It’s possible to trim your property tax bill by appealing the value the tax assessor assigned to your home. That “assessed value” is what’s used to calculate how much tax you owe.
One way to lower your property tax is to show that your home is worth less than its assessed value. You can do the initial research online or by making a quick call to your real estate agent.
Here's how to appeal your property tax bill, step by step:
1. Read Your Assessment Letter
Local governments periodically assess all the real estate they tax. When your new assessment comes in the mail, it’ll list information about your property, such as lot size or a legal description, as well as the assessed value of your house and land.
Your property tax bill will usually be calculated by multiplying your home’s assessed value by the local tax rate, which can vary from town to town.
If you think your home’s assessment is higher than it should be, challenge it immediately. You generally have fewer than 30 days to do so, though each taxing authority sets its own timeline. Procedures are often outlined on the back of the letter.
2. Decide If a Property Tax Appeal Is Worth Your Time
How much effort you decide to put into a challenge depends on the stakes. The median property tax paid in 2015 was about $1,500 per capita (the most recent numbers available from the Tax Foundation, a tax policy nonprofit). That's a little less than 1% of the $222,400 median-value home that year.
In some parts of Illinois and Connecticut, for example, where property tax rates can approach 4% of a home's value, potential savings are greater. Ditto for communities with home prices well above the U.S. median.
3. Check the Data
Make sure the information about your home is correct. Is the number of bathrooms accurate? Number of fireplaces? How about the size of the lot? There’s a big difference between 0.3 acres and 3.0 acres. If any facts are wrong, you may have a quick and easy challenge on your hands.
4. Get the Comps
Ask a REALTOR® to find three to five comparable properties -- comps in real estate jargon -- that have sold recently. Alternatively, check a website like realtor.com to find approximate values of comparable properties that are very similar to your own in size, style, condition, and location. If you’re willing to shell out between $350 and $600, you can hire an appraiser to give you a professional opinion of your home’s value.
Once you identify comps, check the assessments on those properties. Most local governments maintain public databases. If yours doesn’t, seek help from a real estate agent or ask neighbors to share tax information. If the assessments on your comps are lower, you can argue yours is too high.
Even if the assessments are similar, if you can show that the comparable properties are superior to yours, you may have a case for relief based on equity. Maybe your neighbor built an addition while you were still struggling to clean up storm damage. In that case, the properties are no longer comparable.
5. Present Your Case
Armed with your research, call your local assessor’s office. Most assessors are willing to discuss your assessment informally by phone. If not, or if you aren’t satisfied with the explanation, request a formal review.
Pay attention to deadlines and procedures. There's probably a form to fill out and specific instructions for supporting evidence. The length of the review process depends on your municipality, but be prepared to wait a few months (or sometimes even longer) for a final decision. Expect to receive a decision in writing.
6. Appeal If You Don’t Like the Review
If the review is unsuccessful, you can usually appeal the decision to an independent board, with or without the help of a lawyer. You may have to pay a modest filing fee, perhaps $10 to $25. If you end up before an appeals board, your challenge could stretch as long as a year, especially in large jurisdictions that have a high number of appeals.
As you weigh an appeal, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The appeals board can only lower your real estate assessment, not the rate at which you’re taxed.
- There’s a chance, albeit slight, that your assessment could be raised, thus increasing your property taxes.
- A reduction in your assessment right before you put your house on the market could hurt the sale price.
An easier route to savings might lie in determining if you qualify for property tax exemptions based on age, disability, military service, or other factors.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences and shouldn’t be relied on as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax pro for such advice.