For many, spring is a busy time of the year. It’s as if everyone got together and said, “Let’s cram everything we possibly can—graduations, weddings, etc.—into just a handful of weekends.”
Spring is also a busy time of year for the McLennan County Appraisal Review Board. This 16-member, independent board hears and resolves disputes in which property owners believe they were assessed an incorrect property value. And, believe it or not, there are actually people who are willing to serve on this board—I used to be one of them.
If you’ve never protested your property value before, there are a few things you can do that will better your chances of achieving your desired outcome.
1. You catch way more bees with honey than vinegar.
Let’s face it. No one likes to pay more in taxes. Well, I don’t exactly know if that’s true, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who has said, “I’d love to pay more taxes.”
So, it’s only natural to be frustrated when you submit your protest and, if necessary, go before the review board. However, please remember that your frustration is with the appraisal district, not the review board.
Also, keep in mind that, while your appraisal may or may not accurately represent market value, the district does employ many good people who are simply trying to serve the county and do a good job. The vast majority of them are good at what they do. And, just like you, they are there to do a job and then go home to their families.
2. Stick to the facts.
Don’t waste your time talking about how much your value has gone up over the last five years (or however long). The ARB can only deal with your current-year value. Period. That is, unless your previous year’s value is over 30% higher than realistic market value, which is rare.
Also, please keep in mind that, “My taxes are too high,” is not an argument. The board can only deal with your property value and appropriate exemptions that you might qualify for. So, stick to the facts. You’ll be glad you did. And, so will the review board.
3. Don’t wait until the last minute.
Technically, you have until May 15th to file your protest, but, don’t wait until then. Most of the information you need is available on the appraisal district’s website, along with a helpful explanatory presentation.
When completing the protest form (which you can complete through the county’s eFile portal), be sure to fill out everything. However, if you’re unsure of what your property value should be, leave that field blank. Also, make sure you check both of the first two boxes: “Incorrect appraised (market) value” and “Value is unequal compared to other properties.” You can always easily withdraw either protest later.
If you decide that you don’t wish to use the county’s eFile system, it’s best to hand-deliver your protest to the appraisal district office. This way, you’ll receive a date-stamped copy of the form and will have firm documentation that you filed the protest.
Also, while you’re at the appraisal district office, fill out a request for the district’s evidence. The evidence can be sent to you via email. If, two weeks before your scheduled appointment, you still haven’t received the evidence, call them and tell them you don’t have it—you’ll need this information (at least) several days before your hearing. Note: The county’s eFile portal will supply you with the comparable sales and other evidence, and it will also allow you to receive and accept the county’s settlement offer (if applicable).
4. Make the most of your hearing with the review board.
Once you’ve received the evidence from the district, you have a decision to make. The evidence from the district will compare your home to two sets of properties—one is for market value and the other is for the unequal appraisal. Market value is what similar houses near yours have recently sold for. The other set is a comparison to appraisal district values of other homes in your area.
If you’re comfortable with the value (or revised value) they were able to support with their evidence, you can simply point out in your hearing that your original notice was too high and that you’re now comfortable with the revised number. If you wish, you can withdraw one of the protests and tell them that you’d like to only focus on the Market Value or the Unequal Appraisal, whichever (if any) is in your favor.
If you aren’t satisfied with the value found in the district’s evidence, you’ll need to bring your own supporting evidence to your hearing.
5. Craft a convincing argument.
First off, the review board will most definitely ask you what you think your home is worth. Go in with a realistic answer. Do not—and I repeat do not—answer, “I don’t know.” Also, don’t say, “What it was last year.” Give them a number. If your number differs from what you originally put on your protest form, it’s acceptable to say, “I’ve done some more research, and I now feel like $X is a more accurate value.”
If you take issue with the sales comparisons provided by the district, bring your own comps and be sure to omit any foreclosures, that is, unless you’ve recently had numerous foreclosures in your neighborhood. For sales comps, ask a realtor to help you out. But, do remember to thank them. (Hint: I’ve never met a realtor who didn’t like to eat. A $25 gift card is a nice gesture.)
Lastly, take good pictures on things that could negatively impact the value of your home (Ex. Foundation issues, poorly-maintained property adjacent to yours, etc.). Close-ups are always helpful, but be sure to include a broader view, too. Also, don’t overdo it. You know that annoyingly anxious feeling you get when your friend wants to show you every single picture from their recent vacation? That’s how the review board feels when you show them every house on the block. So, keep it brief.
6. Stick to your guns.
Throughout this process, it’s possible that a district appraiser could have a one-on-one session with you about your appraisal. If, during your session, you don’t feel they’ve lowered the value enough, don’t let them pressure you into canceling your ARB hearing. There’s no guarantee that the ARB will lower it more—they could actually give you a higher value. But, have a good idea of what you think is fair and stick to your guns, while being respectful, if you’re speaking directly with an appraiser.
These six steps won’t necessarily guarantee you that your property value will be lowered, but they will most definitely ensure that you receive the best hearing possible.
About the Author:
Rick Smith is a real estate investor, licensed home mortgage lender, and insurance adjuster. He’s previously served on the Appraisal Review Board, an experience that left him with a new-found appreciation for the appraisal district staff and a passion for helping people knowledgeably and effectively protest their tax assessed values, when needed.