Even with real estate prices falling throughout much of the country, many of us find that our local taxing authority is continuing to raise the assessed value of our property.
If you feel that your property is being valued unfairly, you have the right to protest the assessment and reduce your property tax burden.
This can be an intimidating process. Most people don't know how to protest, think they have no chance of winning, or even feel that there will be retaliation if they stand up for their rights.
I've protested my assessed value a number of times over the years and have had some successes and some failures. I live in Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas, but you may have a similar process where you live.
If you decide to protest, you will receive a letter giving you two appointment dates: the first is for an optional "informal" meeting with the person who did your assessment and the second is the formal protest before the Appraisal Review Board (ARB).
The first three or four times I protested, I foolishly skipped the informal process and only went before the ARB. When you go to before the formal board, you are put in front of 4-5 very cranky looking people. They are about as friendly as a parole board (or a firing squad). You make your case- present evidence, beg for mercy- anything you think will help, and hope for the best. My experience is that they rarely see things your way, no matter how well you present your evidence. Typically, they will either give you no relief or give you a token reduction in assessed value.
I've been far more successful using the informal process. You meet one on one with the appraiser and the atmosphere is not nearly as intimidating. If you have a legitimate claim, they will usually give you a fair hearing and, in my opinion, are far more likely to lower your assessed value.
The important thing is to make sure you treat them with respect. If you go in angry and with an aggressive attitude, you will probably fail. If you are friendly and respectful, they will usually respond in kind and you will be much more likely to reach a good agreement.
Unfortunately, if you do lower your assessment, you will likely find that it shoots right back up again next year. At my informal hearing last week, the appraiser told me that they use a computer program to assess entire neighborhoods, and the program does NOT take into account the results of any protest.
I suspect they program it this way intentionally, knowing that a lot of people just get fed up having to go in every year and fight the system- it takes time that most working people just don't have.
Alternatively, there are now companies that will represent you in the process- you don't have to do anything. They will usually take 40% of any tax savings as their fee. I've never used any of these services and would appreciate any insight anyone has on their effectiveness.