Sequesters, furloughs, recessions, debt ceilings, mortgage fraud, money-laundering, job market, housing bubble, under water, reverse mortgages; sadly, these words have all gained increased use in our vocabulary since 2008. Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom because the March legal office is aware of an easy tip on how to help save money by lowering your property assessment — who knows, maybe there will be enough left over to take that summer vacation!
A disclaimer: Most municipalities and counties operate under similar guidance; however, the best source of information is your Resident County or municipality. All local governments should have this information somewhere on their website, or at the least have a contact number.
Property taxes are important. For example, local public schools are primarily funded by property taxes within that district — local police and fire departments also receive a hefty amount of their budget from property taxes. This may account for the increase in property taxes despite the decrease in property value. According to the National Taxpayers Union, property taxes play an important function for local governments, in which, up to 60 percent of properties are over assessed, resulting in higher taxes for property owners.
Property taxes are calculated in a very simple way. They assess the value of the property and then multiply it times the local tax rate. While the only way to change your tax rate is by voting in local elections, there are things you can do between elections to challenge their assessment of your property.
If it has been about five to seven years since the last assessment and you believe the property value has decreased, you can request reassessment of the property. The website of your local government should have a number to call. However, be aware the assessment may reveal the property has a much higher assessment than originally stated.
On the other hand, if you notice a recent increase in property tax, but the tax rate was not increased, it is likely the local government increased the assessment on the property. If you believe the assessment is too high, retrieve a copy of the property’s assessment from the property assessor’s office and check to make sure all the reported information is correct (square feet, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.). If all the information is correct, you can still challenge the assessment.
“When challenging the assessment it helps to know the values of the properties around you,” said Lt. Col. Tom Pyle, base legal officer. “You should also pay close attention to time requirements for filing a challenge or contesting an assessment.” Most local governments have a form on their website to fill out.
Maj. Deric Prescott, March active duty Staff Judge Advocate, explained that it helps to access a website that allows you to check the property values of properties in your neighborhood, such as zillow.com or a realtor’s website. “Find the assessments of five comparable homes in your neighborhood. These are going to serve as the basis of your argument, so attach them to the form,” he said.
If you require additional help, you can obtain a professional appraisal — make sure you hire a licensed and/or certified assessor. Your bank or real estate agent should be able to provide you an appropriate contact. Also, keep in mind that if you recently had your home financed or received a home equity loan you may already have a professional appraisal available.
Who knows, you may be one of the 60 percent whose property is over assessed. At no real cost to you (unless you hire a professional appraiser), it may be worth your time.