Protest, protest, protest. Front Range homeowners may have that reaction when they first see how much county assessors increased the value of their homes over the past two years amid worries that next year’s property taxes will shoot up as well.
Neighborhoods throughout metro Denver have recorded double-digit price increases, which reflects the region’s hot real estate market. The biggest percentage gains are coming in lower-income neighborhoods that lagged in past cycles.
The first steps for those who disagree with value placed on their home is to figure out how much the value should be adjusted and whether a protest has a chance of winning. And with a June 1 deadline for protests, homeowners need to act fast.
Should I protest?
While a big jump in property value may come as a shock, in most cases it is probably justified. But county assessors can have basic information about a property wrong, and they won’t know details about a home’s condition versus others in the neighborhood.
A key calculation to make upfront is whether any potential savings are worth the time and effort. Spending $700 for an outside home appraisal, assuming one can be obtained on short notice, won’t justify saving $50 or $100 in extra property taxes. And it isn’t necessary.
How do I research a protest?
Researching home price trends in the neighborhood is key to understanding whether a lower valuation is justified and will stand up.
For a typical home, assessors say, property owners can do the legwork themselves, perhaps with information on recent sales from a friendly real estate agent. And staff at the county assessor’s office can answer basic questions. Just make sure to say the call is informational and not a protest.
If you get a higher value than what’s on your valuation, quit while you’re ahead. If you get a lower value, then it’s time to do some math.
To get a ballpark figure on your 2018 property taxes, first, take the new “actual” value in the statements you recently received and multiply it by 7.2 percent. That’s your assessed value.
To get a rough estimate of how much lower your 2018 bill might be, do the same math but this time plug in the lower home valuation you came up with.
What can I do to improve my odds of winning a protest?
Property owners will have a stronger case if they make an argument based on the characteristics or condition of a property. For example, county records may overstate the square footage or number of rooms or show a basement is finished when it isn’t.
Your home’s condition can also help you contest a valuation. County appraisers rely on automated models and don’t go inside a home when they set a value. A home with deferred maintenance and no upgrades since the day it was built decades ago is worth less than one that has been remodeled and maintained.
Homeowners who’ve had a professional appraisal recently may also have a leg up. Assessors rely on the sales of comparable homes in the surrounding area to determine what a given home is worth. For this last valuation cycle, they looked at sales between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2016.
Given how many borrowers refinanced their mortgages in 2015 and 2016, a homeowner may have a professional appraisal in hand that could support a lower value than what the county determined.
Some assessors, like Arapahoe County’s, provide a list of sales they used to support the valuation. A property owner might feel there are other sales that match up better and support a lower value. A real estate agent with access to the multiple listing service can help track down those sales. But again, any sales must be before June 30, 2016, and the closer the better.
If I think I’ve got a shot, now what?
If you’ve decided that a protest is worth your while, you can either file in person at your assessor’s office, by mail or, in most metro-Denver counties, online, at your assessor’s website. Regardless of how you do it, remember that your protest is due by June 1.
My protest didn’t get me what I wanted. What are my next steps?
If a protest is turned down, or the property value not adjusted as much as the owner requested, those decisions can be appealed before a County Board of Equalization.
In most counties, assessors must rule on a protest by the end of June and property owners can appeal to the CBOE by July 15. In more populated counties like Denver, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson, assessors have until the end of August to rule on protests, with appeals due by Sept. 15.
There are two venues for another level of appeal beyond the county boards, and those are the district courts or the state Board of Assessment Appeals. Not many homeowners, however, go that far.
What else can I do to reduce my tax burden?
Homeowners age 65 or older who have lived in a home for 10 years or longer only have to pay half of the property taxes on the first $200,000 in value. A similar exemption is also available for permanently disabled veterans.
Also, some local governments and school districts can help some homeowners who want relief with their tax burden. If you’re disabled or age 60 or older, you can trade volunteer hours in lieu of taxes in what are called property tax work-off programs.
By: Aldo Svaldi
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