How to Challenge High Property Taxes

How to Challenge High Property TaxesGet Your Property Taxes Reduced

Taxes are a part of life. While we may disagree with this, it doesn’t change the fact that the federal and state government are coming for their money every year. One area where homeowners are hit particularly hard is through property taxes. You will pay a particular tax rate on your property based on where you live and the characteristics of your property.

But did you know that you might be able to get that amount lowered? Lowering property taxes, of course, is on the minds of many homeowners who feel they are paying too much. So do you want to know how to challenge high property taxes? I am sure you are nodding your head with a big yes right now!

If you are like most people, you would like to know how to lower your property taxes! Who wouldn’t want to understand how to reduce their property taxes especially if they are getting unfairly taxed?

Strap yourself in and find out how to appeal your property taxes when you know your property assessment is too high.

Lowering Your Property Taxes

You may be able to reduce the amount of property taxes you pay, but first, you will need to do some investigating. You need to know how your state and county determines what you pay in property taxes, and you need to know what information the town has in your home. While you may not be able to alter the actual tax rate, you can correct the information the county has in your home to get a lower assessed value. The tax rate for your city is typically determined and set each year. Once determined it does not change.

The first thing to do is make a visit to your local assessor. Here you can find out how the city or town determines property taxes, information that every homeowner should know. You can also ask the assessor what it takes to appeal the assessment on your home. Lastly, you can ask for the field card that the county has on your property. This property card will list all the relevant facts about your property, circumstances you may be able to contest.

The property card will list things like the square footage of your home, the size of your lot, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the house and even the size of your garage. It is here where you may find an easy way to contest how your town determined your property value.

If the card says you have a four bedroom home when you only have a three bedroom home, you can appeal this fact with the town. If your square footage or lot size are off these are additional valid reasons why you may be getting taxed improperly. These are a couple of good examples of how you may end up paying taxes that are too high for your property. Understanding how to challenge high property tax assessments will be the basis for getting your tax bill lowered.

Assessed Values Can Be Way Off

How to Appeal Home TaxesReducing your property taxes starts with understanding your assessed value. There are a lot of different ways to determine the value of a home. Lenders appraise at one value, Realtors evaluate at another and then there is the actual market value.

Of course, there is also the assessment made by the local assessor. The fact is, all of these numbers can vary. These valuation methods can get very confusing for the average person. Here is a good explanation of how assessed value differs from market value for those that do not know the difference between these two real estate terms.

When you move beyond challenging the particular facts on your property card, you can begin looking at your neighborhood and other properties that are similar to yours to see what they are assessed at by the town. This is another place where you may find some discrepancies that work in your favor. Remember that the assessor’s office is only going to be interested in hard evidence. Your neighbor may tell you how much lower his property is assessed at, but this is not enough to appeal with the local assessor.

This is another place where you may find some discrepancies that work in your favor. Remember that the assessor’s office is only going to be interested in hard evidence. Your neighbor may tell you how much lower his property is assessed at, but this is not enough to appeal with the local assessor.

Consider talking to a local real estate agent that you trust to see if you can gather evidence on why your home’s assessment is off. The Realtor can look for comparable sales – information that shows what other similar homes were sold for in the area – and can provide you this information to take to the assessor’s office. If the market has changed considerably or a mistake has been made, your home could be assessed at a higher value than it should be.

Theoretically, the market value and assessed value should be similar to one another, but they rarely ever are. This is because when assessed values are calculated the market data is already old. So if the market is increasing or decreasing in value the data used will not reflect the current market conditions. What is important is that other like properties that are similar to yours are being evaluated the same. For example, if another home is statistically similar to yours and is located in a relatively similar neighborhood they should be taxed in the same ballpark.

One caution – do not use Zillow to estimate your homes value! While Zillow has an excellent site for looking at homes, many consumers are not aware that home values from Zillow are not accurate. The “Zestimate of value” as they like to call it can be off by tens of thousands of dollars or more. I have personally seen home values on Zillow off by over one hundred thousand dollars! Obviously, if you are looking for accurate information to make a case about your homes value, you would not want to use a tool that fails miserably.

What you should understand about assessments is that they are just a yard stick for a city or town to collect an appropriate amount of taxes to fiscally run the municipality on a yearly basis. Assessors adjust assessments typically on an annual basis to collect an appropriate amount of taxes from the residents.

Most of the time assessed values are more accurate on homes that have sold recently. Quite often you will see the assessment of homes that have been sold years ago having a bigger variation to market value.

If your neighbors home are nearly identical to yours and is assessed much lower for no apparent reason, it could be because in a prior year they filed a challenge to the assessment with the town and were granted a reduction. Their property now has a reduced assessment. What you can count on is the fact that the city is not going to decrease every other value of similar homes in the area. This is an excellent example of the squeaky wheel getting the grease. Understanding this information will go a long way in knowing how to appeal a high property tax.

Appeal Your Homes Assessment

Appeal Your Homes AssessmentIf you have reliable information demonstrating that your home is incorrectly assessed, gather that information and request a meeting with your local assessor’s office. It does not need to be a formal meeting, to begin with – as long as a representative will agree to meet with you. If the office doesn’t meet with you, you may have to take it a step further and file a formal appeal.

Usually, appeals begin with the presentation of evidence for your case. You can deliver this to the assessor’s office in writing, and the office will tell you how long it will take to review your case. Most departments can look over your appeal within a reasonable time frame – often within two weeks to a month after you deliver it. Of course, this will vary depending on where you are submitting your appeal.

Most departments can look over your appeal within a reasonable time frame – often within two weeks to a month after you deliver it. Of course, this will vary depending on where you are submitting your appeal.

If things go your way, you could manage to get your assessed property value lowered and end up paying less in taxes each year. More than worth the effort for most people. But if you are denied, the road may become a little more challenging. If you are denied, you will typically take your case to the state level to see if you get a different outcome. There are states including Massachusetts that allow you to challenge your taxes in front of an appellate tax board if the local assessor does not change his or her opinion.

If you are denied, you will typically take your case to the state level to see if you get a different outcome. There are states including Massachusetts that allow you to challenge your taxes in front of an appellate tax board if the local assessor does not change his or her opinion.

If you happen to live in Massachusetts, here is how you can appeal your property taxes. If you reside in another state just Google “appellate tax board and your state’s name”. This will give you the exact location of where you need to go for your tax appeal.

Keep in mind there are also deadlines on when you can challenge your homes assessed value. As an example in Massachusetts owners still, can challenge their real estate tax assessments within thirty (30) days of the mailing date of the actual tax bill. The real tax bill is usually the third-quarter tax bill in jurisdictions that assess taxes on a quarterly basis.

January 1st is when most third-quarter tax bills are mailed in Massachusetts. Therefore, under M.G.L. Chapter 59, the majority of abatement applications must be filed with local assessors offices on or before February 1, 2015. However, in jurisdictions in which taxes are assessed on a semi-annual basis, this date can vary. To preserve your abatement and appeal rights, your taxes must be paid in their entirety for the current and all prior periods.

It would be smart to check in your particular state to find out any deadlines you may have on filing an appeal to challenge your property assessment!

If you are still denied the only option is to take the case to court. At this point, it is up to you to determine if the cost of hiring a lawyer and going through a court value is worth the savings you will get if your case is successful.

Get Clear on Your Property Taxes

You may or may not want to go to great lengths to pay fewer property taxes. But regardless of how much effort you want to put in, every homeowner should at least get educated on how his or her property taxes are calculated. You can do this in an afternoon, and check your property card in the process. Who knows? You may save yourself thousands of dollars with just a little work on your part.

On the slip side if you are buying a home where the assessed value is significantly higher than the market value this should be adjusted during the next tax year. If for some reason this does not happen you are now well armed on how to challenge the assessed value!

Hopefully, this has given you clear direction on how to get your property taxes lowered!

Additional Helpful References on How to Appeal Property Taxes

Use these additional references to help determine whether your home’s assessment is correct and if it is worth it for you to appeal your property taxes.

About the Author: The above Real Estate information on how to challenge high property taxes was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 29+ Years.

Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!

I service Real Estate sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton and Uxbridge MA.

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  1. says

    I recently spoke with a client about this very thing. The good thing is you can keep appealing it over and over again. She eventually got it down but had to put up some money and lots of time to get the proof. It was just land so that made it harder but well worth it not to spend thousands in undue property tax.

  2. says

    Yes, I could write a primer too for the taxing jurisdiction of my area as I have been doing it for 20 years.

    As with all real estate being local (like local weather), the procedures for filing real estate tax protests varies widely. It’s best to contact the local assessor and learn what the procedure(s) might be to file a protest. In many cases it is an art-form (valuable local knowledge) to have the best success.

    The bottom line is: what is the most effective form of evidence of a property’s value that an assessor will accept as validation & be most influenced by? (generally it will be a formal appraisal)

    Talk with professionals (attorneys, real estate agents, appraisers, mortgage loan originators, real estate investors, accountants,etc) and find out who has been successful in getting reductions in their assessments. Learn from others, so you don’t “reinvent the wheel!”

    In many jurisdictions, they may make the process complicated as a way of limiting efforts to protest.

    Keep this in mind: Because of the significant change in market values over the past 6-8 years in most areas, assessed values posted by local assessors have lagged. And therefore, you could likely be over-assessed!

  3. says

    I’ve read many of your blogs over the years and you usually have good information. But there are some things in this one I think need cleared up.

    First, Realtors should never appraise anything unless they have an appraisal license. While you can offer your opinion of what a property would sell for, I would refrain from calling it an Appraisal as this could mislead the public. I have both an appraisal license and a broker license and the qualifications and education required for both are extremely different.

    Second, I disagree that “Theoretically the market value and assessed value should be similar to one another.” In a stable market maybe, but they will never be similar in an increasing or decreasing market. In most cities and towns your 2015 assessed value and 2015 tax bill is being determined now. However, this assessed value is based on 2013 sales data. At the end of 2014 the assessor’s office will gather the year end sales data to determine 2016. Assessed values are always chasing current market value. In an increasing market your assessed value is typically less than current market value and in a declining market you assessed value is often higher than current market value. If you try to use a sale from this month to challenge your 2015 tax bill, you will not win. You need to know the time frame your assessor used to determine the 2015 value and pull sales from that time frame.

    Lastly, I have a question for you. As someone who has done over 100 appraisals per year for lenders since 2003, I know the banks require us to use FIRREA definition of market value: The most probable price which a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, the buyer and seller each acting prudently and knowledgeably, and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulus. Implicit in this definition is the consummation of a sale as of a specified date and the passing of title from seller to buyer under conditions whereby:
    (1) Buyer and seller are typically motivated;
    (2) Both parties are well informed or well advised, and acting in what they consider their own best interests;
    (3) A reasonable time is allowed for exposure in the open market;
    (4) Payment is made in terms of cash in U.S. dollars or in terms of financial arrangements comparable thereto; and
    (5) The price represents the normal consideration for the property sold unaffected by special or creative financing or sales concessions granted by anyone associated with the sale.

    You mentioned “Lenders appraise at one value, Realtors appraise at another and then there is the actual market value.” My question is what is the definition of market value Realtors use and how does it differ from FIRREA’s definition and whatever you define “actual market value” as.

    • says

      John – I am not sure where I say that Realtors do appraisals on properties? Obviously I know that is not the case.

      When I mention that theoretically assessed value and market value should be the same I think you are misinterpreting my point. Most laymen would think that what a town values their property at should be as close to market value as possible. I realize this is not going to happen because of the data being old.

      We are also on the same page as far as how market value is calculated. My point on that was you could go to a home and provide an appraisal and it could be one figure, I could go and I might come up with something different.

      Your appraisal may not match the purchase price correct? While they do most of the time that is not a certainty.

    • says

      Actually there is almost no correlation in my area Nutshell Realty. I have seen homes with an assessed value a hundred thousand over and hundred thousand under the actual market value.

  4. says

    Great article Bill. If the steps you list still do not help, I recommend that the owner get an appraisal. I have helped people in the past by providing an appraisal to protest the assessed value of their home.

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