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Empowering Homeowners: A Guide to Challenging Your Property Tax Assessment

May 1, 2024
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Homeownership has its perks. However, most homeowners would probably agree, the rising cost of property taxes isn’t one of them. If you think your property taxes are too high, you’ll be glad to know you don’t have to accept your bill the way it is. You can protest your property taxes!  Experts recommend protesting taxes every year.

Property taxes are determined according to the value of your property. They’re commonly known as a type of ad valorem tax, since ad valorem is Latin for “according to the value.”

Every year, you will receive an assessment notice, which could arrive as a standalone document or be included with your property tax bill. If you suspect there has been a mistake in the calculation of your property taxes, you have the option to protest. However, you must provide evidence that the assessor’s figure is incorrect. The most convincing evidence to support an adjustment in your assessed value includes a recent appraisal, a sale of the property, or sales of similar properties in your neighborhood. To understand how your property taxes compare, look at comparable properties in your area, focusing on those with similar design, size, or features to your own home.

Review the Numbers

For starters, check your property record at HCAD. Make sure all the information about your home is accurate, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, and other distinguishing features. If any of the details in your property record are wrong—for instance, it lists a two-car garage instead of a one-car garage—you can use these errors to make the case that your home’s value has been over assessed.

Compare Your Property to Others

You can further support your argument by looking at comparable properties that recently sold in your area. If four houses in a three-block radius sold for between $250,000-$275,000, and your similar home was assessed at $325,000, you can use that data to prove that it was valued incorrectly.

Comparing your property to surrounding properties can give you a sense of how much tax you should be paying. Besides the neighborhood there are many other characteristics that contribute to the assessed value, including, living area square footage; property age; exterior construction; total land square footage; number of bedrooms and bathrooms; basement square footage and the percent finished; amenities such as a pool; interior finish quality; whether air conditioning is installed; fireplaces; patios/decks; and a garage and the size of it.

File a Protest and Ask for a New Assessment

So, what if you’ve evaluated your property record and comparable properties in your neighborhood and you still believe that your assessment is wrong? You can file a protest with your county assessor’s office, you can visit HCAD for more information.

You can either do it yourself or hire a professional to help you protest your taxes. For those of you who simply don’t have the time a professional can help you save time and money! However, most property tax companies will charge a fee based on a contingency agreement. If you plan to do your protest yourself, here are the steps to protesting your taxes.

  • Informal Hearing or iFile Online Protest

You can either request an Informal Hearing or all property taxpayers have the option to logon to iFile for the quickest and most convenient way to file a protest. A protest form is included with the taxpayer’s notice of appraised value. Should you choose to file in person or by mail, HCAD has protest forms and the form explains the protest process. The protest forms are available at HCAD’s office or online.

  • If Unsuccessful You Will Have an ARB Hearing

During the ARB (Appraisal Review Board) hearing, both the property owner and the appraisal district have the opportunity to present their case, including evidence and arguments, to the board members. The ARB operates independently from the appraisal district, and its members are tasked with listening impartially to both sides. After hearing both sides, the ARB will make a decision. This can result in the confirmation of the appraisal district’s valuation, a reduction in the assessed value, or other adjustments favorable to the property owner. The ARB’s decision is usually final for the tax year in question, though in some cases, further appeal options may be available, such as taking the matter to court.

  • Binding Arbitration

If a property owner is dissatisfied with the decision of the Appraisal Review Board (ARB) regarding their property assessment, they may be eligible to request binding arbitration. Eligibility criteria can include the type of property, the amount of the valuation dispute, and whether all local administrative remedies have been exhausted.

For homestead properties, the early protest deadline is April 30th or 30 days after the date the appraisal district sends a notice of appraised value, whichever is later. If a homeowner misses the new early deadline, the regular protest deadline (May 15) applies. In the case of other real property (land and buildings), the protest deadline is May 15. A later protest deadline may apply if HCAD mails your notice of appraised value after May 1. The May 15 deadline also applies to business and industrial personal property accounts. In all cases where there is a later protest deadline, the date will be printed on the notice of appraised value.

Reminder if you purchased your home within the last 12 months, HCAD will almost always accept the settlement statement as evidence of market value. Holding a Homestead exemption means your property is assigned two figures: Market Value and Assessed Value. This dual valuation system is a key reason to file a protest annually. If the Market Value exceeds the Assessed Value, an increase in your future taxes is almost inevitable. This stems from the rule that the Assessed Value can only rise by a maximum of 10% each year, frequently positioning it below the Market Value. However, you have the right to challenge the Market Value to seek adjustments, even if the Assessed Value seems acceptable to you.

Sandcastle undertakes protests for our customers for the year their home was purchased, leveraging our in-depth knowledge of the property improvements’ value as of January 1—the basis for tax assessment. For homes still under construction, the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) estimates their value on this date. In contrast, our access to solid data ensures our success in every case. This process provides a valuable service to the customers, ensuring their share of taxes are as low as possible.

Navigating the complexities of property tax assessments can be an intimidating task, but it’s one that can potentially save you a significant amount of money. Armed with the right information and a thorough understanding of your property’s value compared to similar properties in your area, you can effectively challenge an unfair assessment. Remember, the key to a successful protest lies in your ability to present clear, convincing evidence that your property has been overvalued. By meticulously reviewing your property record, comparing your property with similar ones, and filing a protest, if necessary, you take an active role in ensuring that your property taxes reflect the true value of your home. This proactive approach not only helps in managing your financial obligations more efficiently but also empowers you as a homeowner to engage more fully with the civic processes that impact your community.

 

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This post was written by Rebecca Kister

I just moved into my new Sandcastle home and I think it’s a wonderful place to live. They have been very helpful, particularly Lynette and Steve. From the owner Mike Salomen down, it has been a truly positive experience. I would highly recommend anyone who wants to buy a new home that is built of high quality to consider this home builder.

Neal Massey

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