Travis County Property Tax Protest Season is Here Again

travis county property tax protest

I just received my property tax appraisals from Travis Country Appraisal District (TCAD)  and Williamson County Appraisal District (WCAD) for 2010. Doesn’t look like I’ll need to protest any property values this year. Some properties are borderline high, but not worth the time and effort to dispute because a) they are close enough, within a percent or two of my estimate, and b) some are low enough to offset the overage on the others, in my mind, and c) I still traumatized by my exposure to the utterly moronic and incompetent panel of idiots at my formal tax protest hearing last year. I need another year of recovery before I subject myself to that type of abuse again.

But as a home owner with only one property, even if your value is only a little bit high, it may be worth the effort to keep the value down so that the basis for future increases remains lower. And remember, if it’s your homestead, the value upon which you are taxed can’t rise more than 10% per year. This year, many of you will see an actual decrease in appraised value.

Each year Sylvia and I perform an increasing number of free comparative market analysis (CMA) for property owners seeking value guidance, or evidence to use in a property tax protest. That deal still stands. We did almost 100 of them last year, which actually benefits us as much as you because we get to really hone our CMA skills and see what home values are doing in many different parts of Austin. And many of you have turned into clients, which we really appreciate.

And here is a list of useful links to help you self-educate about the tax appraisal protest process at TCAD or WCAD in case you do decide to seek a reduction in appraised value.

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Travis County Tax Protest – My Formal Hearing Results

Like many other Travis County residents, I found myself staring at property tax appraisal bills this year that were over-valued. In September, the Travis County Appraisal District (TCAD) unilaterally offered a lower adjusted value for one of the properties before I even attended the informal hearing. I signed off on that and mailed it back in, which dropped the home from $196K to $172K.

But that left a couple of 1+ acre lots I own, which I purchased at the peak of the Austin real estate market in 2007, valued by Travis County at 63% more than I paid. At the informal hearing, I explained to the tcad representative that the lots in the subject neighborhood are not homogeneous, and therefore the comparable sales being used were apples and oranges. I also questioned the “size and shape” adjustment they were applying, which added 35% to their “base” lot value for the neighborhood.

When the developer rolled out this neighborhood in 2006, the lots were all sold to custom builders. Some are high up on a ridge with mature oak trees and distant views. Others are down in old meadowland, no oak trees, and with waterway and floodplain issues. The two that I purchased were the two cheapest lots sold in the subdivision. The runts of the litter. The leftover lots that none of the custom builders wanted because they were in the floodplain and only had 70ft and 90ft widths at the front while the rest of the neighborhood has 100ft to 150ft lot widths. I won’t go into the strategy or thinking that lead me to purchase these “problem” lots, but the fact is, they were the cheapest sold for a reason and now I was sitting in front of a TCAD bonehead who was telling me they were “better than average” for the neighborhood and therefore priced at a premium. He offered a token adjustment, which I declined.

So a month later, two days ago, I attended the Formal Hearing. This is a panel of three incompetent older people. More on them in a minute. How they are selected I know not. And a TCAD representative who was as equally unskilled in understanding facts and data as the informal hearing representative. Bottom line, I prevailed, but not to the degree I had hoped. Here’s how it went.

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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.

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