We have recently received many questions relating to real estate taxes and how to lower them or contest them. It seems as though real estate property taxes rise each year, regardless of whether the value of the underlying property went up.
The truth is everyone feels as though their property taxes are too high, even if they are living in a state with low property taxes. The good news is you can usually fight your property tax assessment, but you typically have only a limited window of time in which to appeal your assessment; in some communities it takes some time for your appeal to be heard, and you’ll have to keep paying the full amount you’re assessed while the appeal is ongoing, then get a refund on the other side if you win.
There are three easy steps you should take to make sure you’re paying the least amount (legally) for your property taxes.
Step 1: Make sure you’re taking all of the exemptions to which you’re entitled.
Many areas provide a benefit for owning a home and having it as your primary residence. In some locations it may be called a homeownership exemption or homestead exemption. And in some areas seniors get additional tax breaks. You need to know what tax breaks are offered in your area and make sure that you take them.
If you’ve missed taking exemptions to which you’re entitled and suddenly figure out you could be saving big bucks, you may be able to go back retroactively for a short period of time (a few years) to try to claim the exemption. In some counties, you won’t be able to claim an exemption for past years and will be able to claim it only for the current year.
Step 2: Understand when your assessment or property value changes and when you need to make your appeal.
These dates and time periods fluctuate all over the country. In Cook County, Ill., one of the most populous counties in the country, tax assessment notices are sent on a rolling basis. Every third year (called a triennial reassessment), your city or neighborhood will be reassessed. You’ll then have roughly six to seven weeks between the time the notices are mailed and when your assessment is due to file your appeal. In Georgia, there is a uniform appeal form you must file within 45 days of receiving your assessment. In Travis County, Tex., notices of appraised value are typically mailed in April, and you have 30 days to file your appeal.
Most county assessors’ websites have this information online. If not, you can call your county assessor’s office to get the specific dates for your home’s reassessment and appeal deadlines. And you need to remember that the terminology changes from state to state. We talk about the assessment of a property, but in some states they may use different terms. If you check the website for your local taxing body, you might obtain more information about your taxes online. Or you might have to call the taxing body or go into their office to get more information.
Step 3: Make sure the homes you compare with your property are in the same tax classification.
When the pros appeal a property tax assessment, they know they have to find comparable properties in the same tax classification. If you compare your home with properties in other tax classifications, your appeal likely won’t succeed.
Your county assessor’s office should be able to provide your home’s tax classification, as well as others. You should find homes that are about the same age and size and with the same amenities that are paying less in taxes than you are when creating your appeal package.
Ilyce Glink is the creator of an 18-part webinar/e-book series called “The Intentional Investor: How to Be Wildly Successful in Real Estate” and the author of many books on real estate. She also hosts the “Real Estate Minute” on her YouTube channel. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them at ThinkGlink.com.