Property tax season is here and it appears that most homeowners are in for quite a shock when they open their bill. 2021 has been a year of unprecedented growth in the greater Austin area and with it came soaring home prices. Homes are being assessed at $50,000 to $100,000 higher than last year’s values. Protesting your annual appraised value is the only way for homeowners to keep this process in check.
Filing a property tax appeal is not as easy as simply filing out a form. Yes, submitting a protest form is the first step, but that is just the beginning. In order to increase your chances of success, we recommend protesting both on the basis that the assessed value exceeds the market value of your home. And that your home was appraised unequally as to other comparable properties. It is also extremely helpful if you file evidence along with the protest. Which will be presented to the Appraisal Board during your hearing, and that you request and analyze the County’s evidence from their appraiser.
In terms of evidence, we generally recommend that you submit an appraisal or comparative market analysis. Also photographs of any substantial conditions that may significantly affect the value of your property and any invoices or estimates to repair said conditions. Normal wear and tear or cosmetic issues, such as scratched floors or outdated paint, are generally not significant enough to sway the Appraisal Board.
After you submit your protest, you may request an informal hearing. In recent years, it has been difficult even for attorneys to schedule these hearings. Some offices simply do not have enough staff to accommodate these requests. Other appraisers are unwilling to negotiate, while others are incredibly receptive to pre-hearing negotiations. It all depends on the straw you draw!
If you are not successful with pre-hearing negotiations, your property tax appeal will eventually be set for hearing before a three-person hearing board. The panel members are not employees of the Central Appraisal District but are made up of ordinary citizens who volunteer and are appointed to the Appraisal Review Board by district judges.
The formal hearing is a full, evidentiary hearing. This year, we have been advised that most hearings will be held in person. You will need to be prepared to introduce and present evidence, present oral argument in support of your proposed value and attack the evidence submitted by the Central Appraisal District. To be candid, they are not a "walk in the park" and can get quite heated at times. Last year I had to request that several hearings be adjourned and continued because of improper conduct on behalf of the appraisers and the panel. Understandably, this is not an easy thing for those who are not an attorney to do.
Also, as with all litigation, I find that there is a fine line between effective advocacy and overzealous advocacy which serves only to alienate your audience, in this case the panel. In the event that you are representing yourself before the board, I recommend being firm, fair and polite. Once the hearing has ended, the panel will vote and determine the appropriate appraised value for your home. In the event that you are unsatisfied with the result of the hearing, you may appeal by filing a lawsuit against the Central Appraisal District.
Finally, remember “in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin, 1789.
-Nichole Humes, Esq.