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High Property Taxes?

High Property Taxes? 4 Steps to Lowering Them

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: March 17, 2010

 NEW YORK (AP) -- Home prices are still far below their highs just a few years

ago. One bittersweet perk for homeowners is that property taxes should be

lower too. If your home's value has tumbled, you may be able to slash hundreds

of dollars from your tax bill by appealing its assessed value. That's because local

governments generally don't reassess homes every year, meaning the values

they use to levy property taxes may be outdated. Just how much you could save

depends on your real estate market. But nationally, home prices are still about

30 percent below their peak in 2006. The appeal process varies depending on

your area, but here's a guide on the steps you'll need to take. ----------

STEP 1:

TRACK DOWN THE PAPERWORK Property taxes are assessed on a local

level. Most homes are only assessed by one jurisdiction, whether it's a town, city

or county. But if your home has more than one assessment -- for example, if you

live in a village within a town -- you need to file appeals with both jurisdictions

since they operate independently. You can start by searching for your assessor's

Web site, where you'll find the form to file an appeal. It will probably be a page or

two, and ask for basic information and your home's parcel or lot number. The

latter should be listed on your mortgage or property tax bill, or you might be able

to look it up on the assessor's Web site. Deadlines for appealing an

assessment in a particular year are often in the spring, so get moving if you're

seriously considering it. Filing fees vary; it could be free, it may be a flat fee of

$15 or so. ----------

STEP 2: UNDERSTAND THE PROCESS There are two

important technicalities to understand, but they're simple to grasp and shouldn't

daunt you. The first is your home's assessed value. This is the basis for your

property tax, and isn't always the same as your home's market value. Some local

governments assess homes at a fraction of their market value. For example, if

the assessment rate is 60 percent, the assessed value of a $1 million home

would be $600,000. The appeal form will likely ask for assessed values, so you

may have to do a little math once you've collected market values on comparable

homes. Assessment rates can change from year to year too, depending on the

area's funding needs. It's also important to know the date your area's

assessments are based on. In New Jersey, for example, homes are assessed

by local governments on Oct. 1 of the previous tax year. So if you're requesting a

new assessment for 2010, you'd need to research home prices from around Oct.

1, 2009. If you're having trouble finding either the assessment rate or date, don't

be afraid to call your assessor's office and ask. ----------

STEP 3: COLLECT

YOUR EVIDENCE The bulk of your work will be collecting the evidence to make

your case. There are several ways you can do this. The first is to go to your

assessor's office, which might keep a database of all sales in the area. You can

also search free Web sites such as ColdwellBanker.com, Remax.com,  

MoveUp.com and Zillow.com. It's best to get actual sale prices, but listed

prices should provide a good baseline if there haven't been any recent sales in

your area. Collect data on three to five properties. Make sure they're similar in

size and style, and were built around the same time. Point out why the houses

are comparable to yours, and note any significant differences that could affect

values, such as proximity to a busy street. Also note if your home is near any

foreclosed or vacant homes, which are known to lower property value. It's

important to show you did your homework, but there's no need to submit a 50-

page appeal, said David Wilkes, an attorney who specializes property taxes and

assessments at Huff Wilkes & Cavallara in Tarrytown, N.Y. Given all the

information online now, most people should be able to put together an appeal on

their own. But if you're truly daunted, you can pay for a new appraisal. Just be

sure the appraiser you hire is licensed. Many real estate brokers offer appraisal

services, but may not have official licenses. On the high end, Wilkes said an

appraisal might cost about $500. ----------

STEP 4: FOLLOW-UP ON YOUR

APPEAL It's wise to check on the status of your appeal a few weeks after you

file. But don't panic if you don't hear back right away. Local assessor offices are

often swamped with appeals and may take months to get back to you. If your

appeal is denied, you're usually given a window of time to request a hearing in

tax court. This isn't as intimidating as it sounds, and you probably still won't need

a lawyer, Wilkes said. It may just be that you have to state your case more clearly

to the review board. ''It's another bite at the apple,'' Wilkes said. In the meantime,

continue paying your property tax bills. If you ultimately win your case, any money

 you overpaid should be refunded.

Have you seen these yet?

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