Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tips for Lowering Your Property Taxes

Home values are down 30 percent from their peak and could drop another 7 to 9 percent this year. Despite these statistics property taxes continue to increase. Take action to get your home's property lowered in five easy steps:

Know the property tax process
When it comes to property assessments, every city is different. Make a stop at your local assessor's office. Find out how they go about assessing properties, what forms you need to file and when the deadlines are for filing that appeal. You typically have 60 days or less from the time your annual assessment was mailed to lodge your appeal.

Pick up a property card
While at the assessor's office, get a copy of your property card. This contains all the info the assessor used in determining your home's assessed value: home's square footage, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and features such as a garage or finished basement.

Know the neighborhood
We're talking comps here. You need to know what comparable homes have recently sold for, and compare your home in terms of size, location, amenities and more. This is where Zillow comes in handy. ( Find at least three to five properties that are comparable to yours, and if you discover that yours is valued at least 5 to 10 percent higher, you likely have a case.

Make your case
If you have evidence that your home is over assessed, and the National Taxpayers Union estimates that as many as 60 percent of properties are, ask that it be re-assessed. Are there mistakes on your property card? For example, are there math errors? Is your home classified as "commercial"; even though it's "residential"? Mistakes as these are common (the inaccuracy rates on these cards are between 30 and 50 percent, according to the NTU). They can be corrected on the spot and you can avoid a formal hearing altogether.

File your appeal
Is it more than a simple math mistake? Do you think you have a legitimate case? File an appeal. While the rules for appeals vary from place to place, most appeals are submitted in written form to county boards with a statement explaining why you feel the evaluation is inaccurate. Support this claim with evidence (property cards and photos can be useful if comparing the condition of your home to others), and succinctly make your case, with your eye on the prize: One in three challenges results in a tax reduction and the average tax savings is $200 to $5,000 a
year, according to the NTU.

from Vera Gibbons: Zillow Blog and Twitter: @zillow.