Can you lower your property taxes?

Property taxes can be confusing, as there doesn’t appear to be an obvious, consistent rate. Still, there is a method to the apparent madness.

First, understand that property taxes are calculated using the tax rate and the current market value of your property. Tax rates are based on state law and set based on what municipalities feel they need to pay for important services. An assessor hired by your local government estimates the market value of your property, including the land and structure.

The assessed value is a percentage of the home’s market value or the market value itself, depending on the jurisdiction, and your tax bill is based on this assessment. Your tax office multiplies the tax rate by the assessed value to come up with your bill.

Take Charge of Your Situation

Request a copy of your property tax card from the assessor’s office. It will give you information your town has gathered about your property, such as the size of the lot, the precise dimensions of the rooms, and the number and type of fixtures located within the home. It may include a section about improvements made to the existing structure.

Read it carefully, and note any discrepancies. If the information on the card is wrong, inform the assessor, who will either make the correction or conduct a reevaluation. Next, research other assessments on comparable homes. If a similar house has a lower assessment, bring it to the assessor’s attention.

You don’t have to give the assessor permission to access your home, but you should. If you refuse, it’s in the town’s interest to assume that you’re hiding some pricy improvements. Some towns have a policy to let the assessor automatically assign the highest value if not granted access to the property.

Look for Exemptions

Your tax burden could be lowered:

  • If you are a senior.
  • If you are a veteran.
  • If you have certain disabilities.
  • Following the death of a home-owning spouse. This is called the homestead exemption; it can also release the surviving spouse from certain debts.

You may, after your research, believe you’re being overcharged. In that case, appeal your tax bill. You may have a small filing fee; and you’ll probably need a lawyer, who may take a portion of the savings on your tax bill if your appeal is approved. You may get a reduction, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes, you even see a raise! So be prudent.

Don’t file an appeal with nothing more than hope.

Finally, keep in mind that each state and each locale has its own rules and procedures. Work with local property and legal professionals to make sure your appeal has merit.

The bottom line: Don’t assume your tax bill is set in stone. With research and due diligence, you may be able to reduce your burden.

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