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Assessing Your Property Taxes

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Know the value of your property / By John A. Hay III

Tired of paying too much in property tax? Want to reduce your tax liability for 2011 and beyond? Worried about taxes going up with the budget shortfall? Do not have the time or ability to fight them on your own? Do not know who to call and want to hire an expert to save money?

Everyone is excited about saving money, but some of the easiest ways are often overlooked. For homeowners and investors alike, your ad valorem, more commonly known as county property tax, is a great place to start. Because Texas does not have a state income tax, property tax is a huge revenue source for municipalities of all kinds. These include your local school district, county, water district and EMS districts, just to name a few.

The tax rate for each entity is a known quantity. It is the value of your property that sets the amount of money you pay in taxes each year. Therefore, reducing the value that the County Appraisal District places on your property is your avenue for reducing what you pay. It is important to understand the appraisal district places the value and the tax collector is who actually collects your money. Often, appraisal districts raise your value without specifically looking at your property, instead relying on blanket adjustments for neighborhoods or other mass adjustments. This can lead to inaccurate values, causing property owners to pay higher taxes than they should.

How Much Do I Have to Lower My Value to Save Money?
In a time when refinances are all the rage (as they should be, with historically low interest rates), you can achieve a similar savings through this process. Take the following scenario of a homeowner living in a $200,000 house valued at $250,000 with an average tax rate of 2.25 percent. Their annual tax would be $5,625, or $468.75 on a monthly basis. If they were able to lower their taxes to the actual value of $200,000, their taxes would be reduced to $4,500, or $375 on a monthly basis. That is tremendous savings that could be coupled with a refinance, or simply provide a savings for those who are unable to refinance. Just as importantly, that reduces the value from which the subsequent year’s taxes are calculated, thus, likely saving you money for years to come, as many are eligible for an annual cap on the increase in assessed value. What would you do with an extra $1,125 a year?

Unless you bought your home in the year it’s being assessed and that purchase price is lower than the rate at which you are being taxed, it is best to hire a professional to assist in this process. There are many companies in the Central Texas area that are available to serve as your representative during the process, which has specific date requirements to meet to successfully affect a protest. Each company has its own process for collecting a fee: some charge a flat fee up front and some will take a percentage of your savings, while others blend the two. When you compare your options, be sure to understand the qualifications of each company, and more importantly, the individuals who will be working on your protest.

Many properties are overvalued and it is in your best interest to make certain that your assessment is fair, based on the current value of your property. Although the date varies from county to county, May 31 is the deadline for filing a protest for property taxes in Travis County.

John A. Hay III is the founding and managing member of Hay Compere, PLLC, an Austin-based law firm offering a full range of real estate, construction, document preparation, general business and commercial litigation services, and also operates as a Fee Attorney Office for First American Title Company. haycompere.com 512.467.6060

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