Should you protest your property taxes?

HOUSTON The answer to that depends on what your home's value is. In the past when values were going up every year, protesting helped keep your taxes low. Now that values are falling, your tax burden will be going down, but it still may make sense to protest.

Fewer people have filed a property tax protest so far this year, and the lobby at the Harris County Appraisal District proves it; last year, a record number of owners protested their appraisals.

So for homeowners who want to protest their assessed values, a deadline is right around the corner. However, if you miss Friday's cutoff, don't worry.

"If a person misses that April 30 deadline, they can still file a protest without penalty this year until June 1," said Jim Robinson, chief appraiser for HCAD.

Robinson says like last year, those who want to protest can do so online using HCAD's i-File system. He adds those protesting values can also get a settlement offer online with HCAD's i-Settle program.

In fact, more than 70 percent of those who used i-Settle last year took the HCAD offer; however, you do not have to accept it.

"But then you will be scheduled later this summer for an Appraisal Review Board hearing, so you don't lose any rights at all," said Robinson.

HCAD officials say most homeowners will see their appraisals lowered or stay the same this year. While this may seem like the year to skip the protest, changes in the law could help you get that appraisal even lower.

"For the first time, foreclosures can be used as evidence in a hearing, and there is not a neighborhood in this town that does not have at least one foreclosure in it," said property tax advisor Paul Bettencourt.

He says foreclosed properties generally sell for 30 to 40 percent less than a typical home's value. Using that information in your protest could result in big reductions in assessed value.

"If you get an offer on i-Settle, know that it does not use the foreclosure information that you can get from your Realtor or tax agent," said Bettencourt.

If you plan on selling your home in the next few months, this may be the year to skip the protest because the assessed value will be looked at by mortgage companies in determining loan amounts.

There are no statistics either way on whether you can do a better job by protesting in person rather than online, but think of it this way -- if you believe the online settlement amount is right, take it. If you think you can do better in person, get your evidence and show up in person.

We have several links below to help you with your protest:

VIDEO: How to protest your HCAD appraisal

HCAD Press Statement

HCAD's Big 3 Taxable Values

2010 Market Trends

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