How to Contest Your Property Tax Appraisal
By: Brian O'Connell

No doubt about it, finding out your home has been assessed a higher property tax appraisal can be a financial nightmare, akin to a root canal or even working as Simon Cowell’s personal assistant.

But don’t be surprised if you’re the target of a property tax hike on your home. Studies show that home property taxes are doubling the rate of inflation so far this decade, even as U.S. homes have, on average, lost up to 40% and even 50% of their values (particularly in hard-hit areas like California, Nevada and Florida).

Another figure, this one from the National Taxpayers Union, estimates that 60% of U.S. properties are “overvalued”, yet only one out of 50 homeowners ever to appeal their property tax hikes.

Perhaps if the other 49 people knew that they had options and that contesting your property tax appraisal is easier than you might think.

Come to think of it, fighting your property tax appraisal is a process that you can actually do yourself, with the aid of pricey lawyer or property tax negotiator (who usually takes 50% of any money it saves you).

If that sounds appealing to you, take these steps to fight your property tax appraisal:

Know what you’re up against – Invariably, no two cities, towns, or counties calculate property taxes. But every locality should have an assessor’s office. Your job is to contact that office and ask how it calculates property tax values.

Find out specifically the formula for figuring out your property’s value (usually your tax rate is calculated against the appraised value of your home). Also ask what components or criteria go into the office’s home appraisal process (that usually includes your home’s square footage and the current value of other similar properties in your neighborhood).

Get your documents together – When you do contest your property tax appraisal (usually via a package sent to your county tax board, tax assessor, and, in some cases, via a face-to-face meeting with your local property tax/appraisers office) come armed and ready. Hunt on sites like Zillow.com, the real estate section of your local paper, or through a trusted real estate professional to find current and recent home sales values in your neighborhood. Find as many neighborhood sales as possible, but definitely aim for at least three home sales (the lower the sale prices, the better). Your local assessor’s office should also have the property appraisals for homes in your neighborhood – they should come across with those documents, but if you have trouble, a good real estate professional is especially useful in this case.

File a protest – Again, most municipalities differ, with some towns stipulating that you only have 14 days from the time of your property tax assessment to appeal, and some may go as high as 60 days. Your town’s tax appraisal office will have the deadline information. When you file your appraisal protest, include any relevant photos of your house or property, the recent sales in your area that bolster your case, and any documents showing lower property tax appraisals on properties similar to your near your house.

You may be surprised how easy it is to get your property tax appraisal downgraded. It only takes a day or two to get your documents together, and you can potentially save thousands by contesting your property appraisal.

So in this case at least, you can fight city hall.

—For more ways to save, spend, invest and borrow, visit MainStreet.com.

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