April 29, 2009

Appeal Your Property Taxes

Many if not most Americans have seen their home values drop in the past couple years. For many of us this means that we might be taxed for the property at a higher value than it is actually worth. If your home has dropped significantly in value then its pretty unlikely that the tax department has lowered the value of your home. The end result is that you could be paying significantly more in property taxes than your home value really warrants.
If that is the case then you can often appeal your property tax assessment to get it lowered to the current fair market value of the home. The difference can be big. If your home is overvalued substantially then this could have a big impact on your tax bill. If your tax rate is 1% and your home is 20% too high than a typical $200,000 home might be taxed at $240,000. So you're paying 1% tax on $40,000 too much or $400 extra.

Should you Appeal?

You only want to do an appeal if you know your property is over valued on your tax assessment. So the simple question to ask is : Is the assessed value for your taxes higher than the actual fair market value of your home? If so then its worth an appeal. To find out if your property is being taxed too high you have to compare your tax statement with your actual property value. The tax statement part is easy enough if you have the record. Generally you should get something in the mail with your property tax statement that says exactly what the government is valuing your home at. Say you bought your home for $250,000 in 2007 so the county government has the value as $250,000 on your tax statement and they're taxing you on that value. Next you need to find the current fair market value for your home. You could use free sites such as Zillow to do so. For more on Zillow and other such sites see : 4 sites to get quick home estimates. That will give you a rough estimate of the property value. If the rough estimate fair market value is significantly less than the taxed assessment value then it might be worth pursuing an actual appraisal value.

Investigate the Appeal Process

I'd love to tell you exactly how to pursue an appeal but the process will vary from state to state and even from one county to the next. First I'd check your tax statement. Its likely to have some information about an appeal or at least a phone # for the tax office that you can call. If the tax statement doesn't have anything too helpful you can also try searching the web. You can search for your state and "property tax appeal" in Google. For example if you live in Maine then search for "maine property tax appeal". This may or may not lead you to a government website with the details or other pages with relevant information. If you don't find anything on the web you can always call up your county government office on the phone and ask them.

Generally the appeal process will require you to provide some sort of proof or evidence of the true fair market value of the home. There is likely to be a form to fill out. Whatever the exact process is it will depend on how your local/state government does it, but the requirement for an appraisal is pretty common.

Getting an Appraisal Cheaply

If you do a traditional appraisal then you'll probably end up spending something in the $250-$500 range. That is pretty pricey amount to spend especially since you don't know for sure how low/high the appraisal will be or if the property tax appeal will even ultimately work.
There are however there are some online services that will do home appraisals for much lower prices. A few examples : LowerMyAssessment charges $125 for EasyTaxFix will do an appraisal and also fill out the forms to do an appraisal all for $50. The ElectronicAppraiser will give an appraisal with comps for $30. I haven't used any of these online services myself so I'm not sure how well they work. Before you pursue any of these options it would probably be worth contacting your local property tax office and find out what kind of appraisal they need to make sure such online appraisals will satisfy.

If your home has gone down substantially in value and the tax assessment is much more than your current fair market value than appealing your property tax rate is a good idea.

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