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Appealing Your Property Tax

When it comes to income tax, most states have a particular form and process for appealing tax issues. The most commonly familiar is the 1040X form for the IRS. However, property tax does not go through these agencies. Instead, property tax tends to be a local government charge that goes through a county office or special district assessor's office. Thus, what works in Northern California does not necessarily work in Eastern South Carolina. Each local government or district spells out its own process for appealing property taxes.

Step 1 - Determine Which Government Office Is Responsible 

A good first step is to find out for sure which office is responsible for your property tax on real estate. In most cases, this tends to be a county assessor's office. Most such jurisdictions have a web page with contact and general information as part of the county government website. It's important to identify this office because sending an appeal to the wrong tax office essentially means you're sending your paperwork into the abyss. Tax agencies are not particularly helpful in forwarding information or even sending things back many times when received in error.

Step 2  - Review or Appeal The Appraisal 

The second step is to make sure the given real estate involved has been appraised properly to begin with. Many county offices have a process by which a property owner can challenge an appraisal before a property tax is levied. This is important because a successful appeal can trigger a new appraisal and potentially an adjustment before the annual tax bill is sent out. Doing an appeal after an assessment has been invoiced will be unlikely to change an outstanding tax bill already owed. Agencies tend to adjust forward, not retroactively.

Step 3 - Organize Your Documents

The third step is to have your documents in order before actually submitting the appeal. There's no room to appeal and then hope to have time to make an argument after the fact. The argument, supporting documentation and calculations need to be ready up front. Most appeals get one review; the focus tends to be on whether the tax agency did their work correctly. If there is an error, you as the property owner must be able to make the argument convincingly that the agency appraiser missed a big issue. That typically requires an independent appraisal by a licensed appraiser to make a convincing argument. Fortunately, some counties make it easier by providing assessment values of nearby properties that can be accessed online, so look for this option. If you can make a solid argument that your tax is higher than similar properties next to yours, you may be able to avoid an appraisal with the agency's own information and zip to a very quick adjustment.

Timing is Crucial 

Note the timing of when you will be making an appeal, as well. Most appeals tend to be filed when property owners are realizing an increase in their property tax. This typically happens when real estate values are climbing in general and the tax agency wants to capture new tax revenue as fast as possible. An appeal is more likely to get traction in a down year when property values are dropping and there is less attention on the process from property owners. Most homeowners at that time are just happy their tax bill has gone down in general and are not paying attention as to whether the amount went far enough.

Ultimately, a tax appeal could be litigated if denied, but this is rare. A property owner has to be able to prove a case that is just outrageously shocking, such as an intentional abuse of taxing power and conspiracy against the property owner; it rarely occurs. The best appeal chance is mostly at the tax agency level, so it helps not to be brash and rude when contacting tax personnel. You never know which staff person might be the actual person handling the appeal personally. Be polite, helpful and courteous. A nice conversation can go a long way in getting an appeal filed and a fairer response.

This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as investment, tax, or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.

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