Contesting Your Tax Valuation – Exact Steps You Need

Contest Your Property Taxes

Market value changes and various taxing bodies use different methods for processing the necessary data.

In some places, how they compute their real estate taxes defies logic.

For instance, if you are living in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in 2009 and then the property owner constructed some additions. The house now has four bedrooms and three bathrooms.

Most likely, you did not check the records when you bought the house, and thus you have not seen that the assessor did not change the records to indicate the changes made to the property.

But don’t worry. You can contest the real estate tax assessment in several ways.

Know that the upgrades done in the property many years back can still impact your house value.

In the case of house additions, there are some assessors who give more importance to the  size of the house, and disregard the condition of the upgrades.

So, a property that was listed in 2007 at 1,700 square feet and became a 2,800 square foot house after a renovation, the assessor may evaluate the property based on a per-square- foot values.

What you need to do is to look at you house information in its present state. Check if you are reading the right information.

If you find any mistakes, make sure those are corrected. The renovation date can be useful at some point, which should be  indicated on the records correctly.

You should also do a comparison of your home information with the other houses in your area. If you believe you are paying more taxes for your house, you can contest those assessments based on not having enough uniformity of the valuations in your neighborhood.

Know that the whole process is complex. It is best to let a professional to do the contesting of the tax assessments for you.

First of all, you should have an understanding of the home information along with the entire process.

By acquiring a little knowledge, you can determine if the information from the assessor is correct or if it is worthy of contesting. After discovering many mistakes, you can also decide if a contest justifies it.

Another thing to keep in mind is while the local assessor is conducting his/her assessment of the properties, you may think the process is not fair and a bit complex.

However, if you do not study the information and contest the evaluation, you have very little chance of lowering your property tax.

How are Property Taxes Calculated

The real estate taxes are based largely on the fair market value (or the selling price) of a given property.

In other words, it is the cost of an available property that a buyer is willing to pay.

A county assessor usually calculates the property value. However, mistakes can happen during the process. An assessor can overly assess the property valuation.

The assessor can make some things wrong by indicating incorrect number of rooms, the overall square footage, etc.

Another reason for this is because they do not really send an appraiser to evaluate each residence but instead use an automated assessment tool.

As a result, assessors have no idea of the things about your house that can decrease its value, consequently reducing your tax bill.

For example, a broken pipe, leaky roof, broken siding and many others.

Tax assessment is also different in various regions. Some counties only update their market values every two years, sometimes up to every five years.

It means that when the cost of real estate drops, you may still find yourself paying property taxes from the over-assessed valuation of your house.

Here are the Steps

Take a Look More Closely

To start with; review the assessment carefully and see if the property identified is the same as your property.

It may be plain and simple, but it is something that a lot of people fail to notice.

Did they indicate the correct square footage? Did they note a two-car garage when in fact you just have one?

Even these professionals can make mistakes, but you have a responsibility to yourself to make sure you will not pay for their mistakes.

Also, over the past few years, you may have done some improvements to your house such as adding a swimming pool, but are not shown in the valuation.

Actually, if you think the assessment value of your house is incorrect, it is possible to use a private appraiser to help you out. Then again, prepare to use your savings since hiring an appraiser can cost you a lot of money.

Do Some Research

Next, determine if the result of assessment value matches with the property value of your house.

Housing rates have suffered in the past several years. Therefore, make sure your assessor is using the most up to date information, so you are paying taxes according to the current market.

Assessed valuations are available to the public. With that, you can sift through your assessor’s office for information to find out what others who live nearby are paying.

You may also go online to look into the market value of those similar houses as you have.

Take Action Now

In most cases, as soon as you receive your new valuation, it means you should hurry up. Depending on your location, deadlines can vary.

Even so, you have not less than a month to indicate you want to contest. Your main goal is to lower your tax bill, so be in control of the situation at once.

In case you have missed a deadline, do something about it by gathering the data you need for the property taxes next year.

Make a Strong Case

Since you want to save a few hundred dollars in all this, then it is better to take the DIY approach and just skip hiring a real estate lawyer to help you in the appeals.

Go to the website of your assessor to find out what kind of documents and data you need to make your contest, as the process of appeals differs from region to region.

You can set up a private meeting with your assessor, or opt to contest your case at a public meeting.

Regardless, be sure to provide comprehensible and well-documented evidences.

Bring with you some photos of your house and also pictures of homes that are similar to yours.

Make use of a spreadsheet to easily compare your house to other properties.

Moreover, bring the necessary documents such as printouts and photocopies from real estate sites and government records so you can support those figures.

Steps to File an Appeal

As soon as you have started contesting the assessment, that lowered property value will most likely be the same for a long period of time, unless of course due to a booming real estate market or your assessed value increases from the changes you made. Here’s what you should do:

1. Mark the Deadline Date for the Filing on Your Calendar

There should be a letter in the mail for you every year, notifying you of the assessed value of your home. The deadline to file an appeal is normally until after month of the notice. The point is not to delay your appeal.

2.  Go to the County Assessment Site

It is advisable to visit the website of the local government to obtain the complete guidelines and documents for filing your appeal, considering that every place has a different process of appeals.
3. Look for Errors in the Property Information

The county site provides a list of information that was used to evaluate your house.

Review all the details for any errors including the garage, property category, number of bathrooms and bedrooms, total square footage, etc.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a homeowner lowered her valuation by as much as 45% after finding out that the assessor  made a mistake of thinking one room was 300 square feet larger than the actual area.

In addition, the Remodeling’s cost vs. value report can be used so you can make an approximate calculation of the resale value of an added room.

4. Know the Open Market Valuation for a few Similar Houses

Comparing home sales prices and assessed values in your area make the most effective case that you have an overvalued property.

While this kind of data is searchable from the website of the assessor and some counties make it publicly available, Zillow is available for those areas that do not have access to it.

Use it to search for the latest home sales up to three years. You can save them in PDF files the data comparable to your house, which sold for lower than the assessed value of your house.

You do not want to include those discounted sales such as the short sales or foreclosures.

You can get an appraiser and a real estate agent to assist you in finding comparable properties. Just remember that hiring an appraisal could cost you about $500 dollars.

5. Attend to Major Repairs to Your House to Make It Saleable

List the things that you need to address in your home such as a cracked drywall, broken window glass, leaky roof and other concerns.

You can also go to HomeWyse and HomeAdvisor, which are home repair estimate websites to help you deduct the costs from your property value.

6. Fill Out the Appeal Form the Assessor and Submit Your Evidence

The last step is to file your appeal. Many counties get it done in writing or allow you to file on the internet.

You can use this sample letter of property tax appeals that you can use with your own appeal. Afterward, you will just have to wait for the decision. In case the result is not successful, you can always try again.

The assessors offices generally do not like if you use a third-party to help you with the appeal.

It is reasonably easy for any property owner to do the DIY route. But taking into account the time you have left to submit your appeal, or any other reasons, you might think of getting a professional to help you out.


Martin - Head of Real Estate and Finance at RateTake
Martin is Head of Real Estate and Finance division at RateTake. He creates content that helps people understand and make the right decisions for their financial future.

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Written by ratetake


Martin is Head of Real Estate and Finance division at RateTake. He creates content that helps people understand and make the right decisions for their financial future.