Want to Lower Your Property Taxes? 7 Steps to Appeal—and Win

If you’re a homeowner, you probably already know that recent tax legislation means you can now deduct only up to $10,000 worth of property taxes from your federal tax bill. And if you live in a high-tax state—New Jersey, Illinois, and Texas, we’re looking at you—that probably feels like a drop in the bucket.

So it’s understandable if you’re feeling a little extra burn as you pull out your checkbook this tax season. But what can you do besides complain? (Or move?)

Sadly, there’s no “get out of paying property tax” loophole—it’s an ongoing burden that homeowners everywhere must take on. But there is a chance you can shrink the amount of taxes you owe on your home. Here’s how.

1. Know how this game works

Maybe “game” is the wrong word. There’s absolutely nothing fun about it! But the property tax system is somewhat labyrinthine and you do need to know the rules. And the most important one is that the amount you pay in taxes depends on the value of your property.

“A property owner’s chances of successfully appealing his or her property taxes depends upon whether the tax assessment is fair and accurate,” says Anthony F. DellaPelle, a property tax attorney in Morristown, NJ.

In other words, the assessment of your home should reflect its fair market value. If those two figures don’t line up, you should be able to reduce the assessment—and pay less.

If you’re lucky, your tax assessor will agree to a reduction without requiring you to file a tax appeal, DellaPelle says.

But there’s still a lot you’ll need to do to back up your claim.

2. Scrutinize your info

Before you can contest your property tax assessment, you have to know what it is, right? Some communities may allow you to access this information online. Otherwise, you’ll have to get it from your tax assessor’s office.

Once you have the information in hand, verify the following:

  • Square footage: Does it overstate your livable space? Look at the room counts,” advises Chris Dowler, owner of Dowler Construction in Madison, CT. “Is there an extra bathroom which doesnt exist? Do they show a finished basement area which truly isnt finished? If so, you may have a reason to appeal.
  • Zoning: Is your home properly zoned? If you have a conservation, drainage, or utility easement that minimizes the buildable area of your property, has that been noted?
  • Amenities: Fencing, sheds, in-ground pool, etc. If any of these have been removed, you have a reasonable claim for adjustment, Dowler says.

3. Find out what your neighbors pay

How much is their property tax? It really is your business.

To win an appeal, you want proof that your neighbors who live in a house comparable to yours pay less in taxes than you do. Search here for homes in your neighborhood that have recently sold, or contact a real estate agent and ask for comps to be pulled. The real estate agent may be kind enough to do it without the promise of a sale. You can also be nosy and just ask your neighbors.

But a word of caution: “Be sure you’re comparing apples to apples as reasonably as possible,” Dowler says.

A tax assessor will be skeptical if you argue that your brand-new, six-bedroom house should be taxed the same amount as a 100-year-old, four-bedroom home down the street. And be aware that any improvements you’ve made to your home (or plan to make) could send your tax bill right back up.

4. Consider hiring an appraiser

Not sure where to start to uncover all this info? Think about hiring a licensed real estate appraiser or property tax appeal service. These pros can put together an official report that includes an expert opinion of your property value.

Just keep this in mind: If your appeal proceeds to court, your appraiser will likely be required to testify, DellaPelle says. And the appraisal report may not be considered legit unless the appraiser’s available to testify, so choose someone local that you trust.

5. Understand how and when to appeal

Let’s say that you do find something incorrect on your assessment—maybe your home’s listed as 40,000 square feet instead of 4,000. You can’t just email your tax assessor’s office and demand it be corrected.

“While each state has different tax appeal procedures, appeals usually have an annual deadline that is strictly enforced,” DellaPelle says. Miss that deadline, and you’ll have to wait until the following year to appeal. (And keep paying your tax bill until then.)

You’ll also need to know to whom to appeal. Your tax board could be local, county, or regional. Some states even have a special tax court, DellaPelle says.

6. Consider hiring a lawyer, too

Just because you like DIY projects doesn’t mean you’re qualified to tackle this one.

“Property tax appeals have special rules and procedures that vary from state to state,” cautions DellaPelle. “The consequences of failing to adhere to them can be severe.”

Plus, since there are several ways your appeal can get thrown out (and lots of heady math involved), a tax attorney can help you figure out whether you have a case—and help you win it.

7. Get creative

Depending on where you live, certain laws can raise or lower your taxes.

For instance, in parts of Maine tapping into solar power could raise your taxes. Some states such as Illinois offer property tax exemptions and deferrals to seniors and people with disabilities. Other states are even considering creating loopholes to ease the pain of the new tax legislation.

But even if there isn’t a law that can help you, chances are good you can find other people also questioning their property taxes.

How’s this for inspiration? When 70,000 parcels in Georgia’s Muscogee County were reassessed last summer, some property taxes jumped as much as 1,000%. A local homeowners association quickly mobilized—filed a petition, asked the state to intervene, and even threatened a class-action lawsuit. A week later, residents were given the option to pay their taxes at the 2016 rate or at 85% of the new rate if things weren’t resolved by the end of the year.

If you’re displeased by your tax bill, there’s a good chance your neighbors are, too. Start by talking with them, and see how low you can go.

Article by Stephanie Booth