If you own a house a big expense for you is likely real estate taxes (in addition to your mortgage interest ). I know it’s a big one for us. Our property taxes are based on the worth of our home – determined every couple of years by an assessment. Every city and town handles things differently but I thought many of you would be interested in how we appealed our property tax assessment and got a reduction in our property tax bill.
source: Images_of_Money 
What is an Assessment?
A property tax assessment is a determination of the market value of your home. This can sometimes be confusing because some cities don’t do a full market assessment (they may base their assessment on 80% value for instance). In addition, the assessment on your home for property tax purposes is different than the appraisal required by banks when you purchases or refinance your home. How can you determine if your assessment is fair? I started by looking at similar properties in my neighborhood.
Research Similar Homes
Years ago researching assessments was a long and difficult process. You had to go to city hall. You had to look-up things not by street name but by lot number. Luckily many places have made the data much easier to access. My city has a website where you can look-up any property and find the assessment. I started with my house and wrote down what I thought was the important info – year built, square feet, lot size and assessment. Then I started looking at other houses. I found a bunch of homes that were similar to mine but assessed for lower. I wrote down their information.
Appeal Your Property Tax Assessment
I called up city hall to find out how I go about appealing the process. For my city there are 3 possible steps. First there is a written appeal, then an in person appeal in front of the Tax Assessment Review Board, then the last resort is a court appeal. I filled out the one sheet form for the written appeal and attached my research. Then I waited. Several weeks later I got a form letter back simply stating that my appeal had been denied and giving me a date and time if I wished to appeal to the board in person. I was a little nervous about going to the meeting (what did I know about real estate) but it was too much money for me to give up. I brought the same information that I had given in my written appeal and went to the committee meeting. I gave copies of my research out and explained that I thought my assessment was too high given what similar houses in my neighborhood were assessed at. They listened politely and told me I would be informed of their decision by mail. I was not hopeful.
When I got the letter a few weeks later I was surprised to see that they had lowered my assessment. The lower assessment saved us over $300. The best part was that it was savings every year for the next 3 years – almost $1,000 in total! Whenever we have a new assessment I continue to check against the comparable houses I found in my first search. I haven’t made another appeal since but if I ever felt our assessment was too high I would definitely do so again.
My Advice to You
I’m guessing that most homeowners have never compared their assessments to other houses in their neighborhood. Take a few minutes and check it out. One thing I noticed in my research was that while the majority of houses were in line there were definitely some (that for no reason I could tell) seemed much higher than others. It is worth it to see if yours is one of them. In my experience it was definitely worth it.
Have you appealed your property tax assessment? What was the result?