Q: I am wondering if you can help me. We own 20 acres of land in what used to be rural Georgia.
We were living in a run-down trailer on the property before we built a pre-fab home in 2003. Our property taxes have been skyrocketing as property has developed all around us.
I get up at 2:30 a.m. each day and commute about 70 miles each way to work, work 9 hours and then fight traffic to get home by 6:30 p.m. to get my son from day care.
My husband does roofing and has to go far where there is work and works on weekends to try to get extra money. I don’t see how we can get another job to help pay the taxes.
We did appeal our taxes and got a small tax break. But I think we’re paying too much for what we have. Do you know how we can find out how we are being assessed? What about property tax exclusions?
This is our dream home on some land and we are working hard to raise the child that we were given late in life after years of trying. We don’t want to move but I’m afraid we can’t afford to stay.
A: In some states, you can reduce your real estate tax bill by applying for certain types of tax reductions, called exemptions. In some cases, the reduction will be for owning property and using it as your primary residence. In other cases, you might get a break for being a senior citizen.
You should talk to your local tax assessor’s office to make sure that you are getting the full benefit of any exemptions available to you.
You may want to also talk to an attorney who specializes in getting property tax bills reduced. In many cases, they only get paid on the basis of a percentage of the reduction they obtain on your real estate taxes.
For example, if they save you $1,000 in taxes, you might pay them $350 the first year and nothing thereafter. The fact that you already got a small reduction may indicate that you can do better if you find the right attorney.
You can find an attorney to contest your property taxes by going to your local bar association or calling the Atlanta Bar Association for a referral.
But there’s a bigger issue you must address: you and your husband are living a tough life. To make your life work on this property, which you call your dream home, you’re getting up at 2:30 in the morning and barely making it back from 6:30pm.
You’re home for less than 8 hours each day. Do you get enough sleep? I’m worried that you’ll wind up crashing your car at 3:00 a.m. because you’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. Your husband is also commuting a lot of hours each week in order to help pay the bills.
I wonder if you and your spouse wouldn’t be better off selling your land (which may have gone up dramatically in value, hence the higher tax bill), and buying a home that’s a lot closer to where you work.
Owning land is great, but having time to enjoy your home and your family is infinitely better. You’ll never have this time again with your child. That has to be more important than working yourself to death in order to pay your property taxes.
Start by contacting a local real estate property tax attorney and seeing what kind of services he or she offers. See if the attorney thinks you’re overpaying on your taxes. Given the rise in value of land around you, you might be paying the right amount — and it’s only going to go up as the land continues to be developed.
Then find a quiet night and sit down with your husband and think about your lifestyle and what options you have for making a change that will greatly enhance it.
Oct. 18, 2006.