Travis County Appaisal District Tax Protest Update 2009

I just received a letter from the Travis County Appraisal District with regard to my upcoming property tax protest hearing. Instead of having the hearing, they want to just offer a lower value now, by mail. If I agree, I can just sign the letter and mail it back. The value will be lowered and I won’t have to attend a hearing for this particular property (though I still have several other over-valued properties awaiting hearings).

The original appraised value for this property, which is a rental house we own in SW Austin, was $196,772. TCAD is offering to drop it to $172,236, which is a value I can live with. In fact, I wasn’t expecting to do that well at the hearing, so I guess I’ll sign the letter and send it back.

Here’s what the letter says. It starts off with:

“Based on an analysis of sales data the indicated value of your property is $172,236”

Translation: “We did a very poor analysis the first time. Because we’ve been deluged with property tax protest requests this year, we decided to do a proper analysis and would now like to set your appraised value at the correct amount instead of incompetently and unfairly over-assessing your value”.

The letter goes on to say:

If you agree with our analysis, we can serve you better by helping you avoid a trip to our offices. If you agree, please sign and date the enclosed Settlement and Waiver of Protest form, and return it to the district using the postage paid envelope…

I’m mailing mine in back in. The county is smart to take this approach, which we are seeing for the first time ever. It’s not that hard to get the assessed value closer than a 15% error, especially in neighborhoods such as the one in which this subject property is located, which are mostly homogeneous, similar homes of similar age and size.

But this raises the question as to how the “analysis” performed by TCAD could been about 15% too high in the first round. Is this an admission that they don’t really try that hard to get the number right in the first place? Well, we already know that they don’t. But I know how to fix that, if I have my way during the next legislative session.

I remember seeing the Chief Appraiser for Travis County in a news interview several years ago on TV, in which he made the statement in response to the question about possibly over-stated values, “these are our come and see me numbers”.

I remember snorting at the TV, and Mr. Chief Appraiser, “Screw You! You SOB! I don’t have time to come see you. Get the damned appraised value correct the first time!”

Spittle probably flew from my lips. It really made me mad.

It seemed as if the Chief Appraiser felt it was our duty as property owners to come help TCAD get the numbers right. He didn’t seem concerned that the protest hearing process, for some, is an extremely disruptive hassle.

Sylvia and I get numerous Free CMA requests from ordinary people every week who absolutely can’t believe the value that has been placed on their property. In most cases, after we run a CMA, the value is in fact too high and we provide them with the data to use in their protest hearing.

But I have a remedy for this, in the form of a new law, and I’ve already forwarded my idea to TX State Senator Kirk Watson’s office so it can perhaps be considered during the next legislative session (in 2011).

Sen. Watson’s aid told me he thinks it’s a good idea. The idea came to me as I was helping a neighbor, who every year for the past 4 years in a row, has had to go down and protest her property value at Travis County. Each time, the value is successfully lowered, and then the following year Travis County jacks it right back up again, causing her to live in a “Groundhog Day” sort of repeated protest cycle. That is government abuse, in my opinion, and it shouldn’t be allowed.

My idea is that is simple:
If your County Appraisal District over-appraises your property value by more than a certain percentage, say 10%, and you successfully prove that and have it lowered to the correct amount, then your property becomes exempt from a value increase for the following three years.

This would prevent people such as my friend from being abused, year after year, by the Travis County Appraisal District and having to spend the time and effort every year to make the same arguments as the year before.

It would force the Chief Appraisers in Texas to think twice before employing the “come see me” method of over-valuing properties and then making property owners come in for a protest to set the correct value.

It would prevent the huge waste of time and expense that is created when the appraised values are so inaccurate that they generate over 90,000 protests, as is the case with Travis County this year. I don’t know what it costs to handle 90,000 property tax value protests, but I’ll bet it’s cheaper to get the numbers right in the first place.

Because we are lucky in Texas, and our lawmakers only get together every two years to screw things up, it will be about 14 months from now before I’ll know if my idea for a new law emerges from the stack of things Sen. Watson will be considering. I’ve already marked my calendar with a reminder to call Oct 1, 2010 and check in. Wish me luck!

Posted by Steve
7 years ago

Steve is a Real Estate Blogger, Husband and Dad, UT Austin Grad, Runner, Real Estate Broker and owner of Crossland Team and Crossland Real Estate in Austin TX.

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marty - 7 years ago

i’m in the same boat as your friend: every year, same arguments, i get it lowered (this year just over 16%). it’s absolutely ridiculous…so i hope your idea becomes reality!

Tony - 7 years ago

Then it seems like you should be ok with them having access to actual sold values so they can properly appraise properties.

Brian - 7 years ago

I’m with Tony. I don’t understand the thinking behind not releasing the sale price information so that assessed valuations can more reflect actual property values.

Aaron - 7 years ago

There are 2 arguments for not releasing the sales price info:

1) Texas is a non-disclosure state (that’s the correct term, right?), which means it’s your business (buyers and sellers), but no one else.

and the real reason

2) TCAD already knows all the sales price info, because of questionable relations with various realty associations. They shouldn’t know the exact price, but they somehow always do. Consequently, they want to know, but they don’t want you to know, because knowledge is power. Our local governments derives much of their revenue from property taxes, so it is in their best interest to maximum that revenue through any means.

(Now I’ll take my tin foil hat off)

marty - 7 years ago

no question about it, they know. i don’t know a single person that’s protested and tcad NOT already knowing the sales price before they even sat down.

jim - 7 years ago

Good idea Steve, but it might result in very stubborn appraisal hearings, where both owners and TCAD have too much at stake to give in to the other side.

There need to be rules in place, in cases such as when there aren’t enough comparable sales. In those cases, the appraiser must have the burden of proof that they have sufficient evidence to raise the value, otherwise it’ll stay at last years level.

Garreth Wilcock - 7 years ago

That’s a great idea Steve. I wonder how much tax Travis County is collecting from the people who aren’t protesting though.

Dcg - 7 years ago

I’m getting a jack-around here also. I built a new custom home in Travis county. It was completed and permitted for occupancy in May – the permits are public record and certainly available to Travis county.
I called the tax office and told them that I wasn’t protesting assessed value, but I WAS protesting the counties assessment that we were 100% complete on January 1st. I fail to see how the county can assess us at full value when we didn’t have water, didn’t have septic, and our required county inspections were not complete!
I was told to send in my closing documentation and associated copies of permits and the assessors office would take care of it (without a hearing). So I sent in documentation. A few weeks later, I get a notice of accepted protest and call the assessors office again. This time, I’m told I need a signed affidavit saying that the copies of the Travis county permits (evidence) are correct.. Hey, they’re TRAVIS COUNTY PERMITS – it’s not like I have any influence over when they are issued… So I take more time to have an affidavit drawn up and notarized. I submit them again.
A month later, I get a note back with a hearing date. Once again, I call the assessors office. I’m then told if I’ve submitted my affidavits that I don’t need to and SHOULD NOT attend the hearing that they’ve got scheduled. I asked why did I receive a hearing notice if they don’t want me to attend – answer was “it’s standard procedure”. I insist that they actually LOOK at my file – then the answer is “oh, you do need to attend – it says that here in the file.”
Had I not attended (as I was instructed to TWICE) – I would have lost the hearing and been assessed thousands of dollars on a home that wasn’t even nearly complete in January… Travis county has access to their own records which would indicate a complete date…. WTF? Giant waste of time, run-around, and misinformation.

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