An increase in property value isn’t always a good thing.

Increased property values may mean increased property taxes, leaving you with a much higher tax bill than you anticipated. Some homeowners are shocked when they open that letter and find out their home has suddenly jumped 40 percent in value—at least according to their local tax assessor.

Paying property taxes, and fighting them, are just one of the many aspects of owning a home. The good news is that you may be able to lower your bill if you put together a solid case that your property is being overvalued.

1. Find out when you can contest your property taxes.

Every county has a specific protocol for handling property taxes. The first thing you should do is find out the process for your county. Typically, when a property tax assessor or appraiser changes a property’s valuation, they send a notice to the homeowners. You have a certain amount of time, usually 30 to 120 days, to contest the proposed valuation. If you have missed the deadline, you may have to pay the tax bill and wait until the next year to appeal the valuation.

Contact your county tax assessor’s office to find out when tax notifications go out and how long you have to appeal a valuation. Make sure you follow all the instructions precisely so that your case won’t be dismissed due to a technicality.

2. Check for errors in the property record card.

When you contact your local assessor, you will also want to find out how they valued your property. Request a copy of the materials the assessor used, such as a property worksheet or property record card.

The increase in property value may be due to a simple error, such as an incorrect number of bedrooms or exaggerated square footage. Check the assessment materials thoroughly to make sure all the information about your property is accurate. If not, it will be easy to appeal the valuation based on human error.

3.Prepare your case.

If all the information about your home is correct, then you should begin to prepare a report documenting how your home has been overvalued. Thorough research may go a long way to advancing your appeals case, so don’t rush the report—unless the deadline is impending. Your goal is to prove that other homes in your same tax classification are being taxed at a lower rate.

Using the materials provided by the tax assessor’s office, go through every category and show how your property is actually worth the same or less than other homes being taxed at a lower rate. Provide photos and documentation of your claims.  Consult real estate professionals, online databases and local home listings to support your appeal.

When you mail in your appeal, be sure that it’s postmarked so that you have proof of when you sent it.

4. Contest—and contest again.

The property tax assessor or appraiser will then provide either a reduction of your home value or dismiss your claims. If you’re not satisfied with the response, you can usually contest the decision. In some counties, you can contest the valuation three times until it lands in a tax court. Make sure you consult the rules to appeal; you may have to meet certain deadlines to make your case eligible.

If that process seems too overwhelming, you may want to work with a real estate attorney who specializes in handling property tax appeals cases. A real estate attorney will be able to guide you through the appeal and with the right one, you may not have to pay them unless you get a in your property taxes.

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