4/20/2011 12:57 PM ET|
Get a property tax do-over
If the value of your home has sunk, officials should lighten your tax burden accordingly. But if they're not aware of the change, here's how to call it to their attention.
Homeowners love rising home values -- until, that is, the annual property tax bill arrives in the mail. If yours makes you wince, it's time to consider whether the property tax assessment is accurate, and if not, find out how to appeal it.
Property tax appeals are increasingly popular today because of the sharp decline in house values throughout most of the country. Not all tax assessors have kept up with the changes, which means some homes may be overvalued and thus overtaxed.
If you want to appeal the assessment, your first step is to find out what level of government is in charge of your property's valuation. It may be the state (most states tax property, says John Brusniak, the president of the National Association of Property Tax Attorneys in Dallas), or it may be the county, city or town, school district or utility district. Typically, this information is printed on your tax bill.
You get one shot per year
Your other first step (if two such top priorities may be allowed) is to find out the yearly deadlines to appeal the assessment. Deadlines are crucial. The process typically comes to a halt, without further recourse for you, if you don't turn in the proper paperwork on time or if you neglect to show up for a hearing on the required date.
"There might be some specific, small 'outs' in various places, but for the most part, if you blow a deadline, you're done for the year," Brusniak warns.
The deadlines may be printed on your tax bill. If not, a telephone call to the assessor's office or a little online research should produce the information.
'Comps' trump other data
The next step is to gather data about sales of homes that are comparable to yours. These "comps" should be located in your area, be approximately the same size as your home and have similar features. The data points for each comp might include the address, date of sale, sales price, square footage and amenities. Pictures may be helpful as well.
Comps are important because they're used to establish your home's fair market value on a certain date, based on data specific to your property, rather than a function of the "mass appraisal" approach often employed by tax assessors.
"Under mass appraisal, (tax officers) generally value an entire neighborhood based on the data they have and then sort of homogenize the values across all the properties. When (they) do that, (there will be) errors, because your property may not be like the properties near yours," Brusniak explains.
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