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Are You Paying Too Much in Property Taxes?


A reader who thinks his property tax assessment is too high may be right -- more than half of all U.S. properties may be assessed at more than their current value. Here's how to find out whether it makes sense to appeal your property taxes.

Q: Home prices in my area are falling, yet my property taxes keep going up. What’s the easiest way to find out if my property assessment is too high?A: If you think your home is being over-assessed, there’s a good change you’re right. More than half of all U.S. properties may be assessed at more than their current value, according to an estimate by the National Taxpayers Union. Many communities haven’t reassessed property values since the housing market’s boom years, and as a result some homeowners are paying far more in taxes than they should.

Most homeowners don’t bother to challenge their tax assessments because the process can be complex and time consuming, but those who do often discover it’s worth it -- between 20% and 40% of homeowners who challenge their assessments win, according to the National Taxpayers Union.

One quick and easy way to get a feel for what comparable homes are selling for in your area is to compare home values on real-estate websites such as Zillow. The site includes listing of similar homes for sales, as well as prices for comparable homes that sold recently. Pay attention to sale prices of comparable homes (similar styles, same number of bedrooms, baths, etc.) within the last three to six months — these are the numbers property tax appraisers use to help determine your home’s assessed value.

If you’re convinced your home’s assessment is too high, there are a number of websites that can do the legwork you need to appeal your property tax assessment. Here are a few:

LowerMyAssessment.com. The website will quickly assess your property for free, telling you whether your current assessment is in line with comparable homes in your area. If you are being over-assessed, the service has three packages: For $39.95, you’ll receive a list of sales of comparable homes; for $79.95, you’ll receive comparable home sales data and customized tax-appeal forms (though this service is only available in 11 states); and for $299.95, you get a professional home appraisal by a licensed appraiser, along with appeals forms and comparable home sales data.

ValueAppeal.com. This service will also provide a free evaluation of your assessment, and recommend whether or not a property tax appeal makes sense. For $99, the service will provide you with a custom property valuation (using the same database local tax assessors use to determine home values), a list of home values for 10 comparable homes, and a customized appeal report to mail to your property tax appeals board. Best of all, you get your money back if the appeal is rejected.

The National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers. One of the easiest ways to appeal your property taxes is to search for a professional real estate appraiser in your area who is familiar with the local market and who can do a thorough appraisal of your home. The cost for a professional appraisal can be between $250 and $300, depending on your location.

Finally, before you pay for any appraisal service, check with your local tax assessor to ensure that third-party assessments are permitted for purposes of appealing your taxes.

ASK THE EXPERT: Do you have a personal-finance or financial-planning question? Send your questions to tcullen@hcplive.com.

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