Ed Tomlinson, real estate agent based in greater Denver and author of Overtaxed! Your Guide to Honest Property Tax Reductions by Understanding and Effectively Protesting Your Assessment.
Property tax assessments are generated by computers without a human ever looking at the property—and they often are wrong. What to do if you think you’re paying too much…
Review the information on file for your property. This often can be found on the county or town government’s website. Or visit the county/town office, and ask to see your property’s “appraisal card” or “assessor’s inventory card.” Review this for details that make your property appear more valuable than it is. Value is first determined by the style of home, then square footage, location, year built, etc. Contact the Assessor’s office if you find any errors.
Compare your property’s assessed value with sale prices of comparable properties. Use Zillow.com to look up how much properties like yours have sold for recently, or ask a real estate agent to help you. Use properties that are in your neighborhood…the same style of home…no more than 200 square feet bigger or smaller than your home…and built no more than five years before or after your home. The sales should have occurred as close as possible to your property assessment’s “date of valuation.”
Read your state’s property tax manual. These manuals often are online, or contact your state’s department of revenue to ask where to find it. They explain the state’s assessment and appeals process and/or programs that provide tax breaks.
Appeal if you think the assessment is too high. If you received an assessment notice, it likely includes appeal instructions, or call the Assessor’s office to ask how to appeal. Helpful: If something makes it less valuable than it looks on paper, offer to let the Assessor take a look in person.
If your initial appeal is denied, appeal again. Initial appeals often are denied because the Assessor hasn’t had time to consider the property. Appealing typically triggers an in-person hearing.
Ask the Assessor’s office, “Which comps will you be using at the hearing?” If this list is long, ask which three to five they expect to focus on. Research these properties to determine why they’re more valuable than your home. Does your property share a boundary with a rail line, while the comp abuts a golf course? Has a comp been renovated recently? Is your home in a flood zone or in need of repairs? A real estate agent can help you obtain MLS listings for the comp properties.
Weigh the Assessor’s offers. Assessors often offer a lower assessment prior to a hearing. You can accept the offer (called a stipulation), and the protest is over…or refuse the offer and try to get a further reduction at a hearing.
Attend another homeowner’s hearing. Sit in on at least one so you know what to expect at your own hearing.
At your hearing, explain why your comps are better fits than the Assessor’s. Present properties that are like yours but that have lower sold prices…and explain why the comparable properties the Assessor cites are more valuable. Lead with the amount you believe the property is worth. Face the hearing officer when you speak, not the Assessor.
If you lose your in-person appeal, consider appealing again. Further appeals often occur at the state level and require the Assessor’s office to hire an attorney. Assessors sometimes offer to compromise to avoid that expense.