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10 Tips to Lower Property Taxes

        Money | Taxes

Your tax assessor's work determines how much property tax you pay.
Your tax assessor's work determines how much property tax you pay.
Digital Vision/ThinkStock

While most of us are necessarily familiar with our income taxes (if only because we're hoping for a refund), not too many people excitedly follow their property tax value. That's kind of a shame, because the National Taxpayers Union estimates that 60 percent of homes are overvalued for property tax purposes, while only 2 percent of homeowners appeal their property taxes [source: Leamy].

So how do we fight for lower taxes? First off, understand that you're not going to be able to lower your tax rate -- that's set by your local jurisdiction, and nobody can shave off a few percentage points from that sucker. What you can do, however, is lower the assessment of your property, which is what gets taxed. So let's start off with a little property tax primer that will help us understand how we can get a fair value for our home and land.

10: Learn What Property Taxes Are

So before we figure out how to lower property taxes, it's probably best that we discuss what exactly property taxes are. First off, don't let the name fool you: These puppies are not something you're paying on your tax return every year. Instead, you're going to pay them as a part of your mortgage payment. Every month, a bit of your mortgage goes into an escrow account: From there, the lender or mortgage server pays your property taxes when they're due [source: Home Learning Center].

So this might sound fine and good, but it also leaves something to be desired. Namely, you can't make special deductions or take great write-offs on your property taxes. They are what they are, and you pretty much have to pay them. Since there's no single formula used by local governments to assess your property value, that means you're at the mercy of your local jurisdiction -- or even your assessor [source: Boone]. So what to do to get that assessment lower? First up: Know what you're already paying.

9: Get Your Hands on Your Property Card

While there is no one formula for determining the value of your property, that doesn't mean that your assessment is written in invisible ink and hidden in troll caves. You can absolutely see your assessment. It's called your property card, and it has lots of cool information on it. Besides having the obvious stuff (how many bedrooms your house has, what kind of outbuildings are on the property), your card could also have historical information about it, such as when each assessment was conducted [source: Curtis].

Obviously, you're going to want to make sure that assessment is correct. Mistakes happen, and you don't want to be paying property taxes on an extra bedroom that was added by accident. Bonus: When you're at the office, you can even ask your friendly neighborhood assessor how he or she values property. It might give you some insight into how the process works in your municipality. But more on that later. First, let's talk about things that add a lot of value to your property.

8: Beware of Building

Here's the plan: To make your house a dream home, you're going to add a water slide from the master bath to an indoor pool that doubles as a moat around your house. You'll build a fancy art studio for the stained glass hobby you always wanted. And don't forget a shed. You just really need a shed for that stupid lawnmower.

While it all sounds great, you should know that any permanent, built fixture on your property is not going to help you lower your property tax bill. That doesn't necessarily mean you should ditch the moat, but it certainly does imply that you might want to know what you're dealing with tax-wise before you start digging the perimeter. You can also call some local building or tax offices to get an idea of what you might be paying if you do build [source: Curtis].

7: In Fact, Don't Try Too Hard to Make It Look Good

Assessors are people too, and you know what people like? Really nice-looking, fancy-schmancy houses that look meticulously perfect. Some assessments are even done on a drive-by basis; creating the opportunity for some (quite necessarily) subjective reporting [source: Block]. The prettier your house looks, the more you might end up paying in property taxes. It's the drawback of your house appearing a heck of a lot more appealing than the unmowed, half-painted one next door.

This leads to an important point about assessments: Your house is being compared to others -- to your neighbors' houses, of course, and also to other homes in the area. If you know an assessor is coming by, it might not actually be the best time to pull out all the stops to make the house stand out from the crowd. Save it for the real estate showing.

6: Check the Deadline for Challenging

Not that you're looking for a fight, but it never hurts to be ready to challenge your property tax. Assessments might not be done every year on your property, but do try to determine when yours is taking place. (They might send out a notice letting you know that assessments will be happening, but you can also check with your assessor's office to see when your neighborhood is scheduled.)

It's not necessarily that it's that important for you to be on the front porch waving when the assessor comes by. Instead, knowing when an assessment occurs will make it a lot easier to catch errors -- or lodge petitions -- early on. Remember that you're paying property taxes every year; miss an error from two years prior, and you've already paid the taxes. Also, keep in mind that if there is a change in your assessment, the office will probably notify you -- but that means you need to actually open the mail and not throw it into the recycling bin.