How We Fought Our Real Estate Tax Appraisal and Won – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two part series on how we fought “the Man” and decreased our property taxes by about $1,700 per year – that’s a savings we get every year now!  For the full story, begin at Part 1.  

Step 3 – Be Professional, Timely, Polite, and Unassuming

As our day in court approached, Mr. PoP was losing the faith.  He was convinced that we were going to lose and that it wasn’t going to be worth our time to both miss time at work, drive an hour to get to the courthouse and wait our turn to defend little ol’ Mrs. PoP’s analysis of the local real estate market.

Maybe I’m editing memories here, but Mr. PoP may have even been humming this song…

Like Mr. PoP, I had my doubts about how our fight against “the Man” would go, but I was extremely confident in my analysis.  I knew we were right, and even if we didn’t win, I felt I had a bit of a civic duty to fight the good fight.  So I made Mr. PoP accompany me.  (I pulled the I’m-your-wife-now-so-you-have-to card.)

The hearings were pretty casual, in a conference room rather than a courthouse because so many people were challenging their property values that year.  We arrived early and got to sit in on a few hearings ahead of us where other people tried to argue that their property valuations were too high.  It became clear they hadn’t followed steps 1 or step 2 of my procedure.  They didn’t know the rules, and hadn’t a clue how to use accepted property valuation methods.

Their “evidence” were usually print outs of their neighbor’s property tax bills without an understanding of whether their neighbor’s property was even comparable to their own.  Notes were chicken-scratched calculations that looked like they were written on the back of scrap paper – not the full-on presentation packet that we had prepared and submitted well before our hearing.  One person even made the mistake of admitting that they were currently trying to sell the property they were contesting the valuation of, for more than double what the property appraiser had valued it at.  It was pretty clear that none of them were anywhere close to winning their arguments.

When our turn came, the appraiser who was in charge of our case presented his evidence first.  In my memory he was a giant in a nice suit who took about a minute to present his evidence packet.  It was simple and was exactly the evidence he had already shown me because it was a public record.  I’m pretty sure he thought he had this one in the bag.  Then it was my turn.

I’m anything but a giant, but I was dressed professionally, unlike the T-shirt and jeans folk we had watched flounder a few minutes before during their hearings.  I politely and briefly explained my analysis techniques (the bullet points I outlined in step 2), went through the comps homes and why I included them, and summarized the results.  That was it.  But in my head I thought – Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

While I was giving my spiel, there was a RE lawyer waiting in the room as his cases were next on the schedule.  I didn’t notice because I was so nervous, but Mr. PoP distinctly remembers the lawyer nodding in approval at my spreadsheet and presentation.  So there was at least one person in the room unrelated to a PoP who thought we were right.

We weren’t allowed to know the verdict on our ruling that day, but when the magistrate asked me at the end of my presentation, “Off the record, how much did you pay for your house when you bought it later that year?  And how long had it been on the MLS before your offer was accepted?”  I just had a feeling that she was getting the picture that the original valuation was incredibly out of whack with the market.  So I left not knowing the exact result, but feeling pretty good.

 

Step 4 – Do A Happy Dance When You Win

A few weeks later, we got the official word.  We won.  We got a partial adjustment on the taxes that had already been paid, and were guaranteed a full adjustment + homestead exemption in future years.  Homesteading in the lower amount means that our property tax bill is going to be about $1,700 less each year for as long as we live in this house.

That’s a huge win over the long term, and I think it shows how much it can really pay to understand how much your home is worth even if you’re not planning on selling it anytime soon.

Plus, I felt pretty good for standing up for the “little guy”.  It was pretty crappy that our local property appraiser was trying to increase valuations when the market was crashing and people were losing their homes – so it felt pretty awesome to be able to say, “That analysis is wrong and you know it, darnit!”

To me, it’s not about trying to cheat the system or pay the absolute minimum of taxes, it’s about applying the rules fairly and consistently to EVERYONE.  And I had to take a stand for us and make sure we were given that same fair and equal treatment.

Fighting your taxable property appraisal isn’t meant to be an easy process.  If it were, everyone would do it.  But hopefully, this gives you a bit of a guideline for how to approach it successfully.

 

Has the real estate market changed enough in your neck of the woods that you think your taxable property valuation might not be accurate?   Have you ever contested your taxable property valuation?  How did your experience compare to the PoP’s?

21 comments to How We Fought Our Real Estate Tax Appraisal and Won – Part 2

  • Wow! Way to get what you deserve! You pretty much got yourself a $1,700 by doing your homework, knowing law, and presenting the facts in a nice format. That’s a huge win
    Ross recently posted..My CostCo Investment: 6 months laterMy Profile

  • Appraisers can get stuck with a mandate to increase so that there’s tax revenue for the city. Sometimes the municipal policy makes it much easier to inflate the values than to change the taxation rate.
    Glad to hear it worked out for you. It’s also surprising that people didn’t really look into the requirements and do their due diligence to get a more favourable outcome!
    Anne @ Unique Gifter recently posted..Honeymoon Gift Basket IdeasMy Profile

    • I think there was a lot of unofficial nudging to push valuations higher that year since so many tax accounts were delinquent due to the foreclosure crisis. But legally, our county appraiser and the tax collector (who sets millage rates) are two separate boards that aren’t supposed to collude with one another.

  • Ivy

    When I went to court I didn’t know how the sign up process worked, so I ended up waiting for 4 hours (3 of them listening to other cases, and then just as my turn came they made a 1h lunch break, aargh). It was a real court room, but the waiting paid off at least a bit because I saw what worked for other cases and what didn’t and when my turn came was much better prepared to argue convincingly. Listening to how the RE lawyers present their cases is also very helpful.
    But it seems indeed that your process was much less restrictive than ours in NJ in terms what you can see in the records, what you can show as evidence, etc. I had to chase the tax assessor for every scrap of information – and he even gave me some square footage numbers that he later stated at court differently – luckily I had kept his notes to show as proof :-)

    • Were yours not tightly scheduled? We had a 10 minute slot assigned to our case, and that was all the chance we had. If we didn’t show then, better luck next year.

      Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the extent to which our local area officials take the Sunshine Laws to heart. When you call or go into one of the government offices, there is definitely a feeling that they know it’s their job to help you, the taxpayer understand whatever you need to about the way your government is working. That you’re the customer, not an annoyance.

      Glad that you did get your adjustment, even if it did take chasing down your assessor and keeping his notes!

  • Fantastic finish. I’m always amazed at these types of proceedings how many people show up, make sloppy speeches, have no facts and are upset when they don’t win.
    AverageJoe recently posted..Joe’s Top Movies of 2012My Profile

    • I mean, I genuinely felt bad because I think some of them were having cash flow issues and were looking at property values that had dropped dramatically, but their tax bills weren’t dropping by the same amount just because they were upset about it.

  • Good for you! I live in Ontario Canada and our property tax assessment just came in and states that our modest bungalow house is going to increase in “value” by $100K over the next 3 years…bologna it is! This is nothing but another tax grab. I am inspired by your story and I’m going to look into doing the same thing.
    Leslie recently posted..Opinions Needed!My Profile

  • Glad to hear that it worked out for you and you made it through the process. It’s that process that sometimes gets people to shy away and say sod it and just keep on paying without a word. I believe that if you know you are right then fight for what is right.
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..The Saturday Weekend Review #3 January – Are You Really A Mom?My Profile

  • Congrats to you!!!! I wish Mr. PoP had been able to videotape your legalese in action :) My husband and I have considered doing the same, but as we’re getting ready to sell the home, we have mixed feelings about putting the time and effort into contesting the taxed value when we know we’re going to leave. Plus, our house looks better on the market when we can say it’s selling for “$25k below tax value.” At least, I think it does.
    Elizabeth @ Broke Professionals recently posted..How to Avoid Gift Cards and What to Do with Them if You Can’t!My Profile

  • Congrats again on the battle. You sure about saving $1,700 every year forever though? In SF, I’ve got to file an appeal EVERY year b/c if not, they can revert back to the old value + inflation.

    S
    Financial Samurai recently posted..The Solution To Social Security Problems: Die Young & Stay SingleMy Profile

    • As long as you don’t let your homestead exemption lapse, we are now locked in with our good valuation + max 3% increase in taxable value each year.

      And as long as you’re actually living in your house, keeping the homestead is a pretty no-brainer process. Every few years they send out a postcard requiring you to confirm that you still live there. (They might also take tips from vindictive neighbors…) But considering we’re not cheating the system, we’re pretty confident that keeping our homestead is going to be a no-brainer.

  • Congratulations on winning your appraisal. Here where I live in California prices have plummeted and my yearly property tax valuation has gone down as well. I never knew that there was a process where you could actually fight for your real estate appraisal.
    Aaron recently posted..Mortgage Points – To Pay or Not to PayMy Profile

    • Thanks! I’m glad that your appraiser has fairly kept your property tax valuation in line with the market, rather than trying to keep it artificially high when the market dropped.
      As for not knowing about the appeals process, that’s all too common. A lot of people are unaware that appeals processes like this exist, which was one of the main reasons for writing the article!

  • Thats great, congrats! It’s always good to hear about people success with their real estate appraisals

  • Evan Gorman

    Hello Mrs Pop. Very impressed with your due diligence. I’m in a similar boat almost to the T. We bought our home in 2013 and the assessed value on BCPA.net (hollywood, fl) was $134k. We paid $215 for it (good market price at the time). Now, in 2015 the assessed value has jumped from 134k to 195k. My question is, do I stand a chance in contesting it as we paid more than the assessed value to begin with? Can I PM you with more details? Thanks!