Imagine a movie trailer.

A deep voice says: “In a world where falling property values collide with rising taxable values, one homeowner must stand up against a wicked system and change the world. A hero will rise, and property taxes will drop. Coming soon — property appraisal protest hearings near you.”

And the movie’s title? The Watchdog’s 2020 Primer on Your Property Tax/Appraisal Protest.

Here goes. This is the worst year for the already unfair Texas property appraisal system. The economy crashed, but that won’t be reflected in property appraisals until next year.

A new state law designed to limit tax increases is causing confusion, but reduced taxes is likely a non-starter this year. Plus, protest deadlines are all over the place, causing even more confusion.

I am here to offer the latest information as part of my annual “Everybody file a protest” campaign, something I celebrate with my own flag.

If you didn’t receive a blue-colored appraisal notice in the mail recently, you can still file a protest. Just go to your county appraisal district’s website and look up your property. Mailing notices to every property owner is not required, so it varies county by county. Some send to everyone, and some don’t.

In Rockwall County, every homeowner gets a mailed notice. In bigger counties like Dallas and Tarrant, notices only go to homeowners with changes in their numbers. The most important thing you can do is look up your property on the appraisal district’s website.

Protest deadlines

Deadline to file a protest is: Denton, May 30; Tarrant, June 1; Dallas and Collin, June 15. Rockwall County’s deadline was May 15.

Confusion abounds

I’ve contacted the chief appraisers in all five of those counties. Differences in handling protests this year are stunning.

In Collin County, for instance, the goal is to hold no in-person protests. Protests will be done online or by telephone, chief appraiser Bo Daffin says.

Meanwhile, in Dallas County (which mailed notices Friday), the appraisal district’s building is closed to the public. Protest hearings will be handled by telephone with one-person panels rather than the usual three-person deciders.

Many Dallas appraisal review board members have resigned due to virus fears, causing the one-person panels, chief appraiser Ken Nolan says. The goal is to settle as many as possible by telephone hearings. Last year, Dallas had about 200 telephone hearings. This year, that could reach 75,000.

Confusing terms

Among The Watchdog’s many pet peeves here, rising to the top is confusion of terms used.

There’s the market value, which you protest. That’s what a property might sell for. The appraised value, sometimes called assessed value, is subject to a 10% cap. Some counties offer what they call a taxable value, too. That’s what is multiplied later with a tax district (city, county, school, hospital, college) to get your property tax, due in January.

Wow. Deep breath.

Learning aids

Before I share a county-by-county breakdown, I’m pleased to announce two new ways you can study and plan your protest.

The first is a full archive of all my property tax stories going back six years in one location.

I also hosted this month a 90-minute property tax seminar with two top experts. I’ve posted the video and, even better, the 19,000-word full transcript (which I highly recommend).

You’ll find both on my Watchdog page at www.DallasNews.com/watchdog.

Answers to your questions

How do you find a property tax consultant?

Don’t go by the mail solicitations you’re receiving. Most of those companies charge a flat fee to represent you in a protest, even if they fail. Hire a consultant who only gets paid if your numbers get lowered. Otherwise, where’s the incentive? And when signing a contract, remember that most are open-ended. You must cancel with the agent and the district — or they often keep representing you.

What am I protesting?

You are challenging the market value, which is what the appraiser estimates your property would sell for. Remember, the notice you receive now is not your tax bill. It’s only a proposed assessment. It’s up to you to prove it wrong by comparable properties or problems in your home that would hinder a sale at that price. Advice: Don’t complain about your tax bill when you protest. Your target is your market value.

What are my rights as a taxpayer?

Good question. Do a Web search for “Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights.”

If I’m a senior and my school taxes are frozen, should I still protest?

Yes, you could because it’s free to do and besides, the remaining 40% or so of your tax bill may not be frozen.

Why should I protest every year?

Most owners should because the system is based on you correcting their misinformation about your property. If you protest and win in 2020, your tax bill will be lower years from now because of it.

County info

Dallas County: Residential values are expected to rise an average of 6.6%, Nolan says. Informal protests will be handled online through uFile, and by phone or by email. “We’re going to try to keep it to non-human contact and just do it by telephone,” Nolan says. Almost 1 out of 5 residential owners protested last year.

Collin County: The customer service center is open, and office hours are extended to 6 p.m. No in-person hearings will take place, chief appraiser Daffin says. Online or phone is preferred. Panels will have three deciders. Values for homeowners are averaging a 2.3% increase.

Denton County: Values are expected to rise 7%, chief appraiser Hope McClure says. Telephone and video will be used for protests. Denton County expects lots of protests. There were 80,000 last year. “A filed protest form will be required before speaking informally with an appraiser this year,” the website states.

Tarrant County: Average residential properties will increase 3% to 5%, chief appraiser Jeff Law says. But in a big surprise, the values of more than half of the residential and commercial properties stayed the same or went down, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first reported. One reason: A new state law says property owners who win a protest one year cannot see their values raised the next year without “clear and convincing evidence.” There were 170,000 protests last year, and 130,000 were resolved informally. The rest went to hearings. Note: Even with a decline, tax bills could still go up depending on what rates governments set a few months from now. The appraisal district office is closed to the public.

Rockwall County: Homeowners are looking at an average 5% increase in values, chief appraiser Kevin Passons says. Hearings start Monday by phone or, if a homeowner demands it, in person. After being closed since March, the lobby opens Monday.

Remember, if you didn’t get a mailed notice, go online and find your values. You can protest from that point. And check out my seminar’s “Full Transcript.” It’s loaded with information.

My pretend movie trailer ends with Dallas’ Nolan looking into the camera and saying: “We’re just going to get through this the best way we can.”

Amen.

Note to print readers: If you want to watch the video, on YouTube search for “Quarantine Challenge 2K20” on the “Michael and Ali Hoffman TV” channel.

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