taxes

3 tips for real estate tax appeals

There's no way around it: Real estate taxes are a fact of life if you own property. But you don't have to accept the tax bill at face value. These three tips tell you what you need to know about disputing your assessment and winning.

Begin with the basics

Most property owners don't usually challenge their property tax assessment, so it's easy to be intimidated by the process. Review your bill for obvious mistakes and discrepancies, such as an overestimate of the total size of your property. Contact your local assessor if you find a mistake -- you'll likely get a reduction right away. But if the issue is more complicated, you may need to file a court petition.

Value

Determining the real value of your property can be a more complex issue. One way to lower real estate taxes is to push for a reassessment based on the current market. Going that route requires reviewing the tax bills for recent sales in your area. If your house is in an undesirable location, such as near an airport or a noisy playground, you can make the case that the assessor's appraisal is too high. The trick is to think like a buyer and look for features that detract from your home's value.

Hire a pro

You don't have to go it alone, especially if your case is more complicated or prior appeals to lower your real estate taxes were rejected. Many homeowners hire a lawyer to help them through the process. Before you sign on the dotted line, ask the attorney about fees, services, their history of handling your type of appeal, as well as the likely results of working with them. Some lawyers work on a contingency basis, but even at that, their fees can eat up a lot of the savings they create.

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