7 Secrets to Lower Your Property Tax Bill
As we ease our way into spring, most of us have likely already finished (or at least started) our taxes for the 2019 calendar year. While it’s certainly not a thrilling activity, the relief of being done with this annual to-do is satisfaction enough to make up for the trying process. Considering these payments cost the average American household $2,127 a year, everyone can probably agree that paying property taxes isn’t a shining benefit of homeownership, but the good news is that there are a handful of ways to lower your property tax bill — more specifically, 7 ways.
With these 7 secrets to cutting down your property taxes, you’ll forget how much you once dreaded Tax Day.
The first step when approaching your property taxes is to really understand what you’re paying for. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that you’re overpaying, so it is important to understand how your municipality calculated the total on your bill. While it can be confusing, with the right resources you can be a tax professional in no time. Property taxes are determined by the current market value of your property and the tax rate, which is based on state law. These tax rates are set by municipalities built on what services need to be attended to, such as road construction and the salaries of municipal employees.
As for the estimated market value of your property, an assessor determines that by either coming to your home or handling the property assessments remotely. You’ll then receive your property tax bill from your local tax collector’s office. To get a better understanding of how your bill reached the total amount you’re seeing, you can break down the math. In order to come up with your tax bill, your tax office multiplies the tax rate by the assessed value. For example, let’s say your property is assessed at $300,000 and your local government has set your tax rate to 2.5%, your tax bill will be $7,500.
While it may be tempting to steer away from any additional expenses, this is not an area where you should skimp. Hiring an independent appraiser can save you a great deal of money at the end of the day. The professional appraiser will come to your home, inspect it with great detail and provide you with a report that will include every feature of the home with photos, measurements, and compiled information about the surrounding homes in your area. Hiring an independent appraiser allows you to be more present during the evaluation and more involved, whereas if an appraiser is designated by the court, you have little to no control over the assessment.
Once you have this information, whether you hired an independent appraiser or took advantage of the assessor provided by your local government, you’ll want to take your time reviewing the document and carefully look for any disparities. Even the basics can be overlooked, so don’t assume you don’t need to check the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, a finished basement, square footage, etc. Any additional notes on your home’s foundation, structural condition, and amenities such as a swimming pool or garage will also play a factor in your property tax bill, so be sure to take these into account when reviewing your home’s assessment.
You’re not expected to know the detailed steps required to cut your tax bill down, but your local tax office is. Contact your local tax person and discuss what measures you need to take, and keep in mind that your goal is to lower your home’s assessed value, not a lower tax rate, as that isn’t going to budge. Asking for a copy of your property’s current evaluation is certainly a great first step to take while setting this process in motion.
After doing thorough research and determining how low your home’s value can be assessed, you can revisit your tax office and present the extensive facts and information in a cohesive and efficient manner. Compiling all necessary information will save you and your tax person time, so be sure to arrive organized with the corresponding documents, pictures, and other important elements. You’ll likely have to fill out some forms and then you’ll be on your way to lowering your tax bill.
When tax assessors stop by to evaluate your home, they have rigorous guidelines to follow, but there is still plenty of room for personal decision making. Considering that’s the case, you should avoid any tidying up or cosmetic alterations to your home prior to your evaluation, despite how counterintuitive that feels. As Investopedia explains, “…more attractive homes often receive a higher assessed value than comparable houses that are less physically appealing.”
The tax assessor is essentially comparing your property to those surrounding you, so let’s say your neighbors have a very primped yard whereas yours could use some TLC — this will likely actually work in your favor, as the evaluation does involve some subjectivity.
Finding homes and properties that are comparable to yours will assist you and your tax assessor in identifying an accurate value for your home. Your “comp,” which is short for comparable sale, is simply a recently sold home in your neighborhood that is similar to yours in features, condition, location and size.
When your assessor stops by to evaluate your home, they will find their own comps to guide them to accurately determine your home’s value. By finding around five or so comparable properties that have recently sold, either on your own or with the assistance of a realtor, you’ll get a more accurate idea of what your home value is, and in turn, the lowest possible property tax bill. As Zillow explains, “Even if the assessments are similar, if you can show that the comparable properties are superior to yours, you may have a case for relief based on equity. Maybe your neighbor built an addition while you were still struggling to clean up storm damage. In that case, the properties are no longer comparable.”
It’s only human to feel tense when approaching your property taxes for the first time, especially as a new homeowner — but it doesn’t have to be scary or break the bank.
With these 7 lesser-known secrets, you can breathe a sigh of relief that you’re not overpaying on your taxes. As for the amount you do have to pay, it helps to remember the slew of beneficial services your money is assisting within your new neighborhood, such as streets, roadways, public safety, and more. Whether it is just you, you and some furry friends, or you and your family moving into a new home, enjoy the perks of homeownership without pinching pennies when it comes to Tax Day.