How to contest property taxes. How the value of your home is determined and how to contest property taxes if the assessment on file is inaccurate.

Q: I recently watched one of Ilyce’s video on YouTube on contesting real estate taxes. It really got me thinking, and I’m doing more research on my property taxes. 

Do you have or know where I can get some type of form that I can fill out to get more information about my property? I’d like to find something that may show side by side my house in comparison with other homes in the area. 

How Can I Get More Information About My Property and Other Homes in the Area?

A: Glad you enjoyed Ilyce’s video and that it got you thinking about your real estate taxes (here’s another you can watch on the same topic). You should know that in some municipalities, real estate taxes and the method the local government uses to determine what you will pay in real estate taxes is pretty cut and dry. But in other areas, the process is quite complicated.

Without getting into the intricacies of how property taxes are computed, you should know that two important factors go into determining your real estate taxes: the characteristics and amenities of your home and your home’s value. 

Let’s start with your home’s characteristics and amenities. If the tax collector’s office thinks your home is a 5,000 square foot, 6 bedroom, 6 bathroom home with a 3-car garage but in reality, your home has half the square footage and half the numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, your taxes are going to be wrong. When it comes to the property tax bill, the size of your home matters as well as many of its characteristics and amenities. 

Also, construction materials matter, so whether your home is of brick or frame construction may make a difference, as will the number of bathrooms, whether you have a finished or unfinished basement and attic, if you have an inground pool, tennis court or large garden. There are quite a number of characteristics that may go into the process of determining your home’s value. Making sure the information the taxing authority has is accurate should be your first job. 

How to Contest Property Taxes

1. Dig Deeper Into How Your Property’s Valuation Is Assessed

To dig deeper into how your property’s valuation is assessed, you can go online or visit your local tax assessor’s office (or whatever government office handles the valuation of your home) and look at the description they have on file of your home. Make sure all of the items they describe are accurate, including the size of the property, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, type of construction, number of fireplaces and anything else that is listed for your home or can be listed on the form for your home.

If the information is not correct, you should be able to fill out a form to correct the description of your home. This first step will at least make sure that the government has your home’s attributes correct on their books.

2. Make Sure the Government Valuation of Your Home Is Correct

The second step is making sure that the government has the value of your home correct as well. This is a bit more complicated. In some parts of the country, the value of your home may be based on what you paid for the home and nothing changes from there other than a jump for inflation or other objective criteria. But in some locations, the criteria is or may appear quite subjective. In these subjective situations, you’ll need to compare your home to other similar homes to prove to the governmental agency that your home’s value has been set too high for current market conditions. 

Some agencies’ method of computing these valuations is so complicated that only professionals really know how to get around the system to lower your valuation. For example, you can have two homes that are similar next to each other that sold around the same time but if one home has 2,200 square feet and the other has 2,300 square feet, these homes may fall into different classifications and may not be considered comparables for the tax valuation process. 

While that may seem unfair, you have to work with the system so you know what information you can use and not use to get your home’s valuation reduced. 

3. Finding the Information You Need

Having said all, you can also get help by looking at the website of your local governmental agency’s tax assessor’s office or another office that handles the valuation of properties. On some of these governmental websites you can find information on the process you’ll need to go through to contest your real estate taxes and the timeline you’ll need to follow. Those same websites may even permit you to compare your home with other homes in the neighborhood and submit your property tax contest online.

On the other hand, if your local website does not give you these benefits, you may have to go to the governmental office in person to talk to them and see what information you need, what information they can give you and gather together the forms you need to complete to contest your property tax valuation. 

5. Enlist the Help of Real Estate Professionals 

Finally, if you live in an area where doing it yourself is hard or puts you at a disadvantage in contesting your home’s value, you can always enlist the help of real estate tax attorneys or professionals that make a living at helping homeowners contest their real estate taxes. Typically, these professionals take a percentage of the savings. Beware of the fee structure and what you might be charged in the first year and subsequent years.

More on Topics Related to How to Contest Property Taxes

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What Happens to My Property Taxes When I Pay Off My Mortgage?

Will Adding Child to Title Increase Property Taxes?

When No One in the Family Wants to Pay Property Taxes, What Can You Do?

Home Titles and Property Taxes: What You Need to Know

How To Save Money on Your Property Taxes When Moving Within the Same State