Property taxes can be a big issue for any property owner, especially entrepreneurs who are often operating on a shoe-string budget.
In California, your taxes can increase by a set percent of property value per year. In many other states your tax value is simply re-assessed every few years. The processes are different, but learning what you can do about it is the same.
Understand the Tax and Your Options
The first thing you should do is learn the specifics about your county and state tax processes. Figure out exactly who the taxing entities are and who would ultimately hear your appeal. In many cases a County Commission will also act as a County Board of Equalization and hear appeals. The Assessor's Office usually just makes the assessment.
If you have trouble figuring out whom to take an appeal to, you can start by simply taking your tax statement and checking for any indication of a County Assessor's office website. Most counties now have links on their website that describe the appeals process.
Manage the Timetable
Once you have figured out the assessment process and who you need to take your appeal to, don't forget to keep your eye on the clock. There are often time limits for appeals, so make sure that you work on your appeal well within the deadline. In the current economic crisis a record number of property tax protests and appeals have been filed. Make sure you get in line well in advance of any deadline.
Typically your appeal itself will be a document that contains some logic and justification for why your taxes should be lower. This includes quantitative analysis and qualitative analysis showing what you feel the true value of your property is and why it should be lower.
For a residential property this issue is largely dictated by the sale of comparable housing units. For commercial space the value is largely derived by the tenants in the building and the market value of the building at sale. Be sure to focus your analysis on the value of your property.
Consider Hiring a Consultant
There is a burgeoning industry out there of property tax consultants who will handle this process for you. Many of them work on a fee basis, but there are a few who actually work based on the savings they generate. For example, the consultant may work on your property and agree that he will be paid 50% of the savings he generates for you this year up to a certain cap – say, $20,000.
The nice thing about this structure is they get paid only if you save money. That makes it a win-win situation. In addition, many municipalities won't adjust your property value upwards each year. So the year after your successful appeal you will bank the full difference that your consultant generated.
The Bottom Line
If you own real estate right now, it's almost certainly worth less than it was a year ago. If your tax bill doesn't reflect that then you are leaving money on the table. Take action now, and go to work on appealing your property taxes using the methodology I have shown here.