Here’s how to fight a higher-than-expected property tax bill

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If the value of your home ballooned during the pandemic, you may receive an inflated property tax assessment in the mail.

There are ways, however, to combat a higher bill, experts say.

Despite double-digit growth in single-family home prices, property taxes only increased by 1.8% in 2021, with an average payment of $3,785 annually, according to a report from Attom, a real estate data analysis firm.

The discrepancy may reflect the lag in property tax assessments, with the schedule for new estimates varying by location, said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of market intelligence at Attom.

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Wayne Cohen, law professor at George Washington University School of Law, explained that homeowners may be seeing assessments from six to 12 months prior, which may be higher than their home’s current market value.

However, you can try to appeal the assessment, which may lower your home’s estimated value for future taxes, possibly saving hundreds or thousands of dollars annually.

The odds of an individual property owner getting some adjustment are pretty high.”
Wayne Cohen
Law professor at George Washington University School of Law

“The odds of an individual property owner getting some adjustment are pretty high,” Cohen said, but there’s potential for the change to go in either direction.

Fewer than 5% of homeowners push back on property tax assessments, despite many having success, according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.

Appealing an assessment

Your property tax assessment letter may include an explanation of the appeals process, which varies by jurisdiction, including how long you have to respond, which may be less time than expected. 

After you get the letter, experts suggest to check it for errors, including the address, square footage of your home and the number and types of rooms. 

“Assessing these values and administering a property tax system is just a massive undertaking,” said Omar Ochoa, a McAllen, Texas-based attorney. “So mistakes are bound to happen.”

The local tax office may base your assessment on similar homes that recently sold in your area, without visiting the property or seeing the interior. But they don’t see the home’s defects, like a leaky roof or basement that floods, Ochoa said.

The appeals is typically process is “pretty straightforward,” Cohen said. But you may hire a professional appraiser to support your case, which may pay off for higher-value homes, he said.

“Remember, once you get it knocked down, it’s a reset,” Cohen added.

Property tax exemptions

You may also qualify for local property tax relief through an exemption, which may lower your bill, Cohen said. 

For example, some areas offer exemptions for low-income or disabled seniors, disabled veterans and their surviving spouses, depending on where you live. 

“If you’re really feeling the pinch of an unexpectedly high tax bill, it might be worth doing a little bit of research to find out if that’s available,” Sharga added.

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