First of two parts
I am going to show you how to possibly lower your property taxes. You don’t need to leave your house. All you need is a personal computer with an Internet connection, along with your account information about your residential property from your appraisal district.
This year, property values are jumping in North Texas, and even if yours dropped or stayed the same, according to the latest appraisal district report, you can still protest and possibly lower your taxes.
Texas law now requires appraisal districts to offer online property tax protests. I’ve used the system for the past three years, and I love it. It’s like playing The Price Is Right. And I’m good at it, going three for three with reductions.
Once you log into your appraisal district, you’re asked to say what you think the taxable value of your house is. And you get a chance to prove it with documents and photographs. In some counties, such as Tarrant and Collin, the answer could come by email within minutes. You win or you lose.
You can still file a protest the old-fashioned paperwork way, and, of course, you are still entitled to seek an in-person hearing to state your case. But for those who don’t want to get bogged down in the details of a long, elaborate appeal, it’s possible to knock this off in a few minutes. You file a protest, and if you lose, you can cancel a hearing if you so desire, and the matter is done.
The Watchdog suggests that every Texas property owner eligible for an online tax protest ought to do it. It’s easy. It’s free. And if you do it right, you can knock hundreds or even thousands off your final tax bill. (Last year, I lowered my annual tax bill by $2,000. This year it went back up again, and I’m about to file online.)
It’s surprising to me that even though this simple option has been around for a few years, the number of eligible taxpayers who have filed an online protest is surprisingly small. I hope this report changes that.
Last year, Collin County taxpayers led the way with 2 percent of those eligible filing an online protest. In Tarrant County, 1 percent used an online protest. In Dallas, Denton and Rockwall, fewer than 1 percent tried it.
Let’s fix this right away. You have until June 2 this year to file your protest, but I suggest you do it sooner. The reason is that if you have questions, the phone lines at the appraisal districts are busy. And they’re the only ones who can help you. (I can’t.)
Not everyone is eligible for an online protest, but most are. You must be a homeowner with a homestead exemption. To find out if you’re eligible, visit your appraisal district’s
website and see if you can log in. You should receive a unique PIN number for your account on your mailed appraisal notice.
Remember that not everyone gets an annual appraisal notice. Districts do their mailings differently. If you didn’t get a notice in the past few weeks, go online and check your property.
Here’s The Watchdog’s suggested strategy.
Remember that appraisals are often arbitrary guesses not based on site visits or specific information about a property. That’s where you come in. The appraiser who gave your property a value hasn’t been inside your house and doesn’t know what kind of problems you may have.
You can challenge an appraisal the common way by using comparable properties in your area (often shown on a district’s website), but that’s a little tricky. Try this: Is there another house in your neighborhood that’s exactly like yours and whose property value is lower? Did these neighbors redo their kitchen? If you didn’t, yours should be lower than theirs. Point that out.
Is your house in need of a foundation repair? Do you have a written bid you can submit showing a contractor’s estimate to do the repairs? Can you show photos of the cracks?
Did you buy your house at a lower price than the taxable value? Submit a copy of the contract.
Is the roof bad? Does the plumbing leak? Is the air conditioning system in need of a serious repair? You have to give the appraisal district a reason to lower your value.
In an online protest, the appraisal district takes the information and decides whether to grant your wish or make a counteroffer. In most districts, this is done through convenient emails back and forth.
Jim Robinson, the retired chief appraiser for Harris County, once told me that an appraiser’s job is not to get more money for governments. An appraiser’s job is to give an honest estimate.
It’s your job to help them do their job. An online protest is the easiest way.
Coming Sunday: Part Two. My guide to filing an online tax protest.
Follow Dave Lieber on Twitter at @Dave Lieber.
In the Know: Watchdog advice for tax protest
Don’t be intimidated. An online protest is easy, but a follow-up hearing isn’t stressful. It’s not formal. You state your case and hope for the best.
Don’t feel the need to get technical. An appeal doesn’t have to be about square footage and neighboring sales. Sometimes it’s easier to win with information about your property that an appraiser can’t see in your house. But prove it with documents and photos.
Expect to win. Be positive. Don’t ask for too much of a change unless you can prove it with documentation. Otherwise, try to lower your value by only few thousand dollars, which will still cut your taxes.