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Educate Yourself
Look for Mistakes
Challenging Your Assessment
Informal Meetings
Formal Appeals
Summary of Assessment Offices


Of all the taxes you pay, probably none delivers more tangible benefits than the property
tax you send to your city, town, or county. Real estate taxes are the lifeblood of local
governments, accounting for some three quarters of their budgets for schools, sanitation, parks,
and public safety--in short, for just about everything that makes the quality of life in your
community what it is. But even if you're satisfied with what your property-tax dollar buys, you
should not have to pay more than your fair share.
Your local tax office computes your annual property-tax bill by multiplying the local tax
rate by the assessor's estimate of what your home and the lot it sits on are worth. The rate is set
by your community's elected officials and applies equally to everyone. However, if you pay
substantially more than your neighbors do or if your locality hasn't had a general property
revaluation in several years, your tax assessment may be too high.

What do the records show?

The most basic errors arise from a simple mis-description of your property in the
municipal records, and this is where you should look first if you suspect a problem. The listing
should specify the lot size, type of construction, number of rooms, and so forth.
Overworked assessors usually cannot inspect every property they are required to value.
Often they rely on casual "drive by" assessments, leading to mistakes in the property records--an
extra bedroom here, a bath there, a garage instead of a carport. The assessor may also have
missed defects such as a cracked foundation, a leaky roof, or pest infestation that could
significantly reduce a home's value. Undesirable environmental conditions, such as unusually
heavy local traffic from a nearby freeway, can also lower a property's value and may be grounds
for a tax reduction.

Assessing the assessment

Most municipalities try to peg the assessed values of properties in their jurisdictions to
the actual market values. However, unless the properties are re-appraised often--something few
communities do--the valuations tend to drift apart.
Some states try to bridge the difference during periods between full-scale reevaluations
by applying a so-called "assessment ratio." In one New Jersey city, for example, a home carried
on the tax rolls as having a market value of $100,000 would be taxed as if it were worth
$106,952, after its ratio- currently 93.5 percent--is applied. A homeowner who thinks this figure
overstates the market value can challenge it, although in the Garden State, unless an assessment
exceeds the estimated market value by more than 15 percent, the assessor's computation will
Many owners may be lulled by an apparently low valuation into thinking that their tax
bite is lighter than it truly is. That's because some states tax properties on just a portion of their
assessed value, as little as 10 percent in Louisiana. A fractional valuation, however, can mask a
high assessment. For example, if you live in a $100,000 condo located in a state with a 25
percent valuation and your property is misassessed at $30,000, your tax would be equal to that of
a neighbor living in a home worth 20 percent more.

Making your case

There are several ways to document a claim that your assessment is too high. The easiest
is to point out obvious discrepancies between the description of your home in the official tax
records and its actual condition. Often the assessor's office will adjust your record on the basis of
a single meeting if you can produce compelling evidence that the assessment is incorrect. You
can also buttress your claim by tracking recent sales of three to five homes that are similar to
yours and located nearby. A local Realtor, Consumer Reports Home Price Service, or even the
assessor's own records can help identify these comparable properties. If the potential savings
warrant the expense, you may wish to hire an appraiser who is certified or licensed by your state
to prepare a customized valuation of your home. Expect to pay between $400 and $500 for this
A formal appeal usually requires a hearing before the local appraisal review board.
Typically, you'll have to pay all taxes due while your appeal is pending, though some
municipalities will give a refund if you win your claim. Daunting as it sounds, most homeowners
can manage an appeal by themselves. If you don't want to go it alone, a local real estate agent
may be able to refer you to a property-tax consultant or an experienced attorney.
If too many owners challenge their tax bills successfully, of course, a local government
would have to ratchet up the tax rate to provide the services residents say they want. But that's a
fair way to meet the community's needs and one that lets the citizens determine what good
government truly costs.


When it comes to property taxes, timing is everything. First, call the assessor's office to
find out the two crucial tax dates for your community. The first is called assessment or valuation
day. It's when the information the assessor has on your home becomes the basis for assessing its
value. The second is called the tentative roll date. This is when the town tentatively sets the
actual tax amount individual homeowners will pay.
Start working on your appeal between those two dates. Most states require that you be
notified after the tentative role is set if there is a change in the market value, assessed value or tax
rate of your home. Although the notice includes a deadline for filing an appeal, often the date
doesn't leave enough time to gather and submit the information, forms and proof needed to make
your case. Miss the deadline, and you forfeit your right to appeal until next year. Give yourself
more time by beginning to check the information used to determine your assessment before the
tentative assessment role is set.
While you're checking on the exact dates with the assessor make an appointment to
review the property-record card for your home. It includes lot and house size, the number of
rooms and everything else used to compute the assessment of your home. You'll probably have
to dig out an old bill to get your home's identification number for the assessor.
Then visit the assessor's office to copy the card for your records. While there, find out the
guidelines for challenging your assessment and what constitutes proof. The assessor might also
have brochures to help you through the process. Some states even have advocates who help you
prepare and file your appeal. So be cordial. Another tip: "Don't call them tax assessors," says
Joseph Hesch, the public information spokesman for the New York State Office of Real Property
Services. "They're very sensitive about that because they assess value, not taxes. Politicians set
taxes," notes Hesch. Simply call them assessors.


Take the property-record card home and carefully examine it for mistakes. Look for glaring
errors such as the wrong number of rooms, a listing for a garage when you don't have one and
dimensions for a lot larger than the one you own. Call the assessor's office immediately if you
find any mistakes, in some locales, your word alone might be enough. But most municipalities
require proof--photos, blueprints or inspection reports. Ask the assessor what's needed.
Although the information on your property card should be accurate and current,
correcting a mistake won't always reduce your assessment. "If the error doesn't change your
home's market value much, it won't affect your assessment," says Hesch.
What if the error is in your favor? Experts say you should probably admit it, especially if
you plan to challenge the assessment on other grounds.
Your property-record card should also list any exemptions you're entitled to. Exemptions
lower the assessed value of your home by a certain percentage. Common ones are those for
senior citizens and veterans or spouses of veterans. Less common exemptions include those for
low-income home owners, disabled victims of crime and those whose property is located in an
economic improvement zone.
Exemptions for energy-efficiency improvements, restoration of historic structures and
improvements that make a home more accessible to the disabled usually exempt only the value
of the improvement from the assessed value of a home. Check with local and state authorities to
find out available exemptions in your area.


If your property-record card is correct, or if correcting it has not changed your
assessment, there still are two other grounds for appeal: excessive assessment and unequal
Excessive assessment simply means your home is worth less than its assessed value. If
you refinanced your mortgage within the past year, your bank or lender will have had your
property professionally appraised. Get a copy of the report and see if this recent market value is
lower than the one set by the assessor's office. If it is, use the report as proof.
If you haven't refinanced recently, check with local Realtors for the addresses and selling
prices of similar homes in your area. The assessor's office can also help you locate comparable
homes. Or you can pinpoint recent sales using a phone-in search service. These firms typically
charge by the minute for phone time. Remember, the more evidence you gather, the better.
Having your home re-appraised is the most expensive option, though it's often the most
effective. The word of a licensed appraiser will have more weight than other types of
information. Professional appraisals typically cost $100 to $400. But unless you expect to reap
large gains, a reappraisal might not be worthwhile. It's also possible that the value of your home
has been decreased by conditions the assessor's office isn't aware of or has not considered. A
cracked foundation, termite or carpenter ant infestation, the building or widening of a road next
to your home or the placement of a new factory or dump nearby can all lower property values. So
can environmental hazards such as radon, asbestos or lead in your home or a buried oil tank in
your yard or driveway. But you'll have to prove it, and environmental hazards are trickier to
prove than other conditions, since their effect on value isn't well documented.
Again, local Realtors can help you by revealing how home sales have been affected by
these problems. Realtors can also provide information on cleanup cost. This is an effective way
to determine how much each condition lowers the value of your home, since most buyers would
want the problem remedied or the asking price reduced by that amount. Remember; get addresses
and information on asking and selling prices in writing.
Unequal assessment means your home has been assessed at a higher value than
comparable homes in the area. For example, suppose the value of your house has been assessed
at $200,000. If you can prove the value of a similar home in your neighborhood has been
assessed at $175,000, you can challenge your assessment on the basis of unequal assessment and
have the assessed value of your home reduced.


Think of the appeal process as a ladder. The first rung is requesting an appointment with
an assessor. No forms. No costs. No sworn testimony. But don't be lulled into thinking this
informal meeting is a simple chat where you point out errors and the assessor fixes them. Be
prepared to prove your case. You should know what you want and why you're entitled to get it.
And you should have all your evidence with you, including an extra copy for the assessor to
examine while you talk.
Pay particular attention to the questions assessors ask; they're clues to what he or she thinks is
important. Be calm, yet firm and persistent. Remember, what you're challenging is your
assessment, not your taxes. Start proclaiming that your taxes are too high, and you'll lose
credibility. Depending on the laws in your area, your assessor might not be able to change much
at an informal meeting. If you get only some or none of what you ask for at this time, find out
why. This is the part of your case you need to strengthen when you move up the ladder to a
formal meeting.


Formal appeals are not automatic. You must request one, get the proper forms, follow
their directions to the letter and submit the forms and evidence by the deadline given.
Your local or state authorities probably have pamphlets to help you fill out the
paperwork. They might even have staff or advocates who can help. Another good source to check
at this stage is the case files of your local board of review - where your formal appeal begins.
These records are public. Examine cases similar to your own to learn which strategies and
evidence worked and which didn't as you prepare.
Most important, be careful what you ask for. In some states, you can only get the
reduction you ask for even if circumstances show you should get more.
Your first formal appeal essentially is a hearing at which you present your evidence and
the assessor also gives testimony. Again, it's up to you to prove that the assessor is wrong. Also
remember that your case is probably one of many the board will hear. Make it stand out by being
well-presented, well-organized and mercifully to the point. The board's decision will be mailed to
Even if your first formal appeal is successful, you will probably have to pay your taxes
and then get a refund. And there might be some nominal costs for processing your paperwork. If
you're not satisfied with the decision by the board, you might be able to appeal to a county or
state board depending on laws in your area. There will be new forms to fill out and deadlines to
meet and, possibly, more costs involved. But for all practical purposes, it's the same show for a
different audience.
Before you take your show on the road, read the decision from your local board and make
a photocopy of your case file. Why didn't you win? What points didn't you make during the
appeal? Why wasn't the board convinced? Learn from your mistakes and capitalize on any the
assessor made. Then be sure you really have something to add that will convince the county or
state board that the local board and assessor's office are wrong. If you lose this second formal
appeal, you can still take your case to court. But at that point you'll probably want to get yourself
some legal help.
Challenging your property assessment is not without potential downsides. There's a
chance the information that you uncover during the appeal process will result in raising your
assessment, which will increase your taxes. Your local assessor's office can tell you this before
you undertake the appeal. But in many cases, attempting to slash your property taxes is virtually
a no-risk opportunity. And those are the best kinds.

State of Alabama
Department of Revenue
Ad Valorem Tax Division
Montgomery, Alabama 36132-7210
(205) 242-1525

State of Alaska
Dept. of Revenue
Petroleum Revenue Division
550 W. 7th Ave.- Suite 300
Anchorage Alaska 99501
(907) 276-2678

Arizona Dept of Revenue
Division of Property Valuation
Jane McVey- Asst. Dir
1600 W. Monroe St.- 8th Floor
Phoenix, Arizona 85038
(602) 542-3529

Arkansas Assessment Coordination Div.
Public Service Commission
John Zimpel
1614 W. Third
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
(501) 334-9240

California State Board of Equalization
Dept. of Property Taxes
Assessment Standards Division
Verne Walton, Chief
1719 24th St. (P. O. Box 942879)
Sacremento, California 94279-0001
(916) 445-4982

Colorado Division of Property Taxation
1313 Sherman St.- Room 419
Denver, Colorado 80203
(303) 866-2371

State of Connecticut
Office of Policy and Management
Intergovernmental Relations Divisions
Donald Zimbouski
80 Washington St.
Hartford, Connecticut 06106
(203) 566-8070

Director of Revenue
Delaware Division of Revenue
Wilmington, Delaware 19801
(302) 571-3315

Real Property:
Hermon C. Ricks
Acting Associate Dir.
Real Property Assessment
300 Indiana Ave. NW- Room 2132
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 727-6447

Florida Dept. of Revenue
Division of Ad Valorem Tax
John Everton, Director
Woodcrest Office Bldg. (PO Box 3000)
Tallahassee, Florida 32315
(904) 488- 3338

Georgia Dept. of Revenue
Property Tax Division
Larry Griggers, Dir.
405 Trinity- Washington Bldg.
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
(404) 656-4240

The state has no responsibility for property.
Administrative responsibility for taxation of
property is at the county level.

State of Idaho
Dept. of Revenue and Taxation
State Tax Commission
Real and Personal Property Bureau
700 W. State St. (PO Box 36)
Boise, Idaho 83722
(208) 334-7733

Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board
404 Statton Bldg.
PO Box 19278
Springfield, Illinois 62794-9278
(217) 782-6076

State of Indiana
State Board of Tax Commissioners
State Office Bldg.- Room 201
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204
(317) 232-3761

Iowa Department of Revenue and Finance
Local Government Services Division
Hoover State Office Bldg.
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
(515) 281-4040

Kansas Department of Revenue
Division of Property Valuation
David C. Cunningham, Director
526-S Robert B. Docking State Office Building
Topeka, Kansas 66612-1585
(913) 296-2365

Commonwealth of Kentucky
Department of Property Tax, Revenue Cabinet
Billy Whitaker, Director of Real Estate
592 East Main Street
Frankfort, Kentucky 40620
(502) 564-8338

Louisiana Tax Commission
Property Tax Division
Donald Strain, Director
923 Executive Park Avenue
Suite 12 (PO Box 66788)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70896
(504) 925-7830

State Tax Assessor
Property Tax Division
Bureau of Taxation
Augusta, Maine 04330
(207) 289-2011

State Department of Assessment and Taxation
Lloyd W. Jones, Director
301 West Preston Street
Baltimore Maryland 21201
(301) 225-1184

Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Department of Revenue
Division of Local Services
Harry M. Grossman, Chief
Property Tax Bureau
200 Portland Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02114-1715
(617) 727-2300

State of Michigan
Department of Treasury
State Tax Commission
John Person, Director Property Programs
4th Floor- Treasury Building
Lansing, Michigan 48922
(517) 373-0500

State of Minnesota
Department of Revenue
Michael P. Wandmacher, Director
Local Government Services Division
Mail Station 3340
St. Paul, Minnesota 55146-3340
(612) 296-2286

Robert M. Megginson, Director
Property Tax Bureau
Mississippi State Tax Commission
PO Box 960
Jackson, Mississippi 39205-0960
(601) 359-1076

State Tax Commission of Missouri
Rose Kaiser, Administrative Secretary
621 East Capitol Avenue
PO Box 146
Jefferson City, Missouri 65102-0146
(314) 751-2414

State of Nebraska, Department of Revenue
Larry D. Worth, CAE- Administrator
Property Tax Division
PO Box 94818
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509
(402) 471-5960

Nevada Department of Taxation
Division of Assessment Standards
John P. Comeaux, Director
Capitol Complex
1340 S. Curry Street
Carson City, Nevada 89710-0003

Richard M Young, Director
Property Appraisal Division
State of New Hampshire
Department of Revenue Administration
61 South Spring Street
PO Box 456
Concord, New Hampshire 03301
(603) 271-2191

State of New Jersey
Division of Taxation
Department of the Treasury
Appraisal Section
John R. Baldwin, Director
50 Barrack Street
Trenton, New Jersey 08646
(609) 292 7974

State of New Mexico
Taxation and Revenue Department
Property Tax Division
PO Box 630
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87509-0630
(505) 827-0700

State of New York
Executive Department
Division of Equalization and Assessment
Robert L. Beebe
16 Sheridan Avenue
Albany, New York 12210-2714
(518) 474-8821

North Carolina Department of Revenue
Property Tax
Frank S. Goodrum, Director
PO Box 871
Raleigh, North Carolina 27602
(919) 733- 7711

State of North Dakota
Office of State Tax Commissioner
Charles S. Krueger
Deputy State Supervisor of Assessments
State Capital
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
(701) 224- 3127

State of Ohio
Department of Taxation
David Stone, Assistant Administrator
Tax Equalization Tax Division
State Office Tower
PO Box 530
Columbus, Ohio 43266-0030
(614) 466-5744

Oklahoma Tax Commission
Ad Valorem Tax Division
Robert L. Hartman, Director
M.C. Connors Building
2501 N. Lincoln Boulevard
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73194
(405) 521- 3178

Oregon Department of Revenue
Property Tax Division
George Weber, Administrator
Revenue Building
955 Center Street, N.E.
Salem, Oregon 97310
(503) 378-3022

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has
no power over the local or county assessment
or collection of taxes on real property. The
Commonwealth does not get involved except
through the court system when a taxpayer pursues
relief through the courts for an alleged overassessment.

Mr. Charles Munsch
Supervisor of Tax Equalization
Department of Administration
275 Westminster Mall
Providence, Rhode Island 02903
(401) 277- 2885

South Carolina Tax Commission
Property Division
James L. Brodie, Director
PO Box 125
Columbia, South Carolina 29214
(803) 737- 4485

South Dakota Department of Revenue
Division of Property Taxes
Linda Osberg, Director
700 Governors Drive
Pierre South Dakota 57501-2276
(605) 773- 3311

Division of Property Assessment
Tom Fleming, Director
505 Beaderick Suite 1400
Nashville, Tennessee 37243
(615) 741- 2837

State Board of Equalization
Kelsie Jones, Executive Secretary
505 Beaderick, Suite 1600
Nashville, Tennessee 37243
(615) 741- 4883

The State of Texas
State Property Tax Board
Leon Willhite, Director
4301 W. Bank Dr. Suite 210
Austin, Texas 78746-6565
(512) 329- 7901

Utah State Tax Commission
Property Tax Division
Mike Monson, Director
Herbert M. Wells Building
160 East 300 South
Salt Lake City, Utah 84134
(801) 530- 6297

State of Vermont
Department of Taxes
Division of Property Valuation and Review
43 Randall Street
Waterbury Vermont 05676
(802) 241- 3500

State of Virginia
Department of Taxation
Property Tax Division
Otho C.W. Fraher, Director
PO Box 6-L
Richmond, Virginia 23282
(804) 367- 8020


State of Washington
Department of Revenue
Property Tax Division
Will Rice, Director
General Administration Building
Olympia, Washington 98504-0090
(206) 753- 5503

State of West Virginia
Department of Tax and Revenue
Property Tax Division
PO Box 2389
Charleston, West Virginia 25328
(304) 348- 3940

State of Wisconsin
Department of Revenue
Bureau of Property Tax
Glenn Holmes, Director
PO Box 8933
Madison, Wisconsin 53708
(608) 266- 1187

State of Wyoming
Department of Revenue and Taxation
Ad Valorem Tax Division
122 West 25th Street
Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002
(307) 777- 7215


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