Few days left in Harris County to protest latest property tax bill

Last day to file protest for 2014 in Harris County is Monday

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - If you own a home in Harris County, you've only got four days left to protest your latest property tax bill. Experts said this is one of the most important years to protest the valuation of your home.

Houston's housing market is on fire, which means property values are way up, and now homeowners are feeling the heat.

"Very frustrating," said homeowner Arleine Ray. "It makes you very angry, too."

Angry because the value of nearly 73.5 percent of homes in Harris County increased this year. That means property taxes on those homes may go up, too.

"I don't think we could put our home on the market and get what they claim it's worth," said one homeowner waiting for her formal hearing at the Harris County Appraisal District.

The last day to file a protest for 2014 is Monday, June 2.

"This is a must year to protest," said tax assessor/collector-turned tax consultant Paul Bettencourt. "You have to knock the value down this year or you'll get another increase on top of that because it's not like homes aren't selling again."

Fighting that fight is time consuming and even intimidating for some people. It's why Local 2 Investigates crunched the numbers to show you the best and most effective way to protest your property value.

There are three ways: electronically through the appraisal district's iSettle system, at an informal one-on-one meeting with an appraiser or at a formal Appraisal Review Board hearing.

Since 2008, Local 2 has discovered about 36 percent of people who protested using iSettle received a decrease in their home's value. The average decrease was 6 percent.

Bettencourt said you shouldn't expect more than that using the online system.

"It's not gonna give a big reduction," he said. "It's gonna give a small one in certain neighborhoods."

If iSettle makes an offer you still don't like, you have to go straight to the formal review board where your value can actually be increased from previous offers.

"If you go to the board, you are taking your chances because you've got three people looking at it," explained Bettencourt. "And last year they raised some values."

The numbers we crunched show 57 percent of homeowners who took their protest to a formal hearing received an average decrease of 7.23 percent in their home's value. While fewer homeowners -- 49.5 percent -- got a decrease at the informal meeting, these meetings netted the biggest reductions -- an average of 9.33 percent.

"The appraisers are authorized to make reductions where they see the need to do it, and it's very much a give-take process," explained the Appraisal Review Board's Chief Apprasier Sands Stiefer.

Still, appraisers at the informal meetings can only give so much. If you're looking for a reduction of $100,000 or more, you won't get it at the informal hearing.

No matter how you protest, be prepared with pictures and estimates for repairs your home may need. Whatever you do, don't simply do nothing.

"If you don't do something about that high market value, it means every year for the next 10 years, you'll pay 10 percent more automatically," said Bettencourt, snapping his fingers. "One, two, three, four... and that's a compounded 46 percent increase in your tax bill."

So what if you take your fight all the way to the review board but you still feel like you didn't get a fair hearing? You can take your case to arbitration. You have to file within 45 days of your hearing and a judge will hear your case.

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