Protesting Property Tax Evaluation 101 (The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease!)

 

Protest Your Taxes

Although it is helpful (and recommended) to have an attorney to protest your property taxes, you CAN do it.  Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!  This guide helps explain the process of protesting your taxes and how to build and present your case to the Appraisal Review Board.

Difference between Chief Appraiser and Appraisal Review Board

The appraisal district is composed of two separate and distinct divisions or sections. One is the Chief Appraiser and his employee appraisers who actually set the values of properties for taxation purposes. The second is the Appraisal Review Board which is composed of volunteer citizens of the county who sit in panels of three to hear and decide a protest.

Notice of Valuation

In the first few months of a tax year the Chief Appraiser and his employees will set values of all properties in the county. These will be posted on the appraisal district website and can be searched by property owner’s name or property address. Once the property values have been set for the given tax year only those properties where the value has been increased will receive a notice from the appraisal district notifying the property owner that their property value has been increased. It will show the amount of property value for the previous year and the amount of property value for the current tax year as proposed by the  appraisal district’s appraisal.

Deadline to File Protest

These notices are mailed to property owners during the latter part of April or the early part of May of a given year. Once you have received this notice of increased property value, you have until May 31st of the current year to file your protest with the Appraisal Review Board. Please note that the protest is filed with the Appraisal Review Board, not the Chief Appraiser or his employees. There are a number of grounds upon which you can protest value of your property, but the most common of those reasons are you believe that your property has been valued: (1) above its fair market value or (2) unequally with the properties in your immediate area or neighborhood. Under this second issue, the substance of your protest is that your property has been valued in excess of the other properties of similar character in your neighborhood and you are protesting the inequality of said valuation.

The form you receive from the appraisal district (at least in the bigger Texas counties) will have a number of protest reasons on the reverse side and you can simply check them.

Valid Reasons to Protest

It is the experience of this writer, who having protested property tax values for the last 20 years and having filed more than 15 lawsuits against the appraisal district, your best reason to protest is that your property has been appraised unequally with similarly situated properties in your immediate neighborhood. As a general rule the appraisal district will always appraise the property at a value something less than what it will bring in a fair market sale so trying to protest that your property has been appraised at less than fair market value is usually a dead end for the taxpayer.

Hearing before Appraisal Review Board

Once you have filed your protest you will then receive a notice to appear before the Appraisal Review Board. Remember this entity is different from the Chief Appraiser and his employees. This is a board that has been established by law that is composed of volunteer citizens of the county.  The board sits in panels of three to hear and decide the protest. At that protest hearing you will be before three citizens who are judges so to speak, and an employee of the Chief Appraiser who will be your opponent. It will be your goal to convince the three citizen members of the panel that your property has been valued unequally compared to other properties similarly situated in your immediate neighborhood. You are given an extremely limited period of time in which to present your case and it is this writer’s experience that this is done to confuse the taxpayer and create anxiety on the part of the taxpayer who is not in a familiar sitting and who will have a difficult time trying to present his or her case to the three-member review board.

Preparing Your Case for a Protest Hearing (Do Your Homework)

The best way to prepare yourself for the protest hearing is to drive round your neighborhood in your car and look for houses you believe are similar to yours in size, structure, and value. Some things to remember are: (1) lot size, (2) lot location, and (3) porches, patios, swimming pools, and other items that may distinguish the property from yours. After you have found five or six properties that you believe are similar to yours in character, take color photographs of them (smartphones with camera and email capability work well  — email them to yourself so you can print them out.  Make sure they are at least 8×10 and in color). Make a note of the address of these properties and make certain that you have the photographs correctly identified with the addresses.

Next, check the appraisal district’s website (here is a list of all of Texas’ appraisal district websites) to do a property search and you can search for these five or six properties by address. When you find the comparable properties, you can find listed information such as lot size, square footage of living area, other characteristics and features of the properties, and the properties’ appraised values. You can then make a comparison of the square footage of the living area of these five or six properties to your property.  Do this until you find at least three or four properties that have approximately the same amount of living area with a market value of less than what the appraisal district is proposing to increase your taxes to.

If you are incline to do so you can simply divide the square footage of the living area square feet into the market value for the current tax year and that number will tell you how many dollars per square foot the property is valued at. Do the same thing with your property then you can compare all of the properties you have located with your per square foot value to determine whether or not your property is valued equally to the properties you have selected.

Once you have found at least three or four properties that are valued substantially less per square foot than yours you can then take an average of those lesser valued properties and argue to the appraisal review board that your property is not valued equally with the average of the three or four properties you have selected for comparison purposes.

Other factors that you can argue to the appraisal review board panel is such things as the condition of your roof, the condition of your exterior paint, perhaps a cracked slab or other defective conditions of your house which are not readily apparent to an appraiser who is appraising a property from an aerial photograph. If you have a substantial defect in your home or property you should get a bid from a local contractor to repair same and take that with you to bolster your argument that your property is not worth the fair market value they have assigned to you.

Do not be surprised or disheartened if the appraisal review board fails to accept your argument and decides with the appraisal district’s appraiser present in the room.

Appealing the Review Board’s Decision

If you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Appraisal Review Board you have two options. One option is to elect to go to arbitration.  If you do, you will have to deposit $500.00 with the appraisal district to pay your share of an arbitration. I have never ever heard of an arbitrator deciding in favor of the taxpayer.  The appraisal district will provide you with a list of arbitrators from which you can select one and I can assure you that all the arbitrator’s on the list make a living from deciding  appraisal district cases. Your other option is to appeal the case to the district court of the county in which your property lies, and if you elect to do that you only have thirty days to file your lawsuit in district court or the decision of the appraisal review board will become final.

If you decide to appeal to the district court you should most definitely hire a lawyer because this type of case is so technical that a layman would surely fail in such an effort without the aid of an attorney. The good news is that if you win in district court the appraisal district has to pay your attorney’s fees and court cost.