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Appealing Property Taxes For Apartment Owners

Property taxes are one of the largest line item costs incurred by apartment owners. However, many owners do not appeal effectively. Even though owners realize that property taxes can be managed and reduced through an appeal, some view taxes as an arbitrary estimate provided by the government which can't effectively be appealed. It tends to boil down to the old adage, "You can't fight city hall".

Fortunately, the property tax appeal process in Texas provides owners multiple opportunities to appeal. Handled either directly by the owner or by a property tax consultant, this process should involve an intense effort to annually appeal and minimize property taxes. Reducing the largest line item expense has a significant effect in reducing the owner's overall operating expenses. While it is not possible to entirely escape the burden of paying property taxes, it is possible to reduce taxes sharply, often by 25% to 50%.

Overview of appeal process

The following are the primary steps in the annual process for appealing property taxes:

·Request notice of accessed value
·File an appeal
·Prepare for hearing
.Review records
.Review market value appeal
.Review unequal appraisal appeal
·Set negotiating perimeters
·Administrative hearings
·Decide whether binding arbitration or judicial appeals are warranted
·Pay taxes timely

Requesting a notice of assessed value

Property owners have the option of requesting a notice of assessed value for their property annually. Section 25.19g of the Texas Property Tax Code provides the owner the option to request a written notice of the assessed value from the chief appraiser. Owners benefit from requesting and receiving a written notice of assessed value for each property because it ensures they have an opportunity to review the assessed value. This notice should be sent on an annual basis. The appraisal district does not have to send a notice of assessed value if the value increases by less than $1,000. However, if an owner was not satisfied with a prior year's value and the value remained the same, the appraisal district probably will not send a notice of the assessed value for the current year. In this situation, the owner might forget to protest since a notice of assessed value for the property was not received.

How to file and appeal

On or before May 31st of each year, the property owner should file an appeal for each property. However, while many owners are comfortable with an assessed value, in many cases there is a basis for appealing. Two options for appealing include:

1.unequal appraisal, and
2.market value based on data the appraisal district provides to the owner before the hearing.

You can appeal by completing the protest form provided by the appraisal district and indicating both excessive value (market value) and unequal appraisal as the basis for appeal. In addition, the property owner can simply send a notice that identifies the property, and indicates dissatisfaction with some determination of the appraisal office. The notice does not need to be on an official form, although the comptroller does provide a form for the convenience of property owners. (You can access the protest form at www.cutmytaxes.com .)

House Bill 201 - helpful information

House Bill 201 is the industry jargon for a property owner's option to request information the appraisal district will use at the hearing, and to receive a copy 14 days before the hearing. The name House Bill 201 is derived from the bill used to enact the law. The details for House Bill 201 are located in sections 41.461 and 41.67d of the Texas Property Tax Code. When filing a protest, the property owner should additionally request in writing that the appraisal district provide a copy of any information the appraisal district plans to introduce at the hearing. The appraisal district will typically require the property owner to come to the appraisal district office to pick up the information and charge a nominal fee, typically $0.10 per page. While the cost for House Bill 201 requests are quite low (typically $0.50 to $2.00 per property for residential and commercial) the information is invaluable in preparing for the hearing. In addition, filing a House Bill 201 request is important because it limits the information the appraisal district can present at the hearing to what was provided to the property owner two weeks before the hearing.

Preparing for the Hearing

Start by reviewing the appraisal district's information for your property for accuracy. If the appraisal district overstates either the quality or quantity of improvements, this will justify a deduction. The next step is to review the information on market value and unequal appraisal provided by the appraisal district in the House Bill 201 package. If the subject property is an income property, review the appraisal district's income analysis versus your actual income and expense statements. Consider the following areas as opportunities to rebut the appraisal district's analysis:

· Gross potential income
· Vacancy rate
· Total effective gross income, including other income
· Operating expenses
· Amount of replacement reserves
· Net operating income
· Capitalization rate
· Final market value

Many property owners and consultants start with the actual income and expense data, and use one or two of the assumptions provided by the appraisal district. However, they primarily utilize information from the actual income and expenses in preparing their own income analysis and estimate of market value for the subject property.

When comparable sales are the primary issue in determining market value, start by reviewing the comparable sales data provided by the appraisal district versus the assessed value for your property. Convert the sales prices from the appraisal district to either a per square foot or per unit basis. Then compare the sales to the per square foot or per unit assessment for your property. Sales can be helpful during the hearing.

The cost approach is not typically used in the property tax hearings except for brand new or relatively new properties. If your property is new, the appraisal district will probably want to review the cost information and you probably won't want to show it to them. In many cases, the actual cost of a property is higher than the estimate provided by the appraisal district. If this is the case, you will likely want to appeal on unequal appraisal instead of on market value. No matter how good your argument or how passionately it is expressed, the appraisal district staff and Appraisal Review Board (ARB) members tend to believe that cost equals value for new properties.

Conclusion

Property owners can generate substantial reductions in property taxes by appealing annually. Consider appeals on both market value and unequal appraisal and obtain the House Bill 201 information when preparing for the appeal hearing. Property owners should consider all three levels of appeal: informal hearing, ARB hearing and judicial appeal/binding arbitration. While the ARB hearing and judicial appeal/binding arbitration can be an intimidating process, each is straightforward once you understand the mechanics.

Submitted by:

Patrick O'Connor

Patrick O'Connor, MAI is president of O'Connor & Associates, 130-person firm in business since 1974. O'Connor & Associates is the largest tax consultant in Texas, handled more than 43,000 administrative appeals in 100 counties in 2005 and is currently coordinating over 2,000 judicial appeals.http://www.cutmytaxes.com




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