How to Protest Your Property Value at Travis County Appraisal District

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on May 30, 2007 · 26 comments

Tomorrow (May 31st) is the last day to file a tax protest against the appraised value of your property in Travis County (and other Texas Counties as well) with the Travis County Appraisal District. I haven’t personally protested property values for several years because nothing I own has been over-appraised, but I did file many tax protests every year for many years when I managed rental homes for others. It was an additional service I provided as part of the property management. Over the years, I learned a thing or two about the process, which I will share below.

Filing the Protest
The first step is to file a protest. The appraisal district has protest forms available, but you can hand write it on a piece of paper and fax it in. It simply needs to identify you as the owner, identify the subject property, and state that you disagree with the appraised value and wish to protest. If you’ve waited till the last minute, it would be best to fax it and then send a follow-up copy by certified mail.

The Informal Hearing
Next, the Travis County Appraisal District will schedule what they call an “informal hearing”. This may be months from now. The purpose of the hearing is for you to present your evidence that the appraised value is too high.

I’m going to stop here and point out a couple of things. It’s important before you attend a hearing that you understand the fundamentals of what the Travis County Appraisal District does. They simply set the appraised value of your home based on what they believe to be the market value. The tax rate multiplied against the appraised value determines the amount of property taxes you pay.

The Appraisal District does not establish the tax rate. Your elected officials do that. You can’t protest the amount you are paying, or the tax rate. All you are protesting is the Appraised Value.

When you show up for the hearing, make sure you bring data to support your protest.

Have Your Fact and Data Ready
Opinions and emotions are not data. In order to change your appraised value, the person you are working with at the informal hearing must have evidence and data to support the change. I’ve sat in the cubes over the years at the informal hearings and overheard other protestors arguing completely irrelevant gripes to the tax people. They don’t care how unhappy you are, how little you earn, etc. You’re there to discuss whether or not the appraised value on your particular home is too high or not, and that’s it.

If you know a Realtor, ask for a written market analysis on your home to determine the market value. You can take that along with you to use as your data and evidence. If your home has condition problems, take pictures and bring those. If you back up to a busy street, take pictures and print out your home’s location on a Google Map, and bring it in with you to show the tax people. Any “fact” that helps you prove a lower value may be helpful, but bring something to show to support it.

If the appraised value is higher than the amount you’ve recently paid to purchase the home, bring your Settlement Statement showing what you actually paid, and they’ll lower the value to the price you paid without a fuss.

You may be angry about the higher taxes, but unless the Appraisal District assessed your home at too high a value, and you can prove it, you have no grounds for a protest and you’ll lose. If you don’t know a Realtor who will help you determine a rough value, contact me or Sylvia and we’ll do a quick market analysis for you for free.

Be polite and courteous.
The person helping you at your informal hearing with has dealt with plenty of rude and uninformed people already – all day every day. You’re not going to get far if you present yourself as just another angry, unprepared and uneducated person coming in to yell at them and gripe about your taxes. Be nice, smile, dress professionally and have your facts ready with an extra copy for the appraisal person to keep. Make it easy for them to decide to help you by presenting yourself as a reasonable person who is well prepared and understands the process. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Multiple Properties
I noticed something many years ago. At first, I thought I’d be a nice guy and only protest those properties that in fact were appraised above the actual market value, and not waste time on those that were marginally high. What I learned was that the poor guy helping me was loath to let me bat 1,000 and lower the value on all 32 properties I brought in for protest. I suppose allowing a 100% victory for the protestor screws up their quota or ratio or some internal measure of their effectiveness at holding values. The year I realized exactly what was going on, the young kid at the informal hearing, probably fresh out of college, actually leaned over to me and said quietly “come on, you have to give me a few here or I’m going to look bad”.

So I learned to bring some sacrificial lambs – properties for which I would file a protest with the intention of dropping them at the hearing, but fighting hard for the remaining ones. Then, as we’re going through the properties, Id say “you know, I’ve re-evaluated this one, and I think the value is actually about right, so we can drop this one from the mix”. That provides a relief valve of sorts and gives a bit more wiggle room on the ones you really need to have lowered, and lets the Appraisal District employee look like he or she held the line on a few.

Two Bites at the Apple
If you are not satisfied with whatever reduction offer you receive at the informal hearing, you can move on to a formal hearing in front of a panel of the Appraisal Review Board. There will be an Appraisal District Representative arguing against you in support of the Appraisal District valuation, and a panel of three (usually old) people listening to both sides and making a decision.

Based on my personal experience, the people on the panel are idiots and don’t have the first clue about interpreting market information and data. They are citizens appointed to sit on the panel, obviously people without real jobs. I’ve never encountered a panel of competent citizens yet. This makes the Appraisal Review Board hearing a frustrating and unpredictable path to follow.

If the informal hearing results in a deal you can live with, take it and avoid the time and frustration of the formal hearing.

If you truly are being hosed with an unreasonably high appraised value, then try your luck at the formal hearing. But know that once you forego the offer made at the informal hearing, the formal hearing can result in an even higher value than what you passed up at the informal hearing. Your informal hearing deal ends when you decide to try your luck with the ARB.

For more information, check out the Taxpayer’s Rights, Remedies and Responsibilities document published by the State Comptroller.

Good luck with your protest!! Let us know if you need help with a free market analysis.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ARZ May 31, 2007 at 12:47 pm

This is interesting information. My impression is that most individual home owners (not investors with multiple properties) have little chance to get their appraisal value reduced, let along most residents see their appraisal value slightly lower than those seen on COMPs. Another thing I’ve noticed is that the Appraisal District is aggressively increasing their estimates on homes to get them closer to the real market selling prices. They are probably under some political pressure to offset the recently passed property tax reduction bills. In the end, they will have to find a way to generate enough tax revenue to fund the country and state operations.

What I am interested in is the consequences of high property tax rate. Texas in general is way above national level. That seems to keep the total property value low. This can’t be a good thing as it will artificially put an upper limit on home values, especially when the national home price is going down.

2 Steve Crossland June 3, 2007 at 9:16 pm

Hi ARZ,

I do think average people have a very good chance of getting over-appraised values lowered if they show up with the right data and the right attitude. It’s not really that difficult.

Thanks for sharing your comments.

Steve

3 Nam June 5, 2007 at 4:12 pm

Hi Steve

Great information. I used your advice to prepare my final presentation, which was today at my Formal Hearing in front of the ARB. They were a bit stingy, but in all fairness, they genuinely heard my concerns and gave me a break on my property taxes.

Thank you!

4 Tony June 6, 2007 at 7:27 am

I have never been able to get our property taxes reduced. Even when the property across the street which is 3300 sq ft appraised for 40K (10%) less than ours at 2800 sq ft.

They have set all the properties having a land value at 100K, even though some of the properties are twice as big and are on the green belt. On a per sq ft basis we have a substantially (20%?) higher property tax value compared to our neighbors.

They also kept saying they only compared to other 2800 sq ft houses, so that even though our tax was equal to or higher than the houses in our cul de sac (a 3300 sq ft house was appraised at less) they would only compare to other 2800 sq ft houses elsewhere in the neighborhood.

It was quite surreal.

5 Rob July 31, 2007 at 11:29 am

I just had an informal hearing today (which didn’t lead to any change in my tax appraisal), and wanted to get your advice on whether there’s any point in my going to the formal hearing.

The reason for my protest was unequal value relative to comparable properties. I bought a new condo this spring, and I have sales prices for three comparables (three other condos in the same building, with same number of bedrooms, etc. which sold within a few months of when I bought my condo) from the appraisal done for my mortgage. All three of those other condos are assessed at roughly 80% of their sales prices, whereas mine is assessed at roughly 90% of its sale price.

Even though I had all of that data, I got nowhere with the informal hearing. The woman hearing my case said that if my tax appraisal had been more than 100% of the sale price, then she would reduce the tax appraisal, but that she wouldn’t do anything in my case because I was already assessed at less than the sale price. In other words, she would do something about a protest based on an assessment above market value, but wouldn’t do anything about a protest based on unequal appraisals. She said I would need to go to a formal hearing for that.

Is there any point in going to a formal hearing, or would I just be wasting my time? Based on what you wrote and what I’ve heard, the formal hearing process is generally tougher. And I’m not a very sympathetic case (I’m a young kid who just bought an expensive downtown condo), which I expect will hurt me with a board composed of amateurs. I’m willing to try the formal hearing if there’s any significant chance of success, but if there isn’t, then I’d rather not waste my time. What do you think?

Thanks,
Rob

6 Steve Crossland July 31, 2007 at 1:15 pm

Hi Rob,

I wouldn’t waste time on a formal hearing. You’re assessed at 90% of market value so you really have no argument. Unequal assessments is not generally used for residential property but as an argument for large commercial developments such as office buildings and hotels, etc.

Steve

7 kelly August 1, 2007 at 10:44 pm

Hi Steve,

Great Info and Blog. We are planning to buy a new Streetman Home at Cricle C.

1. Will the Travis County use the Bank-Appraised value for tax purposes?

2. Or Will the Travis County use my Sales Contract Price with my builder for tax purposes?

3. Or Will the Travis County just use thier average-data based on homes in that neighbourhood?

Say, my sales contract with builder shows 325K and i paid 25K for upgrades seperately, Will travis county consider my appraised value as 350K?

Please advise.

8 Steve Crossland August 2, 2007 at 8:06 am

Hi Kelly,

Unless the builder returns the letter that Travis County sends to all sellers asking about the sales price, they will assess your home as they do all others in the area. They don’t have any knowledge of your loan appraised value or the sales price or cash upgrades otherwise.

Often, on new construction, your first year tax bill is a freeby as they bill you based on the lot value of January of that year.

This causes interesting side effects if you pay property taxes with your moprtgage payment. The bank’s computer will automatically lower your escrow amount to collect less for property taxes the following year. Then at the end of the year you’ll have an escrow shortage for your property taxes, which your bank will pay but then adjust your payment up again to collect the overage of the next 12 months. So you end up with 3 different payment amounts in 3 years. It’s that third year bump that can catch people off guard even though they should have known/expected it.

This won’t be an issue if you pay your property taxes directly to the county each year thoug

9 Ernest May 4, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Hello Steve,

I just recently received my 2008 appraised value of my property here in Austin, TX and have 3 questions regarding it.

1. Is it common practice that appraised values on new constructions are very low?

2. The appraised value of my home is approixmately $6000 under the value that I purchased it for so will I have any grounds for protest?

3. My tax rate has nearly tripled since last year and I’m not convinced that my appraisal amount is accurate. Is there an online resource that I can use to get a true estimated market value of my home?

Please let me know what you think.

Best Regards,

Ernest

10 Steve Crossland May 4, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Hi Earnest,

There isn’t really a “common” anything with TCAD valuations, other than they seem to trend lower than market value in most instances. Yours is an example of that.

If the appraised value is $6,000 below what you paid, and if values in your neighborhood have not fallen by more than $6,000, then there is nothing left for you to do. There is no grounds to protest the value.

I’m confused about your “tax rate” comment. Rates have actually fallen the p[ast two years. If you go to the TCAD website at http://www.traviscad.org/search1.php and type in your name or property address, you should be able to see a breakdown of the tax amounts to which your property is subject. Add them together to find your total “tax rate”. In most cases, it will be 2.xx%.

Steve

11 Ernest May 5, 2008 at 4:41 pm

Hello Steve,

Thanks again for your adivce. My question regarding the tax rate, was poorly stated on my behalf. I should have said that my total taxes due have tripled since the purchase of the house. It looks like from the information that you’ve given me that there isn’t anything that I can do, except check the values of surrounding homes to make sure the values are not outrageous. Are there any other websites besides the TCAD that can give me a feel for what the estimated appraisal values are for homes in my area?

Best Regards,

-Ernest

12 Jake May 6, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Hi Steve. I bought a house in Williamson in February. I bought it for 185, the 2007 appraised value was 170. The 2008 appraised value just came in at 220, an increase of 30%. I went to an informal meeting, but since I bought a foreclosure, they cannot take the sales price as market value. Also, it turns out there’s a “comp” down the street that sold for 260 only 6 months ago. Not sure why, it looks the same as mine. So the guy says he can’t do anything for me. On the way home I remember that the bank appraisal, who also drew two comps, came in at 195.

What are my chances that I’ll be able to get my appraised value lowered? I think I should be at 185, that’s what I paid for it. Or at least 195, the bank appraisal.

-Jake

13 Nancy May 7, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Do you think comparable assessments make a difference? After checking the appraisal districts website, I found that In the very same small condo complex as my property, the assessed values of 5 condos that are identical in all respects have assessed values $15,900 lower.

Is it worth protesting without getting an appraisal, just based on their assessed values?

14 Steve Crossland May 7, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Hi Earnest: you can try zillow.com for estimated values. It’s generally somewhat close in homogenous neighborhoods with narrow price ranges. Other than that, you can ask the County to mail you the comps they used to value the home. I think it costs $5.

Jake: File a protest and take your settlement statement to the informal hearing. The they will generally set the price at what you paid without and argument.

Nancy: Yes, comparable units would matter. But you’d still need to prove that your specific unit is over market value.

Steve

15 Jake May 7, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Steve, I took my settlement statement to the informal hearing, but since it was a bank sale (“foreclosure”), they couldn’t take the sales price as market value. -Jake

16 Steve Crossland May 7, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Jake,
Thanks. That’s interesting to know.

What about the appraisal then. They should accept that. Ultimately though, if they have it assessed at or below market value, they don’t have to lower it. It’s just that the settlement statement is generally accepted. I have never heard, until now, of a settlement statement being unadmissible if it was a foreclosure sale.

Your appraisal is also a valid document to offer though, but if I were you I would also look for evidence of it being over-valued in case the appraisal is for some reason deemed insufficient.

Steve

17 Emily May 20, 2008 at 9:23 pm

I bought my first house july 2007 i paid 93,000, my lot was valued at 3500 as was the whole neighborhood, i got my 2008 appraised value in the mail and the lot went up to 20,000 so now the total value- market and appraised is 114,840 my neighbors all have homested exep, so they have caps so everyone here is paying taxes on appraised value of like 80,000-100,000 i went to my county website and checked the whole block. most of the homes values were like mine except when they put the cap on the tax value dropped, so im going to pay like 500-600 more taxes because this is the first year i owned my home, can i protest this? i will try if i can fight the cap appraised value i mean my home value will always be higher, im being punished beacuse i didnt have a home to homestead last year. i could afford a 93,000 house not a 114,840 house in the same year, i am clueless to what i can do, any help would be much appreciated. thanks to all in advance. Emily

18 Craig B. July 17, 2008 at 1:01 am

Having had a successful informal hearing with TCAD this year, I wanted to add my experiences to Steve’s excellent post in hopes that they will help others.

The key to my success this year can be found on the “Notice of Protest Hearing” that anyone who files a protest receives from the appraisal district. Toward the end, it says “Data, schedules, formulas and all other information the chief appraiser plans to introduce at the hearing to establish any matter at issue are available for inspection at the appraisal district office during normal working hours.” (Whew!)

YOU NEED THIS DATA. I now strongly believe that you have to study the other side’s evidence to prepare for a successful hearing. In a legal analogy, this is your “discovery phase”. It is possible to get copies sent to you by TCAD, ostensibly through making a written request. I was able to persuade the phone staffer to email me copies.

So, what is in the evidence packet? First, a document explaining how the district uses recent sales to compare against your house, with formulas for adjusting various parameters like square footage, construction quality, etc. to make a valid comparison. Second, a “sales grid” containing the comps TCAD used to assess your home, together with a list of all the recent sales in your area that they know of. Third, a “equity grid” of similar homes showing how your assessment compares to your neighbors, with a similar larger list from which the grid was selected. Both the sales and equity grids contain a “classification” of each home, e.g. WV5 is a medium sized, wood framed, brick or stone veneer house. This is important because the district scores candidates for comps partly on their similarity to your home.

The document basically says that the median value of the adjusted sales grid is the best estimate of your home’s value. It isn’t as clear on how the equity grid affects your assessment, and I haven’t sought out an explanation of that yet.

Here’s how the evidence packet can help you: Knowing what comps the district is using lets you do research on those specific homes, which a CMA would not necessarily turn up. In my case, it allowed me to uncover a MAJOR problem with one of the comps that blew my initial assessment out of the water. I got CMA’s from Steve and Sylvia and a couple of other realtors before getting the evidence packet, and none of them included this particular home (through no fault of any of the realtors, I hasten to add). This comp had an adjusted $/sf of over $140 when the others ranged from $110-120, and its own sale price was $60K over the tax assessment. Smelling a rat, I requested MLS records which trumpeted “much larger than TCAD” in their description. Careful reading uncovered why…the MLS advertised parking as “1 car carport”, while the TCAD record online listed an attached garage. I drove by the house and took photos that showed an obvious 2 car garage along with the advertised carport. Someone had clearly finished out the garage without informing the county, resulting in completely hosed comps data (not to mention a massive undervaluing of the house for tax purposes). I took all this to my hearing and the appraiser immediately agreed to toss this one from the comps list, knocking $15K off my assessment!

Most errors won’t be that egregious, but frequently MLS will show things like seller givebacks for closing costs or repairs that aren’t reflected in the district’s data. A few may have improvements such as a pool or deck that don’t show up in the tax record, though I haven’t found any yet. Probably the most common difference is square footage; frequently the county’s estimates are on the low side (builders seem to sandbag the figures they give the taxman). My home is probably a bit low as well so I chose not to argue that point. :)

Some more interesting guidance in the data packet:

- TCAD looks for square footage within +-25% of your home when selecting sales comps.
- Homes on your street get a big boost in their scoring algorithm. I don’t know if closer streets rank higher than farther away, but if there are comps around the corner from you that TCAD did not include, you might be able to argue for their consideration. For example, I live on a small cul-de-sac off of a short street, and two similar houses sold on the adjoining street last year.
- Homes closest in SF and construction grade to yours are scored highest. This is why it is important to have an accurate construction grade, so check out that equity list and start gathering pictures of other homes.

That got rather long winded…here’s my summary of what the evidence packet does for you:

1. helps look for faults in the district’s evidence
2. helps you look for comps to counter with
3. helps you understand the other party (TCAD), which maximizes your chances of success

Incidentally, the appraiser was a genuinely nice guy who gave me lots of good advice on how to prepare a case to get my home’s classification downgraded next year (I didn’t bring enough comparative evidence to get it allowed this year).

19 Paul September 11, 2008 at 9:53 pm

The web site at http://austin.appraisalminer.com makes it very easy to compare your appraisal information to those of similar properties nearby. The site looks at this years numbers compared to last years, calculates increases, mean, median, standard deviation, standard score and generates analysis graphs and color-coded maps to help you visualize all the data. It’s a handy tool for considering whether you should protest your appraisal or not.

20 Ryan Reid May 23, 2010 at 3:16 pm

This seems like a very knowledgeable group, so I’d like to ask what might be a rather simple question to clear up my confusion with this whole appraisal process here in Travis.

I received a 2010 appraisal on my home for $160,754. I decided to dispute it, and asked for an evidence package. The “Comparable Sales Grid” came out to a median of $108,000, average $93,710. The “Equity Grid” came out to a median $159,000, average $160,000.
My question is what are they basing my $160,754 appraisal off of? Strictly the equity grid without regard to the sales grid? Can I use their evidence package as my own evidence?
Thanks,Ryan

21 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR May 24, 2010 at 6:48 am

Hi Ryan,

Before you worry about all those nuances, I’d figure out if your appraised value is higher than current market value or not. If not, that other stuff doesn’t matter. And yes, you can of course use their evidence as your own evidence if it benefits you do do so. But I’d also just look at CMA data for the latter half of 2009. If you don’t have a neighborhood Realtor you know, Sylvia can complete a CMA for you if you fill out the form.

Steve

22 Michael Jurek July 13, 2010 at 8:08 am

I have a question about the appraisal on a new home. Construction began in late October and was completed at the end of March. The appraisal district did their assessment of the property in mid-March and determined it to be about 95% complete. I don’t disagree with the assessment on March 15th, but isn’t the taxable value supposed to be based on the state of the property on January 1st? On January 1st, the house was framed with windows and a shingled roof. The electrical had not even been installed yet, nor the insulation, drywall, HVAC, plumbing, brick and other exterior finishing, concrete flatwork, etc. The completion percentage was probably closer to 60%, based on their appraisal of similar houses in the neighborhood assessed in January. Is this a fact that I can appeal to have my assessed value reduced? If so, what kind of evidence is the ARB likely to accept, city permits, inspections?

23 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR July 13, 2010 at 8:21 am

Hi Michael,
> but isn’t the taxable value supposed to be based on the state of the property on January 1st?

Yes, that’s always been my understanding and that’s how the law reads. The old saying was “if yoiur house burns down on New Year’s Eve, it’s work lot value the next morning” for property tax purposes.

In my opinion, it’s completely wrong and indefensible for the County to reach into the future for a high home value just because the construction was more substantially complete at that future date. I would fight it vigorously and demand that they show you, in writing, the policy that explains this.

Of course it’s government. So you never know what their thinking. And the panels for the formal hearing are not populated by the sharpest knives in the drawer, so prepare to be frustrated.

Good luck,
Steve

24 wolf June 2, 2011 at 8:49 pm

I have a fun question! I just recieved notice today that my informal hearing is 3 days from now. I checked my mail yesterday, then today. It wasn’t in the box yesterday. It was in the box today.Technically speaking I have exactly one business day to prepare, gather information. I have data from my agent. The weekend is approaching. What are the laws regarding the time they need to notify you of a hearing? There is a letter dated 8 days ago, but it takes a day to get here and no postage date is stamped on the envelope, so it sat around for quite a while Are there rules/laws for notification and are those days different for the informal hearing vs. the formal? If you go on formal alone, it is still not meeting the requirements of the formal if you go by business days. Squeeks by if you go by regular a day is a day. Wow! any knowledge on the notification laws would be appreciated. We did contact them and they just blew it off and said we could only cancel once without cause. Lack of timely notification for the informal process I guess is without cause or were they telling me that that is ample time by law. At least we were in town and checking our mail daily and will make the hearing with some significant strain and schedule adjusting. Lucky.

25 Jacque August 10, 2011 at 5:04 pm

My situation is a bit different. It seems I screwed up in formal hearing and I lost it. As per the Board, I didn’t have good evidence to support my appeal. Can I go further to protest for my property?
I bought a house in 2009 for 240K. In 2010, it was appraised to 262K but after protesting with closing statement, it was brought down to 240K. This year my property is appraised to 267K where as more luxury home in my neighborhood didn’t increase much. Some cases the value dropped 15-20% and some cases the appraised value remain unchanged. Base on that I have raised my appeal but it was declined. Can I hire a professional and go for judicial hearing?
Thank you in advance for your time.

26 Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX August 10, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Hi Jacue,

I think you’re only recourse is paying the $500 deposit and going through the arbitration process. Since your potential gain from a tax adjustment is only $700-$800, and you lose the %400 if you lose, it would be a risky gamble in my opinion.
Steve

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