As surprising as may seem (if you're not a cynic), property taxes do not always get adjusted according to market values. In fact, the National Taxpayers Union estimates that as many as 60% of properties are assessed at a higher rate than their actual market value. Furthermore, since many local governments are hurting for cash, property taxes are likely to be increased as municipalities seek ways to bridge budget gaps.
It is possible to appeal or otherwise protest property taxes; people typically undertake the process when they feel their taxes have been assessed at too high a rate. Most appeals are not successful - estimates state that only between 20% and 40% of appeals are accepted. However, well-researched cases increase one's chances of succeeding.
The first step to appealing a property tax assessment is to double check your assessment letter. Such letters are usually mailed to homeowners on a yearly basis, but depending on where you live, it may only be every two or three years. This assessment is conducted by the local government - not a private appraiser - and the value given in the appraisal is not necessarily the current market value. The letter will also include general information about the property like the lot size, number of bedrooms, date of construction, and some sort of legal description. If you are ever interested in finding out what is on record about your home, you can contact your local government.
One of the most important details in appealing a property tax appraisal is getting in under the deadline. A challenge to the appraisal should be filed immediately because the deadline is counted based on the date the letter was sent out. Most municipalities give home owners less than 30 days to file an appeal. However, the length of this period can vary from state to state, and even within a state, so be sure to check with your local government to find out exactly how long you have to file.
After filing your initial challenge, you need to begin building your case. Start by considering any discrepancies in you appraisal. The size of the lot might be wrong, or it might be the number of bathrooms. It might even be something apparently inconsequential like the number of fireplaces the home has. If there are any factual problems, start with those.
Next, you need to do some research to figure out the actual value of your home. There are several ways to go about this, but choosing more than one method will offer a fuller picture and a stronger case. First, you can work with a REALTOR® to find properties that are very similar to yours. Finding three or more comparable properties - "comps" as real estate agents call them - can help you determine what the real market value of your home is. Second, you can use sites like Zillow.com to get a sense of what similar homes in your area are selling for. Finally, you can also hire a private appraiser. While this does cost money (usually between $350 and $600), the word of an expert does carry a lot of weight in court.
The last step is to actually present your case. To do so, contact your count assessor's office. You can often speak to the assessor informally on the phone, but if that doesn't work out or you are unsatisfied the results, you may request a formal review. If you go this route, you must be meticulous about meeting deadlines and following procedure, as even minor issues can be cause for the denial of your appeal. You will receive a decision in writing and this process generally takes between one and three months.
Finally, if the review does not go well, you can choose to appeal to an independent board. This does not require the help of a lawyer and the filing fee is usually quite small, around $10 to $25. However, this process can become extremely time-consuming. If you reach this stage, you are more likely to see a reduction in your assessment.