Property Tax, Lieber

The “Everybody file a protest” campaign, launched by The Watchdog at The Dallas Morning News, is a creative way for Texas property owners to try to lower their taxes and also protest an unfair system.

Welcome to the 2021 reopening of Property Tax Central, where The Watchdog’s goal is to give you the latest information on how to lower your booming property taxes.

Am I effective? Let’s check with the experts.

Several years ago, Rudy Durham, then Denton County’s chief appraiser, said, “There’s a consumer watchdog that is encouraging people to file a protest. Not so people can get their properties corrected. He wants to mess up the system and shut it down and prove a point is what he said.”

He added, “This is Dave Lieber of The Dallas Morning News.”

Then last month at a Tarrant Appraisal District board of directors meeting, director of commercial appeals David Law referred to my annual urging that everyone protest their appraisal.

He said, “We’re getting some assistance from external influences on educating the public on how to do this. And with all due respect, I mention Mr. Dave Lieber. Mr. Dave Lieber was out there creating a flag. The flag said ‘Everybody protest.’ He was encouraging people to protest.

“It was effective. What we’re trying to do here in the building, he was doing it outside.”

One correction. My flag says “Everybody file a protest.” And yes, I do have a virtual flag (green for money) symbolic of my campaign to persuade property owners to challenge the system, as is your legal right.

I launched my campaign in favor of educating Texans about protests 10 years ago after, on a quiet Saturday night at home in 2011, I went online and challenged my home value. In a matter of minutes and without any human contact, my property value dropped thousands of dollars.

“Hey,” I remember thinking, “I gotta show people how to do this.” And I’ve been showing ever since.

First, some quick how-to’s and then we’ll get to the latest news and a quick check on property tax bills filed in the Texas Legislature.

Basic how-to

For the many who recently moved here, plus those thinking of protesting for the first time, here are the basics.

Sometime in the next few weeks, property owners will receive in the mail an appraisal notice showing the taxable value of your primary home. Unless you’re a recent homebuyer, the increase is capped at 10% annually. (If you just bought, the cap may not apply the first year, so brace yourself.)

If you don’t get a notice in the next month or so, that means your value didn’t go up much, stayed the same or dropped a little. Make sure to check your appraisal district’s website because you can still protest.

Values are not yet released. Then you’ll have several weeks before the protest deadline to alert the appraisal district that you want to protest. Protest deadlines will vary by county.

Two best ways to build your case? First, ask any real estate agent to run the comps (comparable sales) on similar properties in your neighborhood. It’s free, and they’re merely building a relationship with you.

Also, explore your appraisal district website for information the appraisers plan to use. If comps for recent home sales are low, you’re good. If they’re high, consider the second method.

Appraisers don’t get to look at the inside of your home. Your job is to prove to them all the repairs and upgrades required to put your home on the market to justify the high taxable value they’ve assigned.

Foundation problems? Worn flooring? Storm-battered roof? Leaking old windows? Kitchen and bathrooms out of date?

Take photos to show. Get estimates from repair companies about how much it would cost to make those repairs and use those numbers to lower the value. (That’s why you should start on this now and not wait for the deadline.)

It’s possible you won’t have to attend a hearing at their offices. The district may accept your offer to lower the value and avoid a hearing.

Some people hire a property tax consultant. Find one that only takes a percentage if she or he wins you savings. Don’t bother with those who charge a flat fee, win or lose.

You can do this yourself, too. I’ve represented myself and also hired consultants. Even if your value hasn’t gone up, if you have flaws to show or comps to beat, it’s still worth a protest, which costs only your time, no money.

The Texas Taxpayer Bill of Rights says this is your right, and it’s up to you to make sure that everyone is taxed fairly and equally.

A decade ago, Jim Robinson, then chief appraiser for Harris County, told me a tax appraiser’s job is not to get more money for governments. An appraiser’s job is to give an honest estimate about a property’s worth.

Look at it this way: It’s your job to help them appraise.

Up or down?

We don’t yet know how bad the tax hit will be this year. We’ll find out soon when notices arrive. I suspect a lot of us will hit the 10% cap, which is high.

“Markets are up, so I expect values to go up,” predicts Will Wiggins of North Texas Property Tax Services.

Glenn Goodrich, whose website — propertytax.io — helps owners estimate whether a protest is strong or weak, says, “This could be the single biggest year of tax burden on residential homeowners. The commercial properties will have professionals knocking value off.

“Homeowners need to fight for themselves this year or hire someone to do it for them. Otherwise, residential owners in general will be paying way more than their fair share.”

Your taxable value is based on the condition of the property as of Jan. 1 this year. But if the February storms caused property damage at 15% or more of your value, you can apply for a one-time disaster exemption.

“Taxpayers need to prove 15% of improved value was damaged for the temporary exemption,” Wiggins says.

Check with your appraisal district for more on that. But you must apply before the protest deadline, whatever it is in your county.

Another development is the loss of in-person hearings. The pandemic put a halt to many of them last year, and most hearings may be virtual this year.

Property tax consultants who handle Dallas County protests received a letter from the Dallas Central Appraisal District last week stating, “We will have no face-to-face informals or appointments” with consultants.

“This is a huge deal,” Goodrich explains. “Our industry is changing and the public needs to know what is going on to make better decisions on how to hire or not hire someone.”

He suggests asking consultants, “What is your strategy to negotiate remotely with an appraisal district?”

He warns, “Proceed with caution when a company says they can save you money without actually showing you how.”

Many bills filed

A huge, possibly record-setting, amount of property tax bills have been introduced in the Texas Legislature. It’s the job of lawmakers to fix the unfair and unequal property tax setup.

By my count, 123 property tax bills have been introduced in the House, and another 36 are before the Senate. The bills are of a wide variety, but most seek to improve the system for taxpayers, such as lowering the cap and allowing for pre-payments, and much, much more.

If you’d like to see all these bills for yourself, I recommend going to the Texas Municipal League website. Then go to the “Policy” tab, then “Legislative Information,” then “City-Related Bills Filed.”

1 of 2 chances of winning

A University of Texas at Dallas study last year of almost 80,000 Dallas County homeowners found a typical protester, if they win, saves $600 in taxes.

The study found that 1 out of every 2 protesters won. Those are good odds for gamblers.

Study leaders sent suggested protest language to one group, but none to the other. Turns out a little help goes a long way. Those who got the helpful language were more likely to file a protest.

The suggested language: “I found a home that is similar to mine but was recently sold for less than my home’s appraised market value. The property located at [give address] is 0.29 miles away from my home and has the same number of bedrooms and a similar square footage. That property was sold on [give date] for [give amount].”

As I reported last year, low income and Hispanic homeowners are less likely to protest. Hispanics were 36% less likely to protest than whites.

Low-income owners are missing out on potential big savings.

There’s opportunity to expand the field of protesters by spreading the word to different communities and in different languages.

Everybody file a protest, well, that means everybody.

Todos negocian sus impuestos propiedades.

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