Here’s what you need to know when protesting your property value

HOUSTON – Property owners should start receiving their property tax appraisals in April. Many property owners will then have to decide whether they agree with the appraisal, and if not, whether they will file a protest.

When you receive your appraisal, the first thing you want to do is check it for accuracy. Make sure the appraisal district has all the correct information about your home. Next, you’ll want to evaluate the market value, not the appraised value listed on your notice.

“The market value is what their property would sell for on the market and that’s what they would be protesting,” said Jack Barnett with the Harris County Appraisal District. “If they don’t agree with that, then they should file a protest.”

The deadline to file your protest this year is May 16 or 30 days from the date the letter was mailed, whichever is later.

There are different ways to file a protest:

1) Mail in the protest form sent with your appraisal.

2) Upload your protest to the Harris County Appraisal District’s website through the iFile system.

3) Use HCAD’s iSettle option. You’ll find more information on iFile and iSettle by clicking here.

The iSettle option allows an owner to submit what they believe is a fair market value for their property, along with supporting documentation.

“We will review that, if we respond that we have a different offer for you, here it is, you have an opportunity to accept it or reject it,” said Barnett.

If an owner goes the traditional protest route, they will first go to an informal hearing with an appraiser. If a resolution is not reached during the informal stage, then the property owner would go to a formal hearing before the Appraisal Review Board. The only difference is if a property owner uses the iSettle option and rejects HCAD’s offer, then they would go to a formal hearing because the iSettle process is considered an informal hearing, according to Barnett.

The key points to remember before protesting

If you do decide to protest, then there are several key points to consider when putting together your argument.

“It’s a lot of work to go protest your taxes. It’s a lot of interviewing neighbors, a lot of pictures, a lot of data,” said Suzan Phenicie with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

1. Don’t just look at current values

Phenicie’s first piece of advice is to research your home’s value and the value of comparable homes in your neighborhood, but don’t just look at current values.

“You need to go run the past six months or the past year, and what those numbers look like last year, because we’re being taxed over right now 2021, we’re not being taxed over 2022,” said Phenicie.

An owner can go through a real estate professional like Phenicie to get a list of comparable home values. For those who protest their property value, HCAD will also provide the list of the comparable properties it is using to determine a particular property’s market value. You can see that list by visiting HCAD or you can find it online at least 14 days before your hearing.

2. Document your home’s condition

Another critical step is to document the condition of your home. HCAD considers the condition of a home as it stands on Jan. 1. Take multiple pictures of your home, including any repairs that need to be made or have just been completed. Also, make sure to keep copies of any invoices or estimates for work done on your home.

“Maybe you have had termite damage, maybe you’ve got some foundation damage; you could submit repair estimates or insurance claim documents for recent damage,” said Barnett.

3. Chat with your neighbors

Phenicie also encourages owners to speak with neighbors to find out if their home values are going up at the same rate, or if they’ve made improvements to their homes that can trigger an increase in their market value while potentially impacting the market value of your home.

4. Factor in where you live and what’s happened there

Also, understand what factors can affect home values. New construction in the area, whether your home is located on the main thoroughfare or tucked into a cul-de-sac, and the area of town are all factors that can impact property values.

“An area can bring the tax values down because it’s been stigmatized, maybe it’s been flooded; or an area can bring your home up, because they love the location and people are starting to move in,” said Phenicie.

Phenicie also suggests taking pictures of the surrounding area if you believe there is something influencing nearby property values.

You’ve done your research, so what’s next?

Make sure to then make multiple copies of all the information you’ve gathered so you can give it to an appraiser during an informal hearing and the Appraisal Review Board during a formal hearing.

“Get ready to present your material, put it in a nice binder for them to go through, label it. Make sure it’s clear data that they can understand and get through it fairly quickly,” said Phenicie.

Barnett said a common mistake property owners make is not providing an appraiser or a member of the review board copies of the documentation they’ve gathered in support of their protest.

“It’s important for people to make sure they bring five copies of their documents so that everybody in that room can have a copy, including them,” Barnett said in reference to a formal hearing.

Barnett adds property owners need to practice their presentation so on the day of their hearing they can be clear and concise. Whether it’s an informal or formal hearing, property owners will only get about 15-minutes to state their argument for lowering a property’s value.

Phenicie also encourages homeowners to apply for any exemptions they qualify for so they can lower the taxable value of their property. The most common exemption in Texas is the residence homestead exemption.

Thousands of people protest, but how many are successful?

According to HCAD data provided to KPRC 2, out of the more than 316,000 protests filed in 2021, approximately 80% secured a reduction. Below is a map of Harris County zip codes showing the number of accounts, the number of protests, the number of reductions, and the average amount of reduction.

About the Authors:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”

Award-winning broadcast journalist covering local, regional, national and international stories. Recognized in the industry for subject matter expertise including: Legal/Court Research, the Space Industry, Education, Environmental Issues, Underserved Populations and Data Visualization.