Ask Stacy: How Can I Fight My Property Taxes?

Property Taxes
Photo by TheaDesign / Shutterstock.com

Depending on where you live, property taxes can range from a slight inconvenience to a crushing expense.

Here in South Florida, for example, the annual tax bill for my 2,200-square-foot home is close to $9,000 annually. Outside Atlanta where my parents lived, they were paying less than $1,000 per year.

But wherever you live, if you feel your taxes are unfair, you have options.

And that brings us to today’s reader question:

Do you have an article on how to fight property tax hikes? I feel like I’m being held hostage. I’m fighting my property assessment but feel that I am hitting a brick wall despite all the evidence I’ve been providing to the various government entities. — Keya

I’ve successfully appealed my property taxes over the years, once in Arizona and another time when I lived in Ohio.

According to the National Taxpayers Union, 30 percent to 60 percent of taxable property in the U.S. is overvalued for property tax purposes, yet less than 5 percent of homeowners challenge them. In my experience, appealing tax bills isn’t all that difficult. And because it can result in saving hundreds — even thousands — every year, if you think you have a case, you should try it.

Step One: Learn the rules of the game

The way property taxes are computed, and how they are appealed, differs from state to state. But property taxes all start from the same place — the value of your property.

So step one is to check the value your county is placing on your property. Historically, doing this meant waiting to receive an annual appraisal in the mail. These days you can often find this information online in seconds.

However you find it, if it seems too high, take the next step: Look online or contact your local property assessor’s or appraiser’s office and find out exactly how they arrive at values. Then determine how the appeals process works.

When property values were plunging here in South Florida during the Great Recession, it seemed that my appraised value was way too high. Then I learned the assessor’s office was using prior year values to determine current year assessed values. For example, my 2012 tax bill, due in November 2012, was based on the value of my home between Jan. 2, 2011, and Jan. 1, 2012. So where I live, they’re using values beginning nearly two years before bills are sent out.

The point is, before you start challenging values, be sure you understand where they came from.

It’s also important to understand how properties are appraised. In my county, the appraiser’s office uses property sales to determine values, placing more weight on more recent sales. To find out how properties are appraised where you live, either call the applicable county office, or do an online search for “How property values are determined in (your county, state).”

After understanding how appraisals are conducted, if you think you have a case, do another search: “How to appeal property taxes in (your county, state).” You’ll probably find simple instructions. As an example, here’s what I found with those search terms for my county:

If you believe the market value as shown in the box “Your Property Value This Year” is higher than the market value of your property as of this past January 1, we encourage you to contact us. One of our Deputy Property Appraisers will happily meet with you and discuss your market value and how it was calculated. After this conference, if you still feel your market value is too high, you can file a simple petition with the VAB [Value Adjustment Board]. The VAB appeal application forms are available on our website and are also available online on the VAB’s website (and you can also check the status of your filed petition). The VAB has a statutory $15 filing fee, which must accompany the application. The VAB does not accept petitions on valuation cases after the mid-September filing deadline.

Note the above description comes off as fairly friendly. While it may seem you’ll be entering a hostile environment by challenging your local taxing authority, in both instances when I’ve challenged my property taxes, the people at the respective county offices were both friendly and forthcoming. While I obviously can’t guarantee you’ll have the same experience, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Step Two: Winning the game

You won’t win a property tax appeal based on a belief your taxes are unreasonable or because you have a gut feeling your appraised value is too high. If you can’t make your case with facts and figures, you’ll lose.

When it comes to challenging a value, the first thing to do is make sure there are no mistakes. Does the county have your correct lot measurements? How about the square footage and age of your house? Verify everything.

Next, see if there are arguable differences between the nearby comps used by the county and your property. Ask the county for the comparables they used. See how those homes differ from yours.

The goal is to show how the comparables used by the county weren’t really all that comparable. Was the home that sold down the street a few months ago really like yours? Or was it newer, nicer or otherwise an unfair comparison? Arm yourself with recent sales and comparables that support your home’s lower value, along with evidence the homes used by the county weren’t comparable after all.

You can find current comparables yourself online (do a search for “recent sales (your ZIP code),” or ask a real estate agent for help.

Your ultimate weapon in challenging property taxes, however, is an appraisal. If the county says your home is worth $200,000, but a licensed, independent appraiser says it’s worth only $150,000, it’s going to be a hard argument for the county to win. An appraisal will set you back a couple hundred bucks, but depending on your county’s rules, it may be necessary. A simple call to the appraisal office should tell you.

When I lived in Cincinnati, my home sat on one lot, but my side yard was a different, comparably sized vacant lot. The county placed a high value on my vacant lot, evidently considering it buildable. At my hearing, I used plat maps and pictures to show that my home completely blocked my side yard from the street. Since there was no possible ingress or egress, it couldn’t be built on — making it worth way less than a buildable lot.

My argument worked, and the appraised value of my side yard, along with my taxes, went down. In that case, I didn’t need an appraisal. I was able to simply state my case. Here in Florida, however, I was told I’d need an appraisal to win a similar case. That’s why it’s important to talk to the folks at the responsible agency and find out how decisions are made.

The bottom line

Keya says, “I’m fighting my property assessment but feel that I am hitting a brick wall despite all the evidence I’ve been providing to the various government entities.” While I don’t know the rules of engagement where Keya lives, to win this battle, she may have to spring for an appraisal. I’ve won appeals twice without one, but that’s the most reliable weapon.

Another option is to hire help in the form of a local real estate attorney or one of many services that will fight for you. But my advice, especially if the amounts aren’t major, is to go it alone. Best case, you’ll put some money in your pocket. Worst case, you’ll get an interesting civics lesson.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here.

The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.

About me

I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’m a CPA, and have also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate.

Got any words of wisdom you can offer for this week’s question? Share your knowledge and experiences on our Facebook page.

Got more money questions? Browse lots more Ask Stacy answers here.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
15 Great Amazon Finds You Can Buy for Less Than $5
15 Great Amazon Finds You Can Buy for Less Than $5

These products offer big value at a small price.

6 Ways to Guarantee Yourself a Steady Retirement Income
6 Ways to Guarantee Yourself a Steady Retirement Income

Saving is just one part of the retirement equation. Do this now to guarantee income in your golden years.

11 ‘Disposable’ Items You Should Be Reusing
7 Things You Should Do Before Claiming Social Security
7 Things You Should Do Before Claiming Social Security

To get the most out of your Social Security retirement benefits, you have to think ahead.

17 Amazon Finds Under $20 That Will Organize Your Life
17 Amazon Finds Under $20 That Will Organize Your Life

We’ve rounded up must-have products to help you get your ducks in a row.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping on Amazon
9 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping on Amazon

Are you losing money due to any of these missteps?

Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?
Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?

The rules are complicated when it comes to eligibility for survivors benefits.

Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?
Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?

Understanding survivors benefits rules is the key to getting the most from your benefit.

These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation
These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation

Two types of vehicles are especially likely to see steep plunges in value.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s
10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s

From snacks to sweets to side dishes, stock your cart with these time-tested favorites on your next TJ’s run.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

13 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021
5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021

These adjustments will affect both workers and retirees in the new year.

8 Things You Should Buy at Restaurant Supply Stores
8 Things You Should Buy at Restaurant Supply Stores

You don’t have to be a chef or a restaurant owner to shop here.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

Stop Buying These 19 Things Online
Stop Buying These 19 Things Online

The internet has changed how we shop. But for some things, you’re still better off buying the old-fashioned way.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

There are easy high-paying majors available in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required. We’re here to help you find easy degrees that pay well.

Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early
Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early

Like the idea of financial independence? Part of the FIRE equation is cutting costs.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing emergency food supply. Is your pantry well-prepared for emergencies? Knowing what to stock up on for emergencies can be a difficult task and we’re here to help.

4 Tax Credits That Will Be More Generous in 2021
4 Tax Credits That Will Be More Generous in 2021

If you are eligible for these tax breaks, they will slash your federal income tax bill — dollar for dollar.

5 Secrets of Seniors Who Keep Their Minds ‘Young’
5 Secrets of Seniors Who Keep Their Minds ‘Young’

Here is why some seniors’ brains work as well as those of people who are decades younger.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

7 Reasons to Carry Mortgage Debt Into Retirement
7 Reasons to Carry Mortgage Debt Into Retirement

It often makes financial sense to not pay off your mortgage before retiring.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.