article written by Sam J. Adams, CPA
You can pay off your mortgage, never again seeing a bill from the bank for principal or interest, but you can never pay off your property taxes. Property taxes also, unfortunately, only seem to go one way – UP! You’ll never be able to get rid of your property taxes completely, but you can take steps to lower them or reduce increases.
Understanding how you can fight to lower your property taxes can be extremely valuable, especially if you live in a high property tax state. According to wallethub.com, the 10 states with the highest property taxes (ranked with the last being the most expensive) are:
Hawaii came in as the least expensive with an average effective real estate tax rate of 0.27 percent, which translates into $483 in annual taxes on a $179,000 home. At the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey comes in with an effective rate of 2.35 percent and $4,206 in annual property taxes on a $179,000 home. Obviously, different states have different relative housing costs, so a $179,000 home often is not an equivalent house. To put it in perspective, the median home price in Texas (46th most expensive) is $136,000 and comes with $2,578 in annual property taxes, whereas New Jersey (most expensive) has a median home price of $315,900 and comes with an annual property tax bill of $7,410.
Property taxes are higher in some places versus others depending on how much of the local tax burden (particularly schools) falls on homeowners versus the business tax base. Regardless of your situation, you’re probably ready to read about what you can do to potentially lower your property taxes. Here are three things you can do:
1. Take every exemption you’re allowed
Often, states, counties or municipalities give out tax exemptions for a primary residence. Sometimes they are general and referred to as a homeownership or homestead exemption. Other times, they are available for only certain classes of people, such as senior citizens.
Learn what exemptions are offered where you live and make sure they are factored into your annual assessment or property tax bill.
Sometimes you can go back retroactively for a few years to claim the exemption. This won’t always be allowed, but it’s worth a try if you discover you’ve missed out on an exemption. In any case, make sure you get it going forward.
2. Understand how your property value assessment and appeals process works
Dates and time periods for assessment changes and appeals vary depending on where you live. Often, reassessments are performed every three to five years. Other times, towns will render assessments on new construction or reassessments if you’ve made significant additions to your house (which is also a reason they require you to get building permits – so they know you’ve improved your property).
After an assessment or reassessment is issued, you have only so long to contest any changes through the appeals process. Approximately six to seven weeks is a typical time frame in many states – and the clock starts ticking from the time the notice is mailed. Check your municipal or county assessor’s website or call their office to find out the specifics for where you live.
3. Ensure your home is compared to similar properties.
Professional appeals experts know they need support when challenging an assessment. You don’t win an appeal by simply showing up and claiming your assessment isn’t fair – you need to find comparable homes with lower assessments to prove your case.
Luckily, assessed values are pubic record and you can find out nearly everything you need to know by going online (although in some places records have not been digitized yet). You’ll need to look for homes of similar size, age, amenities and tax classification that are paying lower taxes.
When it comes to lowering your property taxes, the government is not here to help. You can hire a professional appeal expert or do it yourself; but no matter what, you need to be proactive.