The U.S. property tax system can really wear you down. Are you overpaying? More than half of taxable property in the United States gets overassessed by tax collectors, according to the National Taxpayers Union. They say most homeowners never formally protest their assessments.
Property taxes are generally assessed by counties. A county appraiser will assess the value of a home or a piece of land, and bill the owner accordingly. Of course, any estimation of value is just someone’s opinion.
Oftentimes, assessments are made by simply taking the initial selling price – and then adding on to it what the county claims are similar properties with identical price growth. But how much a home has actually appreciated (or depreciated) is dependent on unique issues.
Just because your neighbors’ homes have gone up in value doesn’t mean yours has. Perhaps you experienced severe flooding or a lightning strike. Perhaps new construction surrounding your home has ruined the great views that you once enjoyed. Or someone put in a subdivision near your home that’s packed with cheap housing. You can make an issue out of practically anything. It simply must have an impact on your property’s actual value. Stuff the county tax assessor can be counted on to overlook.
Never take an “official” appraisal of your home as the final word. If you believe you have been over-assessed, you can appeal. The county assessor’s office must inform you how upon request. Making your appeal may be as simple as printing out recent sale prices of similar properties. You can get that from a five-minute Internet search on Zillow (www.zillow.com).
County bureaucrats may try to stonewall your appeal. Anything to make you give up. A potentially useful tactic is to threaten to take your appeal to the state agency governing tax assessments. (Google some version of the following words and the name of your state: State Department of Assessments & Taxation) Or even arrange for a legal letter from your attorney.
If the local tax collectors refuse to give any ground, hire a private appraiser. He or she can help you compile more evidence. There’s a great guide of how to select an appraiser here at Legal Match.)
Of course, if all else fails, you may need to hire a tax lawyer. But I hope your self-reliance means you don’t have to go to such desperate lengths!