"Let me save you money in property taxes."

Austin Property Tax Attorney

Not only is it the time of the year that Uncle Sam pays you a visit, but also the property taxing authority. To determine the tax bill you'll get in October, the appraisal district begins the process by conducting a comparative market analysis of your home in January. The value they place on it is based upon what it would sell for on January 1, of each year. They use recent sales of similar properties when making their determination. Once completed, they will deliver their appraisal to you sometime in late April or early May. Since it is impossible to inspect each and every property individually, the taxing authority looks at size as the most significant factor in determining a property's value.

If you believe your property was assessed too high, you may protest the results to the appraisal review board (ARB) by May 31, of each year, or 30 days from the date the notice is delivered to you, whichever is later. The ARB will notify you at least 15 days prior to your hearing. It is best to discuss your protest with the appraisal office in advance. You may work out a satisfactory solution with them instead of with the ARB. If you don't take advantage of resolving the protest beforehand, you will lose the right to meet with the appraisal office later in the event you don't agree with the review board's decision.

Preparing for the Meeting

Prior to your hearing, you will receive a copy of Taxpayers' Rights, Remedies and Responsibilities, the review board's procedures, and a statement that gives you the right to inspect and obtain a copy of the information that the chief appraiser plans to introduce at your hearing. It will be helpful for you to know in advance what data they are using when discussing your case.
You should be on time and prepared for your meeting. Since the appraisal district handles a large number of protests, they may place a time limit on your hearing. When making your presentation, stick to the facts. The ARB has no control over the appraisal district's operations or budget, tax rates for the local taxing units, inflation, or local politics. Including these topics in your presentation isn't helpful to you. Present a simple and well organized protest. Stress key facts and figures. Write them down in a logical order and give copies to each ARB member.

Points to Consider

When preparing a market analysis, bring photographs of your home as well as the comparable properties. Include their addresses, sizes, features, and dates sold. If your property is a single story, 2000 sq. ft., 3 bedroom, 2 bath home, find comparables that are closely resembling yours. A two story, 4 bedroom, 3 bath home that has the same square footage as yours is not a good comparable. Be also careful about the square footage that is quoted in the tax records. Many times the size indicated is incorrect. Gather blueprints, a survey, an independent appraisal, or your own measurements. If your documented figures are lower than theirs, you may be able to receive a tax abatement with little resistance.

Pay particular attention to your home's defects, such as a cracked foundation, inadequate plumbing, mold problems, or deferred maintenance. Normal wear and tear will not be just cause for a lower value. Providing photographs and statements from contractors, engineers, or independent appraisers will be helpful. Your home's location is another important factor when establishing a fair market assessment. Adjacent properties may adversely affect your home's value. If you are neighboring a commercial property or one that has been neglected, bring it to the review board's attention. They may reduce the value of your property on these merits alone. Another probable cause for a value adjustment may be if it is situated on a busy street. Many times property owners are unable to sell their homes for the same price as similar ones situated on quieter streets.

The time in which the comparable properties have sold is also important. Focus on the most recent sales when determining value. They will be the most accurate. Although the appraisal district determines their assessment based upon last year's home sale figures, they will consider closings that have taken place after January 1, of each year. More recent data may indicate a lower figure.

Once the ARB rules on your protest, it will send you a written order by certified mail. If you are dissatisfied with the review board's findings, you have the right to appeal its decision to the state district court. To get more information regarding the process, call the appraisal district in the county in which your property is located. The Travis County Appraisal District's phone number is 834-9317 and the Williamson County Appraisal District's is 930-3787.

If you don't know the square footage of your home or would like a market analysis, please feel free to call me at (512) 251-5004.

Homestead Exemptions

You may be eligible for additional tax savings by filing a homestead exemption. An exemption removes part of the value of your property from taxation and therefore lowers your taxes. You will qualify for a general or disabled homestead exemption, if you have owned your home and used it as your principal residence on January 1, of each year. A general homestead exemption offers you school, county, and other taxing unit discounts. If you are physically or mentally disabled, additional discounts are offered by the State.

There are special privileges given to the elderly who also own and reside in a home. If you are age 65 or older, you will be eligible for more discounts. Not only will you receive a $10,000 exemption for school taxes, but also they will never go up as long as you own and live in your home. As a qualified person, you may receive other taxing unit discounts that will additionally reduce your tax liability.

One of the biggest advantages of having a homestead exemption is the limitation of your property value increases. The Property Tax Code places a 10% cap on your home's taxable value from the preceding year provided that (1) no additional improvements have been made and (2) you qualified for the exemption the prior year. If the market value of your home is less than the capped value, your tax will be based upon the market valuation.

To file for an exemption on your home, get an application form from your local appraisal district office or call me at (512) 251-5004.