How to Dispute Your Property Taxes

Property taxes have risen 7% in the past two years. What should you do if you believe your property tax bill is too high?

Written by Hilary Collins / June 21, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Property taxes are collected by local and state governments on houses and land.
  • Since 2019, property taxes have risen by 7%.
  • You can push back on your property taxes by collecting evidence on your home’s valuation and going through the appeals process with your local jurisdiction.
  • While the process will be somewhat different based on where you live in the U.S., most successful property tax appeals will offer proof that there was an error with the initial property value assessment and their property was overvalued.

Home values going up might seem like a positive trend for homeowners, but rising home values go hand-in-hand with rising property taxes. If you’re gobsmacked by the size of your property tax tab, you’re not alone—and you’re not without recourse.

You can and should appeal your property taxes if you feel that your home was overvalued, resulting in a higher property tax bill. While that process will differ depending on where you live, research suggests that the majority of homeowners who appeal their property taxes win. Let’s take a look at the basics of property taxes as well as how to navigate the appeals process. 

Inside this article

  1. What are property taxes?
  2. How are they calculated?
  3. Should you dispute your taxes?
  4. Disputing your property taxes

What are property taxes?

According to the Tax Foundation, a tax policy nonprofit, property taxes are taxes on property that can’t be moved, such as buildings and land.[1] While some movable personal property such as vehicles and equipment is also taxable, immovable property is the main target of property taxes.

Property taxes are levied at the local and state level, with taxes going to government services, including school funding, police departments and infrastructure upkeep. These taxes made up a stunning 72% of local tax collection in the fiscal year 2019, the Tax Foundation notes.[2] 

If it’s a big source of revenue for local and state governments, it’s also a big expense for homeowners. Research from Attom, a real estate data company, found that property taxes on single-family homes have risen by 7% since 2019.[3] This is driven by the fact that home values have risen significantly in recent years.

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How are property taxes calculated?

Understanding which government entities are taxing your property and how they determine those numbers can help you navigate the property tax appeal process. According to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research center, calculating property taxes boils down to three steps:

  1. The jurisdiction—the municipality, township, county, school district or special district where your home is located—assesses the value of each property within its borders.

  2. They then determine the taxable value of that property. “Most states charge property tax based on the fair market value of the property,” says Nora Devine, the principal attorney and owner of the Devine Law Group. However, the taxable value can also be based on the last sale price, the size and location of the property or other factors. The jurisdiction can also decide to tax the whole assessed value or just a percentage of it—South Carolina only taxes 4% of a home’s assessed value, while the District of Columbia taxes 100%.

  3. Finally, they apply the tax rate to the taxable value of the property.[4]

In short, the property tax process revolves around determining how valuable your property is and then applying the relevant taxes for your state, city, county, school district and/or any other local taxing bodies. 

Nora Devine, Devine Law Group

Meet the Expert

Nora Devine is the principal attorney and owner of the Devine Law Group, an Illinois  firm specializing in property law.

It’s also important to know the tax limits, deductions, exemptions and credit your state and local governments offer to homeowners. Most states have homestead deductions and exemptions that lower the taxable value of the property if the owners live there. It’s also common to offer elderly, disabled and low-income homeowners tax relief in the form of tax deferrals or income tax credits.[5]

How to know if you should dispute your property taxes

The National Taxpayers Union, a “pro-taxpayer” nonprofit, conservatively estimates that 30% of property assessments are inaccurate or inflated, but that only 5% of homeowners appeal or dispute that number.[6] Additionally, 2022 research from Ownwell shows that approximately 60% of owners of lower-priced homes pay more in property taxes than the owners of higher-priced homes…primarily because the owners of higher-priced homes are more likely to appeal their property taxes.[7]

Tip

Property tax appeals should not be used as an opportunity to air your grievances against the concept of taxation in general or how high taxes are in your particular corner of the world in particular. The process is designed specifically to address inaccurate property valuations that result in inaccurate taxes.

And why not appeal? You might have a better sense of what your home is really worth—and the downsides that might lower that number—than an appraiser who doesn’t live there. “Since the concept of value is subjective, it can make sense to appeal the property value if that value is too high,” Devine notes.

There’s also virtually no downside: it’s very unlikely that your taxes would rise after an appeal.[8] In the vast majority of cases, your taxes will go down or stay the same.

How to dispute your property taxes

Depending on where you live, the specifics of the property tax appeal process will differ. However, these basic steps can serve as a helpful guide anywhere in the U.S.:

  1. Review your property tax bill and reach out to your assessor with any questions or inconsistencies. Make sure that all of the tax exemptions you qualify for are included, that your property is correctly described and that the math is correct.[9] You can also request the assessor’s work papers and the property record card to get more details.[10]

  2. The Taxpayers Union suggests making an informal appeal to the assessor to discuss their findings and your issues with them. The assessor may well agree with you and correct it on their end without requiring you to go through the rest of the process. If not, onward.

  3. Research the appeal process in your area to make sure your appeal isn’t denied on a preventable technicality, such as missing the deadline or turning in the wrong form.

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  4. Consider enlisting professional help. A lawyer can help you understand the advisability of your appeal and clarify the process for you. “Though many assessing officials make it easy to appeal a property tax assessment without an attorney, it is not possible for an individual homeowner to know whether they should appeal, whether they should accept the result of an appeal or whether appealing could cause a tax increase,” Devine explains. “As such, seeking independent advice is usually prudent even if it is easy for homeowners to appeal an assessment themselves.”

    You can also get your property professionally appraised and submit that as evidence that your home was overvalued. The American Society of Appraisers has a Find an Appraiser tool that allows you to search for professional appraisers who specialize in residential property.

  5. The bulk of the work of a property tax appeal will be gathering evidence and building a solid case that your home was overvalued. Compare your property and taxes to several similar properties in your area.[11] You’re looking for solid evidence that your home is worth less than the assessor thought. Is your yard significantly smaller than a home with the same value? Do you have one fewer bedroom than a comparable home around the corner that was valued for less? These are the kinds of things that can help your case. Here are a few of the things you should plan to include in your appeal:

  • Full information on your house: a copy of the property record card, photographs of the property, an appraisal and a copy of the deed, real estate transfer declaration or contract for purchase

  • Copies of the same information for similar properties in the area that support your case that your home was overvalued: a list of recent sales of comparable homes in your neighborhood with photos, record cards and proof of sales prices

  • An easy-to-understand, well-reasoned argument why your home should be valued lower than the local or state authorities believe

6. The Taxpayers Union suggests attending an appeals board hearing to get a feel for the process. This will help you understand what’s expected of you, what kinds of questions the boards will ask and how long you’ll have to speak.

7. Be polite and honest throughout the process. Aim for the actual market value of your home rather than the lowest number possible. And treat the review board with respect—don’t get upset or make an emotional appeal. Have a fact-based, to-the-point claim and you’ll have a solid chance.

8. If your appeal is denied, many jurisdictions have a secondary appeal process. This varies widely, from filing a lawsuit in circuit court in Florida to writing a second appeal to the State Property Tax Appeal Board in Illinois.

However, research from CoreLogic looked at property tax hearings in Harris County, the largest county in Texas. They found that approximately 70% of all hearings had a successful outcome—a reduction in the assessed value and thus in the property tax bill.[12]

So if you feel that you’re paying more than you should in property taxes because of a mistake in valuation, consider appealing. While the process isn’t easy and will require quite a bit of leg work, it could save you a lot of money in the long run.

Article Sources
  1. “Property Tax,” Tax Foundation. https://taxfoundation.org/tax-basics/property-tax/
  2. “Where Do People Pay the Most in Property Taxes?” Sept. 1, 2021, Tax Foundation. https://taxfoundation.org/county-property-tax-paid-2021/
  3. “Property Taxes on Single-Family Homes Rise Across the U.S. in 2021, to $328 Billion,” April 14, 2022, Attom. https://www.attomdata.com/news/market-trends/home-sales-prices/attom-2021-property-tax-analysis/
  4. “Property Taxes,” Urban Institute, https://www.urban.org/policy-centers/cross-center-initiatives/state-and-local-finance-initiative/projects/state-and-local-backgrounders/property-taxes
  5. “How do state and local property taxes work?” Tax Policy Center https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/how-do-state-and-local-property-taxes-work
  6. “By Popular Demand—More on Property Tax Appeals,” April 22, 2020, National Taxpayers Union. https://www.ntu.org/publications/detail/by-popular-demand-more-on-property-tax-appeals
  7. “Property Values & Tax Protests: Who pays the highest effective tax rates?” May 2022, Ownwell. https://www.ownwell.com/blog/who-is-most-likely-to-overpay-property-taxes-8?utm_source=press&utm_medium=pr&utm_campaign=data_report_blog
  8. “Property taxes too high? Here’s how to appeal them and lower your tax bill,” May 24, 2022, CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/property-taxes-how-to-appeal-your-property-assessment/
  9. “How to Appeal Your Property Taxes,” AARP. https://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/info-2015/appeal-property-taxes-guide.html
  10. “Homeowner’s Checklist: Steps to Take in Appealing Your Assessment,” National Taxpayers Union Foundation. https://www.ntu.org/library/doclib/2014/08/home-owners-check-list.pdf
  11. “Surprised by what the government says your home is worth? Here’s how to file an appeal on your property taxes.” Oct. 30, 2021, Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/home/2021/10/30/appeal-your-property-tax-assessment/
  12. “Did COVID-19 Affect Property Tax Appeal Trends in the Largest Texas County?” Feb. 14, 2022, CoreLogic. https://www.corelogic.com/intelligence/did-covid-19-affect-property-tax-appeal-trends-in-the-largest-texas-county/

About the Author

Hilary Collins

Hilary Collins

Hilary is an experienced finance writer with a passion for turning complicated topics into readable stories with real-world takeaways.

Full bio

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