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How to challenge a property tax assessment

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Homeownership has its rewards, but paying the annual property tax bill isn’t one of them. If you feel like your assessment is out of whack, you can challenge it, potentially saving yourself some money. Here’s what you need to know if you want to contest your assessment.

Take A Closer Look

First off, carefully read the assessment and make sure that the home described actually matches your home. It seems obvious, but it’s a step many people overlook. Is the square footage correct? Are you being dinged for a two-car garage when you only have one? Bureaucrats make mistakes, but it’s your job to make sure you aren’t paying for those mistakes.

You may also have made modifications to your home in the last few years that aren’t being reflected in the assessment. The assessor doesn’t know if you’ve filled in a backyard pool or torn down an old porch, so you could still be on the hook for amenities like these.

Finally, if you feel like the assessed value is completely wrong, you can hire a private appraiser to back you up, strengthening your case. However, since an appraisal can cost hundreds of dollars, this can be a bit of a gamble since it can eliminate any potential savings.

Do Your Homework

The next step is to figure out whether your assessed value actually matches up with the market value of your home. Housing prices have taken a hit in recent years, so if your assessor is using out-of-date data, you might be paying taxes based on the market’s peak, rather than the most current prices. Assessed values are public information, so you can start digging through the data at your assessor's office to see what your neighbors are paying. You can also take to the Internet to check out the sale prices of similar homes on the market.

...if your assessor is using out-of-date data, you might be paying taxes based on the market’s peak, rather than the most current prices.

- Adam Verwymeren

If you can find five to 10 homes that are priced lower than yours, you can start to build a solid case that your home has been overvalued. However, you need to be careful to compare apples to apples. Referencing homes that only bear a superficial resemblance to your own isn’t going to win you any points before the review board.

Get It Done in Time

In many areas, once you get your new assessment, the clock starts ticking. Deadlines vary by region, but you might have as little as a month to indicate that you want to lodge a challenge. So make sure to get on top of things right away if you want have any hope of lowering your tax bill. If you have missed your deadline, get a jump on next year’s property taxes by gathering the info you’ll need to make your case.

Making Your Case

While you can hire a real estate attorney to help you out with the appeals process, you’re probably better off taking a DIY approach since you might only end up saving a few hundred dollars a year. The appeals process varies by region, so head to your assessor's website to see what sort of documents and evidence you’ll need to make your challenge.

Depending on where you live, you may end up meeting with the assessor in private or you might have to make your case at a public hearing. Either way, you want to make sure your evidence is clear and well-documented. Come armed with photos of your own home, as well as homes that you think are similar. Lay everything out in a spreadsheet so that you can quickly compare your home to those around you. But you’ll also want to bring documents to back up those figures, including photocopies of government records and print outs from real estate websites.