There are many costs of owning a home -- but for some people, property taxes are the most daunting. Not only can they be expensive, but they can fluctuate from year to year. And they tend to go up.
According to ATTOM Data Solutions, property taxes on single-family homes in 2018 totaled $304.6 billion, a 4% increase from 2017.
Not only do property taxes typically climb over time, but they manage to rise even when home values decline.
Are you struggling to keep up with your property taxes? Here are a few important steps to take.
1. Determine if your home is over-assessed
Your property tax bill is based on your local tax rate and the assessed value of your home. If your tax rate is 1.5% and your home is assessed at $200,000, you’re looking at $3,000 a year in property taxes.
But what if your home isn’t worth $200,000? What if it’s really only worth $170,000? In that case, you should be paying $2,550, which represents a huge amount of savings.
That’s why it’s important to look at your property assessment each year and contest it if you think your home is overvalued. Usually, you’ll get an assessment notice in the mail, but it could be included in your property tax bill.
How do you know if your home is assessed too high? You can’t just go with your gut. You’ll need to do some research to see what similar homes in your neighborhood have sold for recently.
If you own a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, moderately updated 1,700-square-foot home on a quarter acre of land, and you find that four comparable properties in your neighborhood sold for around $170,000 in the past three months, there’s a good chance your home’s assessment is off.
2. Appeal your property tax bill
Once you’ve determined that your property is assessed too high, the next step is appealing your property taxes. The process of doing so varies from state to state, and even from county to county.
In some cases, you can file an appeal online or by mail and wait for a verdict. In other situations, you'll need to appear in court before a judge and argue your case. Most likely, your local tax assessor will be there to make some counterarguments. If the discrepancy in question is huge, it could pay to hire an attorney to handle the appeal on your behalf.
You certainly don't have to hire an attorney, though. Many homeowners successfully appeal property taxes on their own.
Keep in mind that winning a property tax appeal one year doesn’t prevent your taxes from going up the following year. But if you take that step, your local assessor may think twice before trying to raise your taxes again.