Despite falling housing prices, the corresponding local governments still haven't adjusted valuations for property tax. The result is that many homes still have an assessment based on the housing market peak of 2006 and 2005. As if expensive property taxes aren't putting enough of a kink in finances, there's also the added strain from stagnant incomes and a lackluster job market.

What can you do to ease your financial stress? Appeal! In most cases, the home is the largest asset a person has. Whether the real estate market is good or bad, it's important to remain apprised about your asset and surrounding properties that can impact the value of your asset.

The property tax rate appeal process is one way to stay informed. It should be done anytime a reassessment happens and you feel there's a discrepancy in tax figures, not just when the real estate market is down. A successful appeal can save you hundreds to thousands of dollars if the local government doesn't simultaneously raise taxation rates and counteract your tax savings from winning the appeal.

However, it's up to you to do the research during every assessment period. Basically, the appeal process involves searching for any discrepancy in the how the taxation board comes up with the amount you're to pay in taxes and noting nearby comparable properties paying less than you in taxes.

Most appeal experts recommend having at least five credible comparable property examples in the appeal. The biggest question is whether or not you should undertake the appeal process on your own. You most certainly can, and some appeal boards might even be more favorable to appeals filed by an individual. However, you do have the option for help if you need it. You can usually always find a local lawyer, real estate agent, or financial consultant with expertise in appealing.

The first step in appealing is obtaining the necessary forms off the Internet or at your local tax assessor office. The tax assessor office is also where you'll find the comparable property values in your area. Here are some key tips to help you during the process:

  1. Recalculating - Property taxes are derived from a percentage of the property value multiplied by whatever the local tax rate is. Recalculate your tax bill, making sure that the property description is correct. It's often the basics that are wrong. So, carefully check the accuracy of key features, such as the number of baths and rooms.

  2. Renovation - A renovation might increase the home's market value and tax valuation. However, certain renovations and additions that aren't habitable all year long might provide a loophole since they aren't considered a full-time new space.

  3. Circumstances - You might have an argument for a lower home valuation if you can prove certain circumstances. For example, a nearby road project causing a nuisance, a roof leak that you're unable to afford repairing, or damaged windows in need of repair.

  4. Deadlines - Be aware that there's usually an appeal deadline. It's usually posted in the real estate section of local newspapers.

  5. Preparation - If you're presenting the appeal yourself, then you might consider looking at previous newspaper reports or documents discussing the appeal process. The tax assessor's office might be able to offer some helpful advice, but do organize your questions before arriving, as they are often very busy during the tax and appeal season. Once you've compiled all the information, it might be helpful to rehearse your final presentation several times and readjust for any flaws or inconsistencies.

  6. Help - If you need it, get it. Remember to check the fees and credibility of the firm before signing on the dotted line.

  7. Quitting - It might be a tedious process, but remember the payout that will come from eliminating any existing inequality of taxation.
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