How to Lower your Property Taxes (Part 2)

by The Real Estate Faction on September 7, 2011

“We can be wrong,” says Dusty Rhodes, elected auditor and assessor in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati.

That is what Lynne Weaver, a Phoenix retiree, discovered after her property-tax bill started climbing. To figure out why, she says, she went on the Maricopa County, Ariz., assessor’s website and discovered that a handful of her neighbors’ homes were assessed for as much as $205,000 less than her own property.

Ms. Weaver says she didn’t think the number was accurate because her neighbors’ homes were similar to hers in construction and acreage, but had backyard pools and other amenities. Her home had “grass and flowers” in the backyard and an unfinished basement, she says.

She appealed her assessment nearly half a dozen times over the course of six years before she stumbled on the problem: The assessor had incorrectly said a room used as an office was 300 square feet larger than it actually was.
From SmartMoney

Armed with that knowledge, she successfully lowered her property assessment by 45% to $390,000 in 2010 from $709,715 in 2009. The lower assessment cut her 2010 property-tax billto $3,257 from $5,597 in 2009. Ms. Weaver, who had already been advocating for cuts to local property taxes, says the experience of appealing her own assessment galvanized her even more. She runs a group that has tried unsuccessfully to get a measure on the state ballot to cap property taxes.

Paul Petersen, spokesman for the Maricopa County assessor’s office, says errors of that magnitude are uncommon. But errors can happen, he says, and that’s why “we expect the public to help us be more accurate” and appeal if it’s warranted. About one-fourth of residential property appeals result in a lower assessment, Mr. Petersen says, adding that the county reassesses properties every year to help reflect the changing market.

While Ms. Weaver fought back herself, you also can hire a tax lawyer or a property-tax consultant to do the legwork for you—if you are willing to pay up.

Some parts of the country have a stronger tradition of residents appealing property assessments because of higher tax rates or more-frequent assessments. Some states reappraise property values each year, while others do it once every several years. You might want to appeal your property value after each reassessment.

In Chicago, properties are assessed every three years. Residents appealed an average of one-fourth of reassessments during the past decade, according to data from the Cook County, Ill., assessor. An average of 18% of those appeals per year resulted in a decrease in the homeowner’s assessed property value.

Local officials say they expect appeals from property owners if it’s warranted, so don’t be shy. “The appeal process is part of the mass appraisal process,” says Burt Manning, chief appraiser for Fulton County, Ga., which includes most of Atlanta.

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