Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How I fought “The Man,” and won…

So I’ve been e-mailed and called numerous times since I posted my status update about beating “The Man” the other day when I went to protest my property taxes in Dallas County. Honestly, I’m tired of retyping or retelling what I did or any tricks that may help others, so here it is.

First, I’ve fought my property taxes twice now, once formally and once informally. The difference? Easy, for the informal you walk into the Dallas Central Appraisal District’s office on the designated days, wait your turn, and then meet with a DCAD assessor. The formal process is exactly that, more formal. You have to submit your challenge in writing, then you are assigned a hearing date. At this hearing you appear before a panel, state your case, and the tax assessor’s office has someone in there to state their case on why the property shouldn’t be devaluated. The panel of three really old people confers and a decision is made.

The time for the informal process has come and gone for this year, but keep it in mind for future years. I found it to be faster and less stressful, but still got a good result. For the informal I showed up on a Saturday morning. In hand I had several items: copy of comparable houses from the MLS listings (thanks to Jason Friedman at Keller Williams Realty Plano Jason@dfwhomesandloans.com for all your home and insurance needs), pictures of damage to the house (must be major, minor doesn’t count) and a calculation of what I thought the price should be. It’s very important to note that all information is relevant to the market and condition of the house as of January 1st as that is when the assessments are made. So, if the market tanked in February, tough. What was the going rate as of January 1st? That’s what matters. Also, just because the county lowered your value doesn’t mean you can’t fight for them to lower it more. In this year’s assessment they lower my property value by $2,400. I went in and got another $12,500 added onto this, making my total taxable value go down by almost $15,000 instead of only $2,400.

So once in the office here’s what happened. Oh, and going in dressed like you aren’t a homeless person helps. The guy even stated when we were discussing that I obviously looked like a guy who knew what he was talking about. I was only in jeans and a nice button up, but you should see the clowns that show up! So he asks why I think the property value should be lower. My first answer was the entire market has dropped 18% over the last year. He said that wasn’t a reason. At this point I thought I was in for a fight. Next, I said I had comps that indicated the values had dropped from when I purchased my house. Now remember, numbers are what you make of them. Don’t lie as they will probably catch you, but what constitutes a comparable house is partially subjective. Be smart… don’t pick the house that last sold for $20/sq. ft. more than yours did. So, he looked at my comps and asked if I had them done up by a realtor. I said yes. At this point he said the comment about I clearly look like I know what I’m doing and he simply asked what I thought the property should be at. I told him a number $17,000 below what they had said, he told me he couldn’t get there because of a few comps he pulled up on his computer. He then asked what I could live with since he couldn’t meet that. Well of course I said as little above that as possible, but he said to state a number. I stated $12,000 below their number, he punched it in and said he could do that. Bam! 25 minutes of waiting, 5 minutes in his office and I lowered my value by $12k. It really was that easy.

So, for those of you headed to the formal hearing, here’s my story on that. My property value went up by $5,000 on their appraisal. I showed up, waited for about 15 minutes in the office, and then was called into a conference room. I was asked to state my case, and did so as above and had copies of the financial breakout and comps for all three panel members. The county tax guy made his case and pulled up on the overhead several houses in my area as comps. There were some questions back-and-forth for both of us from the panel, took about 15 minutes or so, and then they conferred and made a decision. I was asking to drop the value by $25,000, they agreed on dropping it $10,000. After the decision one of the panel members even told me I needed to come back the following year because the market hadn’t really tanked until after January 1st, 2008 and thus, they couldn’t lower it that much. He said I’d have a better case for the January 1st 2009 as the market really sunk later in 2008.

All-in-all the time spent was well worth it. Here are the key things to remember:
1) Be prepared with documentation relevant as of January 1st
2) Dress decently
3) Be friendly (they’re usually getting yelled at and appreciate a nice person)
4) Have your case and reasons logically laid out

If you have additional questions I didn’t answer please post them in the comments as I’m sure others will have the same questions and I’ll answer them as best I can. Also, share your success stories or tips you pick up when fighting, “The Man.” Lol.


Michael said...

Sweet. Going in this Monday. I will let you know how I did. This is guaranteed - right?

Jewish Redneck said...

Guaranteed? Riiiightt...

Kevin said...

I decided to fight mine this year as well. I hired a firm that keeps 50% of the benefit and you don't have to show up for anything.

Jewish Redneck said...

Kevin, what were your results?