If you’re still reeling from the sticker shock of this year’s property appraisal notice, you may be considering challenging the appraisal. You could hire a firm to handle the challenge for you; typically they only get paid if they succeed in cutting your taxable value. Or you could handle the challenge yourself. Here’s how the process works:
Appraisal > Notices Sent > Protest Form > Informal Meeting > Hearing > Arbitration
Your Home Value Starts Here: January 1
Your home’s appraised value for the year is based on its condition, and what the property could sell for, on this date. Keep in mind, the appraisal district arrives at a figure by calculating the market value of your property. And your home’s condition on January 1 is key as you look at factors that may affect the value. Any damage or improvements after this date – say, a tree that falls on your roof in March, or the new bathroom you added in May – won’t affect the taxable value of your home this year.
The Envelope, Please: Late April/Early May
A piece of mail arrives from the appraisal district, telling you the value of your home for tax purposes. Look over the numbers carefully. If your property is not described correctly or if the value looks out of whack, you can protest it.
Step 1: File This Form by May 31
This is the usual deadline for filing a “Notice of Protest” of your appraised value; if the date falls on a weekend, the notice can be filed on the next business day. What’s the best way to file? You have a couple of options. You can use the form on the back of the “Notice of Appraised Value” that you received from the appraisal district, since it already has your account information printed on it. Or you may be able to file your protest online. In Travis County, go to traviscad.org and click on Eservices, then E-File. Williamson County residents can go to wcad.org and click on Online Protests, while Hays County residents can do the same at hayscad.com.
The benefit of online protesting is that appraisal district staffers can review your information and decide whether to offer you a settlement, potentially without you having to attend a hearing at all. As you’re filling out the form, pay particular attention to the step in which you check off the box or boxes stating the reason for your protest. Your choices here will affect what kind of evidence you can present later on. If the district listed the wrong square footage for your home, for instance, be sure to check “property description is incorrect.” If you think your value is out of step with similar homes, make sure to mark “value is unequal compared with other properties”. For typical homeowners challenging their appraisal, the Texas Comptroller’s office suggests checking “value is over market value” and “value is unequal compared with other properties”. That will allow you to present the widest types of evidence and preserve your full appeal rights.
Step 2: Meet with the Appraiser by June 1
The appraisal review board, or ARB, is already meeting on the first appeals through the gate. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Once you’ve filed your “Notice of Protest,” the Travis Central Appraisal District will send you a letter with two dates: an informal meeting with an appraisal staffer and your formal hearing date with the ARB, a group of independent residents appointed to hear these challenges. During the informal meeting, the staffer will review the numbers with you. Bring all of your documentation: Information on comparable homes (records are available on the appraisal district’s website), perhaps an independent appraisal if you recently refinanced your house, or photos, repair estimates and other records showing damage that may devalue your home. Once you and a staffer have hashed it out, the district may offer to reduce your value by a certain amount.
If you’re satisfied, you can accept it. If not, you can keep your date with the ARB, or technically, with a three-member panel of ARB members. Before that hearing, you have a right to see all of the information the district appraisers plan to present, so be sure to contact the appraisal district to request those documents. In Travis County, typically two weeks pass between the informal meeting with staff and the ARB hearing. In Williamson and Hays counties, that meeting with a staffer usually happens the same day as the ARB hearing. Either way, the same process applies: If you’re satisfied with the outcome after meeting with the staffer, you can forego the ARB hearing.
The Big Day
If you take your case to the ARB, come prepared and expect a rapid-fire proceeding. The entire hearing will likely take 15 to 30 minutes. In that time you will be placed under oath and given a chance to present any evidence or witnesses supporting your case. You must conclude by stating the figure you believe your property is worth. Someone from the appraisal district will likely question you and provide additional evidence. Then you can question the appraiser or any witnesses presented by the appraisal district. Members of the ARB can ask clarifying questions, too. Finally, each side gets to make a closing statement, so once again you’ll want to reiterate what you believe your property is worth and why. The three-member panel will discuss the case and reach a recommended value. You’ll get a certified letter in the mail with the decision.
Still Not Satisfied?
You still have recourse if you’re not satisfied with the ARB decision. If your property is valued at less than $1 million, or if it’s your homestead, regardless of value, you can take your case to binding arbitration. There’s a form for that, too. You’ll need to file that within 45 days of receiving the ARB decision, and it’ll cost you $500. All but $50 of that will be refunded if you prevail. There are two alternatives to arbitration. You can take your appeal to state district court (that challenge must be filed within 60 days of receiving the ARB decision, and you’ll likely need an attorney’s help). Or for properties valued over $1 million, you can file an appeal with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (that challenge must be filed within 30 days of receiving the ARB decision).
Rules of the Road
- Don’t: Complain about how you can’t afford your taxes. The appraisal district doesn’t set the tax rate; they only decide what your home is worth for tax purposes.
- Do: Come armed with a specific value you believe your home is worth, and the documentation to support that figure.
- Don’t: Give a long, rambling presentation filled with generalizations.
- Do: Request in advance the documentation the appraisal district compiled to calculate its appraisal of your property.
Examine the comparable homes used to determine your property’s value. See whether differences in property size, home upgrades or proximity to a busy road, for instance, might make those properties a poor comparison for your home.
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