How to Appeal Your Property Taxes

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Property Tax Bill. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Feel like you're paying more in property tax than you ought to be? You're probably right. The National Taxpayers Union found that up to 60% of all U.S. properties are currently assessed at more than they're worth. That's crazy! Fortunately, it's the kind of crazy you can fix. File an appeal with your local government, and there's a good chance you'll win.

Here's are the steps you need to take to file (and win) your property tax appeal:

1. Find Out How Your Local Government Assesses Property. Before you file an appeal, you need to understand how the assessment process works. Do some research to find out what the tax rates are in your area, how the market value of a property is determined, how often assessments are made and how property taxes are ultimately calculated. If the local tax assessor's office has a website, you should be able to find all of this information there. If not, just give them a call. They'll be happy to walk you through the process.

Note: If you pay both city and county taxes, you'll need to look up the assessment details for both municipalities.

2. Check Your Tax Assessment for Errors. If you don't have a copy of your current tax assessment, look up your property card online or stop by the tax assessor's office for a copy.

Note: Property cards are sometimes referred to as a property's working papers or worksheet. 

Once you have your card, go over it line by line to check for errors. Make sure the square footage, lot size, numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms and all other details are recorded accurately. Since these details all go into determining the fair market value of your home, it's important to have errors corrected.

3. Pull Your Neighbors' Property Cards. Look up, or request copies, of your neighbors' property cards (it's all public record), to see how your tax assessment compares to your neighbors'. Try to compare your property to similar properties (same number of bedrooms and bathrooms, same lot size, similar level of upkeep, etc.), so you can gauge whether your assessment is fair.

4. Find Out How the Appeal Process Works. If your research turned up errors or discrepancies that you feel you could use to make a case for a lower assessment, call the tax assessor's office to find out how the appeal process works. Some offices will allow you to schedule an informal appointment where you come in and state your case; others will require you to file a formal appeal. Either way, it's important to find out what forms and evidence you need to submit with your appeal.

Note: Most governments only give you 60 days to file an appeal, so you'll need to act quickly.

5. Gather Your Evidence. If you're appealing your property tax assessment because of an error on your property card, gather the documents that prove the error. This might be a blueprint of your house or a copy of your property survey.

If you're appealing because you feel your property has been assessed much higher than comparable properties, pull the sales records and tax cards for at least five comparable homes that have sold in the last year.

Feel there's something undesirable about your home or its location that entitles you to a smaller assessment? Then, provide the proof of that. Show them that your property is close to the airport, railroad tracks or a heavily congested area, or that your home has the world's worst layout, and you may just get that break that you're after.

6. Submit Your Appeal. Read over the appeal forms carefully to make sure you've filled them out correctly and that you've gathered all of the required documentation. Then, make a copy for your records, and send your appeal on its way. It'll probably take a couple months to hear back, so try to put it out of your head.

If your appeal is denied, or you aren't satisfied with the adjustment that you received, contact the tax assessors office to find out who you need to appeal to next.

In some municipalities, it'll be a local appeals board; in others, it'll be a state appeals board. Keep going up the chain, stating your case, and you may just get that tax reduction that you're after.

Tips:

  • Be polite in all of your communications with the tax assessor's office. They'll be more receptive to helping you
  • Think twice before hiring anyone to handle your appeal for you. The fees are likely to outweigh any savings that you may gain
  • Before you spend the money on a home appraisal, find out if it's admissible as evidence of your home's value

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