Property Tax Tips from a Pro

The time has come once again for everyone in the great state of Texas to collectively sigh and say, “I have to pay how much for my property taxes?”

We are subject to paying property taxes on our homes each year, but Texans do not pay any state income tax, so while we tend to complain about this issue, it is just a matter of the government getting their tax revenue in one way or another. But you don’t have to idly sit back and watch those taxes climb! If you are unsure of how to tackle the property tax situation, I’m offering some simple tips that could help give your bank account a break.

Disclosure: I am a licensed property tax consultant. Please take my advice as just that. If you feel that your property tax situation needs a professional, you can find many great agents (who are not me) to hire.

Let’s start with the basics. If you live in San Antonio or the surrounding areas, your home falls into one of the following Appraisal Districts, and you can find great information at their websites:

Bexar Appraisal District
Guadalupe Appraisal District
Comal Appraisal District
Kendall Appraisal District
Medina County Appraisal District
Atascosa Central Appraisal District

Each property is appraised as of January 1st, and the value is supposed to reflect “market value.” You are not required to disclose the purchase price of your home in the state of Texas, and you can choose every year if you want to protest the “proposed value” that the Appraisal District begins with. Most homeowners are sent a Notice of Value somewhere around March or April, but keep in mind that the law does not require a notice to be mailed if your value does not increase from the previous year. If you don’t have a notice sent to you, be sure to look it up online and then call to ask what your protest deadline is listed as. The notice is required to tell you what this year’s proposed value is, a comparison to the previous year’s value, and what your estimated taxes will be based on the prior year’s rates.

How do you know if you should protest or not? If you feel that your appraised value has been climbing more than seems fair, if your home is in need of repairs or has had significant damage, and especially if there is a big disparity between your home and others in your immediate neighborhood, you should protest. Beware that it is possible for you to go into a formal hearing and have the final value be increased, but it would take significant evidence for that decision to be made by the Board.

For 2018, the deadline for filing that protest has been moved up by two weeks to May 15 (or 30 days after the date your notice is mailed to you, if it is later). You can submit that protest by returning the form that is typically included with your Notice of Value (sometimes on the back), or you can type up your own letter with the same information. You can also fax it to your Appraisal District or deliver it in person, as long as you have some proof of sending it. The preferred method for most professionals is certified mail. However you choose to do it, just be sure it is done on time as there are generally no excuses accepted.

Be sure to read the fine print if you choose to protest using an online system. Some Districts implemented a method in which you could protest online and opt out of any informal meeting with a staff appraiser, thereby choosing to be directly scheduled for a formal hearing in front of the Appraisal Review Board. If that is not your preference, read the instructions carefully!

Once your protest is entered into the CAD’s system, they will send you a hearing notice. Most Districts give you two avenues. An informal hearing or meeting will include you sitting down to talk to a staff appraiser. This is a much less intimidating setting where you can ask questions, share the information you choose to, and see what evidence they are presenting in opposition. Think of this time as the opposite of selling your house. You want to point out every problem area (like a crack in your foundation or roof issues), every issue with your neighborhood (like the giant eyesore water tower that was just built behind your fence line), every reason why your house is worth less than they think it is. Take pictures, repair estimates from contractors, find flyers for homes for sale that are similar to yours if the price is right. From my experience, many appraisers are nice people who are willing to listen and help homeowners, but they get frustrated that so many people show up empty-handed and seem to take out their frustrations on the employees.

For example, the home that my family purchased a few years ago is in a neighborhood where brand new construction is still happening just down the street. My house is much older and was built by a completely different company, yet the brand new home prices always seem to skew the comps and give my house a value that is much higher than what I paid for it. Every year, I will protest and go back to have the same conversation with them.

At the end of your informal hearing, you may come to an agreement with the appraiser you are talking to. If you both agree to a new value, you can sign off and be finished with the process. However, once you do so, there is no going back. You cannot protest further; you will not go to a formal hearing; and you cannot sue the District. Should you choose not to agree on a value informally, the next step is the formal hearing with the Appraisal Review Board. It may be another date and time or you may proceed immediately after your informal time, depending on how busy they are or how they choose to schedule their appointments. Come prepared with at least five copies of your information and don’t be afraid to ask questions of the staff members who organize this process.

In the formal setting, you will present your case to three members of the Appraisal Review Board. It is always in your best interest to be dressed neatly and speak respectfully to everyone. You will be allowed to speak first, and then the Appraisal District representative will have a time to present. Then each of you will have a very short time of rebuttal before the ARB makes its decision on a final value. Keep in mind that the ARB members sit through hundreds of hearings before the year is over; they have seen and heard from the Appraisal District staff over and over (while you are just a lone homeowner they have never met before); and that the District staff has a large database of information that they are able to pull from in supporting their proposed value. I don’t say that to discourage you, but rather to be honest about the situation and encourage you to arrive prepared. It is your right to be heard and have your home fairly assessed.

One final tip: Keep in mind that you are protesting your home’s property value, not your property taxes. Those tax rates are set and collected by a completely separate entity, so complaining about your tax burden will not help you in any way when meeting with the Appraisal District. If you have not paid your property taxes from the prior year, you will not be allowed to protest going forward for the current year, so double check that you are in good standing. And be sure that you have filed for the Homestead Exemption on your primary residence to save $25,000 on your school district taxes!

I know the task can seem daunting, but you can tackle the property tax process! For some other opinions and information, this article was written by a former Houston consultant. No matter what county you live in, the Texas Comptroller’s office has a great list of Frequently Asked Questions as well as a comprehensive calendar of all deadlines set by law. I wish you the best of luck!

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