How To Protest Your Real Estate Taxes
Since the pandemic a couple of things have developed in the real estate market.
1. There has been a mass exodus to suburbs and the country, driving frenzied buying.
2. The flush of new building and interest in owning your own home has driven the value of real estate to all time highs.
When the value of property goes up, so do taxes. We (like many of our neighbors) were shocked at the new values assigned to our properties. We had until June 1st to protest, but first we had to educate ourselves to see if we even had a case.
It's a little intimidating going into the county appraisal office. There are often a lot of forms that are difficult to understand without an expert to guide you.
Not to worry. The clerks are very patient explaining the vernacular, numbers, and codes.
One thing I found amusing is that they ran a looped video in the waiting room. It was a very calming almost hypnotic film reassuring you that appraisers were only there to set value to property. They're not tax collectors.
I phoned in for an appointment days earlier. In the meantime, I did some homework. Some of it was correct. Other things I did wrong, which is the point of this post.
Every person's situation is different, but there are some steps you can take regardless of the property you own.
At our county appraiser's office, they give you a form to fill out, saying you wish to protest, but it may not even be necessary. Your first job while at the appraiser's is to talk to them. There could be many ways to lower your taxes without going through the task of protesting.
Right away this takes you off the defensive.
We've gone in to protest twice since we've moved here. Both times the appraisers were highly professional and truly looked for ways to help you lower the value of your property (thereby lowering your taxes).
In our case, we used a homestead exemption, since this is our primary residence. We also claimed an agricultural exemption since we raise enough goats to qualify. And because Greg is over 65, we're entitled to a senior exemption.
In addition, our appraiser found other ways to lower our taxes, such as the use of solar energy (for the shop). One funny story was that the appraiser had actually gone past our home. The home itself is on a private road, but we own corner acreage, and the shop sits on the main road, more visible to traffic. Because it's on the main drag, we keep it nice with a little landscaping.
The appraiser thought it looked too nice and that perhaps someone was living there. That was raising our property values! Once we assured him it was just a shop with no living quarters or bathrooms, it came down significantly.
Bear in mind that the appraiser can also request to visit your property to assess value.
To prepare for our meeting I knew I had to do some homework.
- If you apply for an agricultural exemption, you must keep your receipts for anything you've sold or purchased for at least 5 years. Every county is different, so get familiar with your county's specifications. Depending on what you use for an ag exemption, be it goats, cattle, bees, or timber, each county has specific requirements for each.
- Take pictures. They want proof of what you own, including enclosures, barns, apiaries, and livestock.
- Be prepared to offer affidavits from neighbors swearing that they have seen your livestock.
- If you apply for an ag exemption, you might not receive it until you've owned your livestock for a specified period of time. Just keep saving those receipts.
- For a homestead exemption, in Texas you're allowed one homestead exemption for your primary residence.
- For a senior exemption, they will photocopy your driver's license as proof of age.
Now let's say you want to protest because you think your property is being over valued. This is where I went wrong.
To argue your case you need to provide "comps". If you remember when you bought your house, your real estate agent showed you comps of various houses for you to view.
In the past this was difficult to do (without an agent), but today anyone can create comps. Google for real estate listings. The easiest to read are Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com.
You want to pull recently sold homes that are similar to yours. While I pulled homes that were the same size, number of rooms, and relatively near to my location, I didn't take into account the structure. Mine is a brick home, a few that I picked out had siding. (Big difference in value)
The other thing I did wrong was not staying in my county. We are in a peculiar situation in that we live at the very edge of our county. This means many homes close to us (and similar) were in different counties.
Of the comps I created, only one met the criteria needed to compare it to ours. Still, our appraiser was good enough to pull some comps for us. Two houses in our neighborhood are worth over a million dollars. I know one of these neighbors and their home is absolutely stunning! Thank God, I don't have to pay their taxes!
In the end, with the exemptions we were allowed, our appraiser managed to significantly lower our taxes for the year. No need for a formal protest.
We left relieved.
If after your visit to the appraiser you still don't agree with the assessment, you can then formally file a protest. If the protest fails, it still has one more chance to be judged by a board of appraisers.
Talk to your appraiser first. It's likely you can get the value lowered without ever having to formally protest. They're trained to find every available exemption relevant to your situation.
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