Phillips: As housing values fall, challenge your tax assessment

Phillips: As housing values fall, challenge your tax assessment

January 7th, 2012 by Ellen Phillips in Business Diary

Q: I think my personal property tax is way too high for what I could sell my home in this disadvantaged market. Any ideas to get the cost down? - Howard Homeowner

A: Dear Mr. Homeowner: Sorry about your early Christmas "gift." According to statistics, up to 60 percent of all property in the U.S. could be overtaxed; you could be part of this percentage. With that said, you do have options to try to reduce your tax bill.

• Visit the local tax assessor, bill in hand. Be sure to check in advance as to what forms should be filled out and the deadline for filing (usually 60 days from the time the assessment is mailed out). While you're at the assessor's office, be sure to obtain a copy of your property card, which details info about your house's square footage, number of bedrooms, and so forth.

• Carefully check to see if this information is correct as these are the details Mr. Taxman uses to determine the home's value. For example, if it lists you as having a

half-bath but you don't, this is cause to dispute the assessment.

Any detail that even smells different from the reality, fight, fight, fight! Catching such errors can lead to a reduced tax amount.

• Check all the homes in your neighborhood. Look online at www.valueappeal.com or www.domania.com. Look at homes comparable to yours in square footage, number of bedrooms, baths, etc.

Note their appraisals and if your home is valued to at least 5 percent higher, you have a case, according to Real Simple magazine.

• Finally, once you've done all the preliminaries, file an appeal.

This usually entails submitting a written statement to a county board that explains why you think your assessment is wrong. But as I always tell folks, it's critical to document everything you've done to reach this conclusion.

Documentation includes property cards, other home valuations and even photos of these homes to compare with your own.

Along this same line, be sure to state problems with your abode. Leaky roof? Unfinished basement? Termite problems? These issues could not only save you money in the long run if they're enough to bring your tax bill down, but also afford you enough money to fix the problems.

• Talk to friends and neighbors if you need an appraisal. (This can be key in making your case for a new assessment.)

The appraiser should be someone local and recently used by your referral. A typical appraisal runs about $350 and takes approximately an hour.