It's the dreaded time of the year: Tax Season. Right around March, the Travis County Appraisal District (TCAD) sends out their appraisers to adjust the tax value of your home.
In a quickly-appreciating market like Austin, this means your taxes almost always go up. Sometimes by a painful amount.
I’ve seen someone’s property taxes increase by 25% this year alone. That’s thousands of extra dollars over the course of the year just to keep living in their same house.
But a lot of people don’t realize this number is negotiable. And that you can keep it from going up too much in the first place.
If you haven’t already, you should make sure you’ve filed a homestead exemption on your primary residence. That will prevent your taxes from going up by more than 10% year to year.
But a 10% increase could still be pretty painful, so if you do get an unexpectedly high tax bill for your house for the year, what then? Well thankfully you can protest it, and potentially get your tax bill substantially lower.
In this article, I’ll go through how you can do that if you get an unexpected property tax bill this year.
Why Should You Protest Your Tax Appraisal?
First off, you have nothing to lose in attempting to protest your appraisal value.
If you go through the protest process, the county cannot increase your appraised value, unless you, the property owner, request and agree to a greater value (but don't do this!)
Worst case scenario, your appraised tax value stays the same, but at least you tried. Best case, it goes down.
With that disclaimer aside, let's walk through some examples to see how increases in your tax appraisal can significantly affect your monthly costs over time.
Example 1: Your Home with a Homestead Exemption
Say that the county appraiser values your property at $400,000 in 2021 and raises it 8% to $420,000 in 2022.
You live in 78721 (East Austin) and your tax rate is 2.1767%.
This means your property taxes go from $8,706.80 per year ($725.57 per month) to $9,403.34 per year ($783.61 per month). That's only a $58.05 difference per month, but remember that this compounds.
If your appraised value increases by 8% every year for 10 years, your monthly taxes go from $725.57 in 2021 to $1,568.82 in 2031. Keep in mind that in quickly-appreciating areas like the East Side, Ziker, etc., the annual increase will often be the 10% cap.
Real Examples with Homestead Exemptions
These are pulled from TCAD's public records.
Example 2: Your Home without a Homestead Exemption
If you own investment properties or didn't file your homestead exemption, that 10% cap doesn't exist. When the sky is the limit, it's especially important to monitor your new tax value each year and protest them to keep your taxes to a minimum. Tax increases and cut into your cashflow and can even negate it.
Let's say that the county appraiser values your property at $400,000 in 2021 and raises it 25% to $500,000 in 2022. A 25% increase may seem insane, but that has happened from 2020 to 2021 to folks without homestead exemptions.
Let's continue with the example from above and say that your investment property is in 78721 (East Austin) and your tax rate is 2.1767%.
This means your property taxes go from $8,706.80 per year ($725.57 per month) to $10,883.50 per year ($906.96 per month). That's a $181.39 difference each month AND it compounds.
If your appraised value increases by the below percentages over the next 5 years, your monthly taxes go from $725.57 in 2021 to $1,768.57 in 2025.
Austin is a young city and only getting started. These annual percentage increases in appraised value are not impossible.
Real Examples Without Homestead Exemptions
These are pulled from TCAD's public records.
When Should You Protest Your Tax Appraisal?
If your assessed value went down or stayed the same, there's probably no need to protest unless you're just in it for the challenge.
But if they went up by an amount that you disagree with, it's well within your right as a taxpaying citizen to protest your tax appraisal. The county makes it annoying to do this, but it could be worth the effort.
Let's get into it!
An Important & Upfront Consideration
Before we get into the weeds, know that you can appoint someone else or hire someone to handle all of this on your behalf.
If you're asking another individual to take your place, you can use the Comptroller's Appointment of Agent for Property Taxes form, which says that you authorize them to appear for you.
If you're hiring and designating an attorney, lender, or a courier, no form is necessary.
Five Stone Tax Advisors makes it easy to hire this all out. As a disclaimer, I haven't worked with them personally, but their Yelp and Google reviews are solid. They have two packages: the Essential package for $60 and the Essential Plus package for $150. The former package keeps 45% of your savings and the latter keeps 40% of your savings. With either package, they will either keep the fixed fee or the savings percentage, whichever is higher. You can find further information on their website.
But if you want to take this on yourself, read on.
Step 1: Keep Tabs on Your Assessed Value
Monitor your mail in March. If your tax appraisal has increased more than $1,000 from last year, TCAD must send a letter called the "Notice of Appraised Value". This notice must be sent by April 1 if the property is your homestead or by May 1 if it's not.
This letter will have your appraised value, but also key information for your protest, like your unique identifying information, your eFile pin number, and your deadlines.
You can also find your appraised value on the public county database here. Use the dropdown bar on the left of the screen to adjust the search field. I usually find that it's easiest to use the "Compound Text Search" option and search for your last name.
From there, select the correct property and you'll be able to see if the county has gotten to your house for the current year.
The values begin to roll out in March and April. As I write this on March 25, 2022, I haven't received my new values for 2022 for my homes on the East Side, but a friend who lives in Zilker has.
Step 2: Fill Out & File Your Protest Form with the Appraisal Review Board
You can do this via the eFile system or by mail.
If you're doing this online, then you will do everything through the eFile system. (Note: As of March 25, 2022, the eFile system will go live in mid-April, as the county is updating their website.)
The evidence and opinion of value you upload to the eFile system takes the place of your informal hearing (see more about this in Step 3 below.)
Your evidence and opinion of value will get reviewed and you will receive a verdict via email usually within 10 business days from submitting your protest. Skip to Step 7.
You can find the Notice of Protest Form here. You'll have until May 15 or until 30 days after the Notice of Appraisal Value letter was delivered, whichever date is later, to file this with the Appraisal Review Board (ARB).
You can protest for a number of things:
Excessive Value: If you think the assessed value from the district is too high. This is probably the most common reason to protest.
Unequal Appraisal: If you think the assessed value is disproportionally higher than other comparable homes in your area. Appraisals should be uniform across similar properties in similar neighborhoods. You can use your neighbors' assessed values as part of your evidence. This is public information that can be found here. Take a sample of like-kind properties and determine the median level of appraisal adjustments. If your adjustment is higher, this is good evidence to use to support your case.
Incorrect Tax Units: This is usually a clerical error. For example, the records may put you in an incorrect school district.
Incorrect Appraisal District: If your home is showing up in an incorrect county. Sometimes county lines can shift, but you can only be taxed in one county.
Failure to Provide Notice: If TCAD never sent you your Notice of Appraised Value.
Denied Exemption: If the chief appraiser denied your exemption application, such as your homestead exemption. If this is the case, the next immediate step is to find out why your application was denied.
Denied Agricultural Appraisal: If the chief appraiser denied your agricultural exemption for your farm or ranch. If this is the case, ask why your application was denied. Be sure to present evidence that shows why and how your property qualifies for a special appraisal.
Removed Agricultural Use: If your agricultural exemption was partially or wholly removed. If this is incorrect, submit supporting evidence regarding your land use.
Incorrect Owner Name: If the name in the TCAD records are wrong. Submit your deed information with the correct information.
Step 3: Request an Informal Meeting with a County Appraiser
If you're protesting via the eFile system, skip this step. The evidence and case you upload to the eFile system takes place of your informal hearing.
If you're doing this by mail, you will indicate this in your Notice of Protest Form in Section 5. Travis County has an informal meeting option that takes place before a formal hearing in front of the ARB.
This informal meeting is a one-on-one meeting with an appraiser during which they will walk you through their evaluation. You'll also be able to present evidence to defend your request for a readjustment. 70% to 90% of protests are resolved at this stage. It's preferable to try this route before going through with the formal process.
If you don't receive an adjustment you're happy with from this informal meeting, you can proceed with a formal presentation with the ARB.
Step 4: Get Information About Your ARB Hearing
You will receive information about your hearing no less than 15 days before your ARB hearing. This piece of mail will have the date, time, and location of your hearing.
There should also be information about postponing your hearing in case the scheduled date and time don't work for you.
TCAD will also send you the Comptroller's Property Taxpayer Remedies, the ARB procedures, and a statement that says you have the right to request copies of the information that TCAD will use at your hearing.
Step 5: Do Your Due Diligence & Prepare Your Evidence
How To Gather Your Evidence
In the meantime, collect all evidence that you're entitled to receive.
You are entitled to, and should, request copies of the information and data that TCAD plans to use and introduce at your hearing. You should also request any information that TCAD used for the appraisal value that you're protesting. All of this information will be at no cost to you, per the law.
You may go to the TCAD office and ask them to show you everything. You can also request the evidence packet from TCAD's eFile system. This can be found in your eFile portal. Switch to "Evidence View" and look under the "CAD Documents" column. There will be a blue button labeled "Open List" that will bring you to a downloadable document list.
You can also obtain a copy of the entire appraisal roll from the TACD site. Upon request and for $5, TCAD can also pull targeted data (i.e for a specific property type, subdivision, zip code, etc) and put that data into a PDF for you.
You may receive all of this evidence mere days before your hearing, so request it as early as possible.
Collecting Comparable Properties
If you're protesting because you think your home increased more than similar properties, dig into the numbers and make a facts-based case.
Your evidence packet from TCAD should contain equity and/or sales comparison grids. Use these to build your case by focusing on homes that are most similar to yours.
For example, if you live in a condo, don't focus on a single-family home. If you live in a new build, don't focus on the teardown next door.
If there's a comp that the appraiser used for your appraisal that was incorrectly adjusted, present and defend a more accurate adjustment. For example, maybe they equally valued your home and your neighbor's home with a pool. Argue that your home is less valuable than your neighbor's because of this. Pools, garages, carports, decks, etc. are good factors to adjust for. Bring photos as well.
Other Helpful Evidence
You may also want to collect further evidence to help support your case. Examples of evidence you may want to include:
- Pictures of your home that support your case
- Engineering reports, such as a roof inspection or foundation report
- County records showing similar homes' appraised values from the current tax year
- Receipts of repairs and renovations performed before January 1 of the current year, as the date of your appraisal is January 1 of the current year
- Measurements of your lot size and home size, especially if they don't match what's on record with TCAD
- Deed records
- Property surveys
- Copy of the appraisal roll
Do not go to your hearing unprepared.
Go with concrete and unemotional evidence.
It is up to you to present all the evidence you believe is necessary to prove your case.
If you are presenting hard copies of your evidence, print out 5 copies. You need a copy for yourself, for each member of the ARB, and for the appraisal district's representative.
If you are presenting electronically, be sure to check that your device is allowed. This information is provided in the ARB procedures that were mailed to you along with your hearing information from Step 4.
Step 6: Attend Your ARB Hearing
You may attend your hearing over the phone or via video conference. If possible, though, it's best to go in person.
If you're attending your hearing, arrive early and bring all your evidence. As of March 2022, in-person hearings are held at the TCAD office at 850 E Anderson Lane and will begin in June. It's recommended that you also bring your hearing letter to expedite the check in process.
The hearing is similar to that of a courtroom with a judge and a jury and will take about 15 to 20 minutes. The ARB is made up of citizens from Travis county. They are your neighbors and are tasked with ensuring that TCAD is appraising everyone's properties fairly.
The order of events will be as follows:
- ARB or panel chairman begins the hearing by announcing the protest number and identifying information like the address and owner.
- ARB or panel chairman verifies that no one has spoken about the protest with others.
- Everyone provides their respective written and/or electronic material.
- ARB or panel chairman reviews hearing procedures and asks witnesses, if there are any, about their credentials.
- ARB or panel chairman informs witnesses that they're under oath.
- ARB or panel chairman asks whether the property owner will present their argument before or after the appraisal district.
- ARB or panel chairman swear in witnesses who plan to testify.
- If the property owner elects to present first, they will present their evidence, examine witnesses (if any), and can state their opinion of the property value.
- The appraisal district representative will then be able to cross-examine the property owner, agent, and witnesses (if any), present evidence, examine witnesses, and can state their opinion of the property value.
- Property owner can cross-examine the appraisal district's witness(es).
- After both parties present their evidence, the property owner can present rebuttal evidence to the ARB, which is used to refute any evidence previously provided by the appraisal district representative. The appraisal district representative can then present rebuttal evidence.
- Both parties make their closing arguments.
- ARB or panel chairman closes the hearing and the ARB deliberates and votes.
- ARB or panel chairman announces their opinion of your home's value. If the hearing was done by a panel of the ARB then the decision won't be finalized until the it's approved by the full ARB. You will receive a Notice of Final Order 3 to 4 weeks after your hearing.
As mentioned earlier, it's important to go into your hearing prepared with evidence. Keep in mind that the ARB is not in charge of your tax rate and they will not take your personal financial situation into account. Do not use emotional arguments and be sure to stick to the facts. They don't care about your sob story.
Step 7: The Verdict
You should receive a verdict via email within 10 business days from submitting your protest back in Step 2.
This email will show the beginning value (the value that you're protesting), your opinion of value (the value you're arguing to reach), and the settlement value. You can accept or deny the settlement value.
If you accept, then you're all done and you waive the right to further proceedings.
If you reject, then you will receive a letter in the mail with details for your formal trial with the ARB. Go back to step 5 and tune up your case.
The 3-member panel of the ARB at your formal hearing will announce their decision at the of your trial. The decision won't be finalized until the it's approved by the full ARB and you will receive a Notice of Final Order 3 to 4 weeks after your hearing.
Step 7: Further Actions
If you are still dissatisfied by your outcome after your formal hearing, you may appeal the ARB's decision in binding arbitration or District Court.
Protesting your appraisal value can be a hefty undertaking, but it can pay off heavily over the years, especially if the subject property isn't your homestead. If you begin to get overwhelmed, remember that you always have the option to hire someone else to do it for you.
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