Property Taxes

Are you paying more in property taxes than you have to? Chances are you don't know, but investing some time could result in a reduction in your property taxes, which, over the years, can amount to more money in your pocket (or, preferably, in your investment account). Here are some steps and tips to follow that will help you through the process of first, finding out if your property tax bill is too high and second, successfully appealing for a reduction in your assessment.

Investigating the fairness of your assessment. Doing the legwork to find out if your assessment is fair is tedious, but not as onerous as most homeowners believe. If you truly don't have the time, you may want to hire a consultant to do the work for you.

  • Time is of the essence. Most localities impose deadlines for appealing. The local tax assessor's office will provide the information. If you missed the deadline, you'll have to wait until the following year or, in some instances longer, before you can appeal.
  • Building your case. There are a couple of ways to advance your case. First, the town may have made a mistake in the valuation placed on your house and second, comparable homes may have a lower assessment.
- Incorrect valuation. Double-check the description of your house, including square footage and number of rooms. Check the description against any appraisals that you may have. It might also pay to have a new appraisal. If there are any changes in the property or the neighborhood that might diminish its value, this might affect your valuation.

- Lower-valued comparables. You can visit the town assessor's office to compare your assessment with similar homes in your neighborhood. Gather data on several homes to see if you have a valid argument that your home is over assessed. Try to identify specific factors that reduce your home's value compared with others situated nearby.

Appealing your assessment. Once you have gathered up the necessary information, it's time to appeal. This is usually at two-step process.

  • Informal meeting at the assessor's office. First, try to arrange a meeting at the assessor's office. This may or may not be permissible, depending upon town rules. Make sure you have your ducks in a row before the meeting, then lay out your case. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that the assessor agrees, although you may not be happy with the amount of the reduction. It may be smarter to accept this informal offer rather than taking it the next step, but it's up to you. If the assessor rejects your case altogether, then you should take it to the next level unless the assessor convinces you that your case has no merit.
  • Request a hearing. Find out from the assessor's office when the next hearings are scheduled and request one for yourself. Organize your presentation so that it's easy for the board that's hearing your request to quickly understand your arguments. Photos and well-organized analyses will convey the seriousness with which you take the proceedings.

Is it worth the time and effort? Real money is involved here, and if you think you've been wronged, it's worth the effort. Also, the odds of getting a reduction aren't bad. Real estate professionals say that nearly half of the people who appeal their property tax assessments end up getting a tax reduction