I protested our property taxes. When we purchased the home, our realtor told me that our taxes were way too high, especially since we purchased the home as a foreclosure. Well, I wasn’t at all familiar with the process and looked online for protest instructions (subsequently after writing this post I found this awesome instructional video). I found a website with a phone number, but whenever I called I looped through automated responses and then ended up leaving a voicemail for an anonymous county clerk.
After leaving several voicemails for a few months, sometime in March I finally received a letter in the mail with a website and login, directing me towards the Collin County Central Appraisal District Electronic Filing website. Upon entering the site, I could file an e-protest. I quickly filed out and submitted the online form. I knew that our home’s market value was listed too high, so I challenged the county on the basis of the market value being too high.
A week later, I received an email saying that my protest had been updated. I logged in, and saw that the county had rejected my offer, and proposed a counter offer, which was the same starting value I was protesting. There was one other option remaining, and that was to request a formal hearing date. I had no idea what that meant, but if I was going to do this, I was going to do this big and all the way, so I selected the option to protest at a hearing.
I received the hearing notice in the mail, and put a task item on my mental agenda to call our realtor and research how to be best prepared for these things. Well, before I knew it, it was the day before my hearing and I hadn’t done any of my homework. I called the realtor, and he quickly gave me some advice. I went home and spent the evening hours and well into the early morning preparing my case and gathering evidence. After learning what the process was all about, I crafted my story. I was protesting on the basis of unequal appraisal. My case was the following: based upon the average assessed property tax per square foot of other similar homes on my street, my property taxes should be lower. In layman’s terms, there are bigger homes on my street with lower property taxes, and therefore I wanted my taxes lowered.
I was able to locate a handful of essential websites, which helped me put together my case. The first required website listed the addresses on my street (once you get there, search for ‘property valuation of your street, your city, your state). I figured using my street was the most direct comparison, because I wouldn’t have to explain the proximity of the homes if the street address was identical to mine. Using the website was extremely helpful and more convenient than trying to zoom in using googlemaps, or walking down the street stalking homes with a flashlight at 1AM (yes, it was 1AM by the time I got this far in my case preparation). After collecting the addresses on my street, I went to the Collin County Property Record Search Database and entered each address. Here, I was able to read all the property details in order to build my case: the address, market value, appraised value, tax rate, square footage, year built, the deed history and much more. The goal here was to find the three largest square footage homes, but with the lowest property taxes. I averaged the taxes per square footage for three homes, and this gave me the county assessed average tax ratio I would use. I then multiplied my home’s square footage by this value in order to determine my recommendation for my tax assessed property value to present at the hearing.
So what does all this property tax mumble jumble really mean? Basically, Texas has one of the highest average property tax rate, and I wanted to save us some money. I estimated that our assessed property tax should be $37,000 cheaper, which is the equivalent of reducing the tax component of our mortgage payment by $814 a year, or more than $24,000 over the course of our mortgage. To calculate how much you pay in taxes, divide your home purchase amount by your tax rate as a percentage. Somehow I’ve digressed from the story…
So, my hearing was schedule for 8:30AM, but the county office opened at 8AM, and they heard the cases in the order of arrival. I got there at 7:45, and I was number twelve in line outside the door. Once inside, I dropped off my pages and pages of evidence and wait inside a hearing room. The review board came in, and I realized they are just regular tax paying people just like me, so that boosted my confidence. I was second to go, and the first woman had a very weak case, and that boosted my confidence even more. She was protesting the market value of her home on the basis of a junk yard next to her home, where she could hear coyotes howling at night. Seriously. So this news gets me very excited for my case, because I’m all prepared with my average-tax assessed-value-per-square-foot calculations and what not.
When I sit down at the computer, they bring up my case, and then proceed to offer their evidence, supporting why their market value number is valid. They have several homes in my neighborhood, recently purchased for far more money than we paid. Humph! I think, that’s not part of my argument, and was irrelevant. But then I began to wonder why their only evidence centered around market value evidence, when clearly the tax value was too high. Then they told me it was my turn, and I was two sentences into my argument when the panel chairwoman stops me and points out one little problem. All my evidence challenged the property tax value based on unequal appraisal and not market value. Then I flashed back to when I hastily completed that online form, way back in March, and the only protest reason I selected was market value argument. It was a technicality, that could mean hundreds of dollars I would overpay in taxes in 2012. The board confirmed they could not hear the argument I had stayed up until the wee hours of the morning putting together because of this technicality. You see, they had not prepared a supporting argument for tax value and I guess you can’t just show up and have all these arguments if you didn’t tell them before hand. I can understand that, but mine was a pretty darn strong case!
Already defeated, they asked me for my closing arguments, and I offered my HUD-1 settlement papers which showed the purchased price of my home was much lower than the market value, and they agreed with on that. So, the good news is that they lowered my tax assessed value to the purchase price of my home. The bad news was that if I had just selected the correct option online months ago, I could have lowered my 2012 taxes even more.