little Recon: Know the Process

Before you start the process of challenging your property tax assessment, you want to make sure you are clear on the process. Find out exactly what the procedure is. Each county will have its own forms, methods and meetings attached with submitting a challenge. Additionally, you will want to be aware of the time limit. In most cases, you will be sent an assessment, and what you owe, in advance of when you have to pay. Most counties require that you submit your challenge within a specific time frame.

Create a checklist of everything you need to challenge your property tax assessment, and then get to work on getting your paperwork together. One of the most important documents you are likely to need is a full-value appraisal. This might cost you anywhere between $200 and $1,000 (or more). However, if there is a big discrepancy, the savings could be worth it.

Build a Case

When you challenge a property tax assessment, you will need to have evidence backing up your claim as to the actual value of your home. Have the full appraisal done, and include information about what similar homes in your area have sold for. A good appraisal company, when you state the reason for the appraisal, should know what information will be needed. Make sure you submit all of your evidence in accordance with proper procedure. Fill out all forms legibly, and be professional and polite when speaking with anyone involved with your case, and with administrative people who help you find the right forms and procedures.

After you have submitted all of your paperwork, you may be required to meet with a member of the county commission or some other official. Make sure you dress neatly, and that you present yourself in a professional manner. Don’t lose your temper, and clearly state your case, and what you hope the outcome will be.

Appealing the Local Decision

After you have gone through everything, it can take anywhere between four and 12 weeks for some bodies to change your assessment. Wait with patience. When your bill comes, if matters haven’t been resolved, you should pay what you owe. If you would like, you can add the words “paid in protest” to the memo line of your check. However, you should not resort to threats or obscenity, since that can result in even more troubles. And failure to pay your property taxes can result in the loss of your home. It’s better to pay now and get your refund when matters are resolved.

If the local decision comes back, and you still feel as though the assessment is way out of line, you can usually appeal to your state board of review. Once again, find out the procedure, and submit your case. If you are right, the state board will require that the county amend your assessment to more accurately reflect the current value of your property.

Unfortunately, if an appeal fails, you may be out of luck, unless you are prepared to sue or make some other claim.

{ 8 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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8 Responses to “How to Challenge a Property Tax Assessment”

  1. Mark S. says:

    I was wondering, by appealing, is it possible that the property taxes can actually increase? because of recent renovations done?

  2. freeby50 says:

    Mark, Yes it is possible the bill could go up but not very likely. If there are renovations or improvements that the government is not aware of then appealing could alert them to those. Its also possible that the government has incorrect information on your property and an appeal could cause them to fix it. For example they may think your house is 1700 sq. ft when its actually 2700 sq. ft.

  3. DIY Mom says:

    I was surprised at how complex the process was in our city. There is a short time frame every year where you can appeal. I was surprised they gave us a hard time over something very simple – saying we had more bathrooms than we did.

    • Strebkr says:

      I think they make it overly complex to turn people away from trying it. We tried last year, but were denied based on a paper that was filed wrong. In our group of 200 or so they dismissed all of ours because they said we all filed a paper wrong. Its kind of weird how all of us made the exact same mistake. I’m thinking they made the instructions misleading. We are trying again this year, but with hired help to go after the city for last years mistake.

      As a side note, we filed in January, the deadline was in March, and we got a hearing in October. So be patient. Its a LONG process.

  4. Scott says:

    We’re currently in the middle of an issue not with our property tax assessment (it went down) but with the replacement cost of our home on our insurance (it went up). The insurance company hired some appraiser/underwriter to re-evaluate the replacement cost of our home and they came back and said it would be $20k more. However, we’ve done NO work on the house that would constitue such a change (just painting, trim work, etc.). Turns out the underwriter reclassified our house from a 1.5 story to a 2 story home. We got an appraiser friend to look into it and he sent a snippy letter and appraisal to the insurance company explaining how our home would NEVER qualify as a 2 story residence in our area. Still waiting for them to correct the issue and of course they already took the inflated premium out of our escrow account. So beware of your insurance replacement cost just as much as your property tax assessment.

  5. scdavid says:

    If you are refinancing, you should already have a recent appraisal you can use if you can time things right.

  6. Adam says:

    My county’s process took over a year to resolve, so Miranda’s advice holds — pay your taxes in good faith. My dispute had to go to the Board of Equalization for resolution since my opponent (county employee) did not initially agree with my case.

    I presented my case with some ‘free’ homework using realtor comps from real estate agent friends.

    In hindsight, I would have done the following to prepare more thoroughly:
    1. Pick a consistent valuation method – My original approach was to overwhelm the BoE with tons of data but I ended up simplifying my case using price per square foot. Pick a valuation method that works best in your favor.
    2. Work a deal – My opponent never agreed with my dispute over mail. If I contacted him via telephone or in person, maybe I could’ve worked out a deal with him which might’ve saved me a trip to the BoE.
    3. Know your audience – BoE members in my county were chosen from a Grand Jury process and tend to be senior citizens; I was lucky to have picked a straightforward valuation method to state my case. Who knows what would have happened if I had gone with my original approach?
    4. Use intel – If you can’t work a deal, see if you can find out which properties the county will use as comps; this will give insight into how they will state their case. As it turns out, 2 of the 3 comps that my opponent had were on my list of comps (I had 12). Both of those comps had price per square foot valuations lower than what my property was currently assessed at. I think this sealed my case when I made this point to the BoE.

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