Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question from Ronald in FL: Hi Brian, Several months ago, I got my property tax assessment. The assessed value of my 3-bedroom, 2-bath house went up another $20,000 this year. That’s on top of $12,000 last year. My tax bill has gone up about 17% in the past two years. I’ve already paid for the first half of the year, but I want to appeal this year’s increase before the bill is due for the second half. I work part-time and my wife is disabled collecting a fixed income. I don’t even know where all the money is going. Our streets are full of potholes and the crime rate is going up instead of down. I’d appreciate any tips you can give me about filing an appeal to lower my taxes.
Answer: Hello, Ronald. I’m sure that you’re not alone in getting sticker shock when the property tax bill arrives. The good news is that property taxes can be appealed. The bad news is that there is limited time to file the appeal in almost every county. Since you have already paid for the first half of the year, chances are that you’ve missed the opportunity to appeal the assessed value for this year. But there may be ways you can have this year’s tax bill adjusted. Also, now is a good time to begin making plans to appeal it next year.
The place to start looking for this year’s adjustments is with the homestead exemption. When someone in Florida owns property and makes it their permanent residence or the permanent residence of their dependent, the property owner may be eligible to receive a homestead exemption that would decrease the property’s taxable value by as much as $50,000. More tax adjustments are available to property owners with disabilities, senior citizens, veterans, active-duty military service members, disabled first responders, and properties with specialized uses. Ronald, you need to contact your county property assessor’s office to request applications and guidelines for any adjustments that might apply.
Now, let’s look at how to begin preparing to appeal the assessed value next year. According to the National Taxpayers Union, somewhere between 20% and 40% of appeals are successful. Lowering the assessed value not only means a lower tax bill but also lowers the starting point the next time the county assesses the value.
Appeal rules and timelines are where to begin. Assessment notices typically go out the first few months of the year. But the timeline at your location might be different so be sure you know when the clock starts. As soon as you get your assessment (or even before) check the deadline for challenging the value. You probably only have a few weeks.
Make sure adjustments have been made. Property tax adjustments aren't automatic. You usually have to apply for them and show proof of eligibility. Even if you are successful in having this year’s taxes adjusted, look over next year’s bill carefully to be sure this year’s adjustments carry over to next year. Do this every year because some adjustments must be periodically reapplied for to show continuing eligibility.
Check the assessor’s official description of your house. Errors happen. For instance, your 3-bedroom, 2-bath house, might be on the tax rolls as a 4-bedroom, 3-bath house. If you can show credible proof, some assessors make the change without going through the formal appeal process.
Compare your assessed value to others in the neighborhood. This could be your first step in preparing to appeal. Property tax records are public information. You might be able to look at other houses online in your neighborhood or you might have to go to the assessor’s office for the information. Compare your assessed value to houses of similar age, square footage, and with the same number of bedrooms/bathrooms to see if those assessments are in line with yours.
Look for exceptions that might lower your property value. Even if yours is in line with similar houses, you might have circumstances that lower the value of your house. These are things that lower the value of your home in the eyes of potential buyers. Things like a 25-year-old roof or a poorly graded lot that regularly floods. Something else to consider, if your assessment rules allow, is hiring a certified appraiser who can provide strong professional evidence of your property's value. Review the appeal rules to learn if you need specific documentation for any of these circumstances.
Organize your appeal packet. This is the evidence showing that your actual house value is less than the assessed value. It includes documentation like data on comparable properties, blueprints, photographs, and repair estimates. In most locations, you need to mail or deliver the packet for the assessor to review before a public hearing is held. Know what date it must be in their office. That might be the end of the required appeal process. However, most counties hold public meetings to review appeals and/or report on appeals. It would be in your best interest to attend the meeting to add your voice to the packet of official documentation. Finally, some locations have a higher level of appeal if your local appeal is denied. Make yourself familiar with this process if it is available. In the end, it can take several months to receive a final decision. Keep track of the entire process until a final decision is issued.
What tips and advice can you add in the comments?
Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].