Calculating your property taxes is complicated. Even if you pay property taxes to just one tax authority, like your city or county government, that authority uses a complex formula to determine how much you should pay. And there’s a good chance your property tax bill is the work of two or more overlapping tax authorities. School districts, water districts, regional transportation authorities — all want a piece of the pie.
Meanwhile, property values naturally change from year to year, sometimes faster than tax assessors can keep up. That lays the groundwork for “overassessment,” a common scenario in which the tax person overestimates the value of a property and calculates taxes based on that inflated number.
The good news: No matter where you live or how much you pay, you’re always entitled to appeal your property tax assessment. The process isn’t always easy or without financial risk, but it’s worth pursuing if you genuinely believe your property tax burden is too high.
How to Appeal Your Property Tax Assessment
Not happy with your property tax bill this year? Use this general overview of the property tax assessment appeals process to prepare and file your appeal.
1. Check Your Property Tax Assessor’s Website
Property tax appeal procedures vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As soon as you receive your proposed property tax notification, check your municipal or county tax assessor’s website to learn what you need to do next. The website should be clearly marked on your notification letter.
When you visit the site, note:
- Protest and appeal deadlines
- Applicable forms
- Phone numbers to call for pre-appeal consultations
- Locations, open hours, and dates for in-person hearings
- Acceptable forms of documentation and evidence supporting your claim
Many jurisdictions also include review and appeal instructions on proposed property tax notifications directly. These notifications are often sent late in the year before new rates go into effect. Your proposed property tax notification will include an appeal deadline, which can be as little as 30 to 45 days after you receive the notification but may be longer
2. Conduct a Self-Assessment
If your assessing authority has an online property tax assessment tool, complete it before continuing with your appeal. Although it carries no legal weight, it’s a low-risk way to determine the strength of your claim — and whether you really have a claim at all. Bear in mind that some jurisdictions only allow online self-assessments during appeal season.
To complete your self-assessment, you’ll need to supply detailed information about your property, including:
- Home type (single-family, duplex, multiplex)
- Finished square footage
- Lot size
- Room sizes
- Bedroom and bathroom count
- Recent improvements requiring permits
- Type and average age of major features (such as the roof)
You can find most of this information in your municipal or county property records and on reputable real estate websites like Zillow.
However, you’ll want to cross-reference information provided by these sources with what you actually know about your home. “Ghost” features in the public record, like a half-bath that doesn’t actually exist, can artificially inflate your home’s assessed value. Even comparatively minor features, such as a fireplace, can distort the price.
If the results of your self-assessment aren’t substantially different from your proposed property tax assessment, don’t despair. You’re not out of options yet.
Tip: Many assessing authorities have “zero downside” property tax appeal policies. In these, homeowners’ assessed property values can only go down on appeal, never up. But other jurisdictions happily raise assessed values when presented with new evidence. Self-assessments are anonymous and nonbinding, so they’re all the more important in places without “zero downside” policies.
3. Collect Documentary Evidence to Support Your Claim
Check Zillow or another reliable source for recently sold homes in your neighborhood. Go back 12 to 24 months. Look for recent sales as nearby to your property as possible and as similar in size and construction. Wide gaps between their sale prices and your assessed value are red flags that warrant further investigation. Print or bookmark relevant listings.
Next, use your municipality or county’s interactive property records tool to compare nearby properties’ assessed values against your own. Look beyond recent sales to comparable homes that have been in the same hands for a while. These homes should have the same bedroom and bathroom counts and lot sizes, if possible.
If comparable homes’ assessed values are significantly lower than yours, that’s another red flag. Again, print or bookmark relevant listings for later use.
Next, dig back through your city or county’s building permit records for information about significant home improvement projects, renovations, or additions completed by the current or previous owner. Review the assessing authority’s value-add estimates for each project.
Compare these estimates to generally accepted value-adds for such projects, noting any major discrepancies. Opendoor.com has a basic home improvement calculator that accounts for regional variation in remodeling costs and resale outcomes.
If you can’t complete an online self-assessment, manually double-check all the house- and lot-related data points your assessing authority used to determine your property value. Even small errors, such as a few extra finished square feet, can increase your home’s assessed value. Make a list of all discrepancies.
Look for structural or mechanical issues that could negatively impact your assessed value. Unless your assessing authority sent out an employee to conduct an on-site home inspection, these issues won’t influence its assessment unless you bring them to its attention. Examples include:
- Damaged or deteriorating roofing and siding
- Foundation and structural issues
- Major mechanical issues, such as non-working heating appliances
- Code issues, such as faulty plumbing systems
Document these issues with photos and maintenance records.
Next, look for environmental or quality-of-life issues in your neighborhood or immediate surroundings. Nearby industrial facilities, transmission lines, loud commercial businesses, elevated highways, and impaired waterways can all negatively impact property value, sometimes significantly. So can plenty of other environmental and human-caused issues.
Try to put dollar values on all these issues. You can do this by cross-referencing comparable properties in neighborhoods where they’re absent or speaking with a local real estate professional. Make a list or table of all issues and their dollar values.
Lastly, check your eligibility for property tax exemptions and credits. Homestead exemptions and credits are low-hanging fruit. If you never applied for one, your city or county may not realize your home is your primary residence. Likewise, cross-check any special statuses you might have — veteran, senior citizen, disability, income — against applicable local benefits. Make a list of missing tax breaks for which you believe you qualify.
Tip: A formal appraisal by a certified third-party real estate appraiser can dramatically shift the balance of evidence in your favor. Such appraisals are almost always conducted as part of the closing process for real estate transactions, so if you’ve recently purchased your home, your lender appraisal may be sufficient. If not, expect to pay around $350 out of pocket for a fresh appraisal, according to HomeAdvisor.
4. Organize and Present Your Evidence
Organize all the evidence you’ve collected in step three and get it in a presentation-ready form. You’ll want to:
- Print any property listings — or, if you’re presenting your case electronically, convert them to PDF form.
- Print or download and save high-resolution photos of issues around your home, with supporting evidence (such as repair estimates for structural issues) as needed.
- Print or download all applicable permits and cost-resale value estimates.
- Create a document with special exemptions and credits for which you qualify, with supporting evidence (such as a copy of your birth certificate or medical records) as needed.
In writing, briefly summarize each item’s importance. For instance, you’ll want to highlight why you believe your home has been overvalued relative to its comps and by how much. Don’t assume your assessor will “get it” unless you spell it out.
5. Contact Your Assessor
Your next move is to call or email your assessor. This isn’t a mere courtesy — some assessing authorities won’t accept appeals without screening appellants first.
During your initial call, you’ll need to review the outlines of your complaint, so make sure you have all the evidence collected and organized in steps three and four in front of you.
If the assessing authority’s error is simple or egregious, the issue may be resolved in your favor right then and there. However, it’s more likely that the screener will determine your complaint has merit but can’t be resolved immediately. You’ll then schedule a follow-up phone call or proceed directly to a formal written appeal.
6. Submit an Appeal Form
Check your assessing authority’s website or visit its office in person to get a property tax appeal form. If you’re confused about any questions or fields on the form, ask someone at the assessing authority’s office. Improperly completed or incomplete forms will delay processing, possibly past your appeal deadline.
With your form, you’ll want to include all the evidence and documentation you gathered in steps three and four. You’ll also want to include a concise but detailed appeal letter. The letter should summarize:
- Every discrepancy and deficiency in your property tax assessment, listed as separate line items — for instance, “I do not have a second-floor half-bathroom as indicated”
- Estimated values for each discrepancy, listed next to the item description
- “Invisible” issues with your home and property, such as foundation and roof problems, with estimated dollar values for each
- Neighborhood environmental and quality-of-life issues that negatively affect your property value, with estimated dollar values for each
- A tally of total negative impacts from all of the above
Submit the form by the due date, usually 30 to 90 days following your proposed tax notification. Respond promptly to any follow-ups. Such follow-ups can include requests to schedule an in-person consultation — sometimes known as an “open book meeting” — or a home inspection by a city or county assessor.
7. Attend Your Scheduled Hearing or Appraisal
Next, attend your scheduled hearing or make yourself available for an in-person appraisal. This is only necessary if your appeal isn’t resolved to your satisfaction or if the people considering the appeal decide they need more information to reach a conclusion.
Keep in mind that some jurisdictions hold “open book” meetings before accepting formal appeals, so it’s possible you’ll have an informal hearing — and possibly resolve your complaint — before you even complete step six.
During a formal hearing, you’ll present all the evidence you’ve gathered and make your case for why your property taxes should be reduced by the amount you’ve proposed. If you don’t feel confident doing this in front of someone who decides such matters for a living, consider retaining an attorney.
Hearings notwithstanding, many jurisdictions require in-person inspections before adjusting property tax assessments. Your inspection will likely occur after your hearing. Make sure you’re available for the entire length of the inspection, which should take anywhere from one to three hours.
Following the hearing and inspection, you’ll receive notice of the assessing authority’s decision by mail or secure electronic message.
8. Escalate or Move On
If your appeal is denied outright, or your assessment is reduced by an unsatisfactory amount, you have a choice: give up or keep fighting.
If you’re ready to give up, you don’t need to do anything until you receive your next proposed property tax notice.
If you want to keep fighting, you’ll need to check with your assessing authority for appropriate next steps.
In jurisdictions where initial appeals don’t warrant in-person hearings, follow-up appeals generally do. Guidelines for in-person hearings vary, but you’ll generally need to gather additional supporting evidence for a hearing one to two months after your initial appeal deadline. If you haven’t already hired a lawyer, you may want to do so at this point.
Property Tax Petitions: Dispute Prior-Year Taxes Paid
There’s one more recourse available to homeowners who aren’t happy with their property tax assessments. And it’s retroactive, potentially for multiple years.
That’s the good news. The bad news: You’ll need to go to court.
Property tax petitions can be costly and drawn-out, so they’re pretty rare for average homesteaders. If your home is worth well above the national median, or you’re a landlord who owns income-producing multifamily properties, your calculus may be different.
The following is the basic procedure for property tax petitions, per the Ramsey County (Minnesota) Assessor. Your assessor may do things differently, so check with them before making any assumptions:
- Obtain your property tax petition form.
- Complete the appropriate number of copies and attach property tax statements to each.
- Serve certified copies to the requisite agencies (usually, your local assessing authority and the tax or civil court overseeing the case).
- Obtain your case file number from the court (this can take months) and meet all court-mandated filing deadlines.
- Schedule and complete an in-person appraisal.
- Negotiate a settlement, if possible.
- If no settlement is reached, schedule your trial date, appear in court, and argue your case with or without legal representation.
The petition process can take a year or longer, so it’s not for minor disputes. Consult a lawyer with real estate tax experience for personalized guidance.
Advantages of Appealing Your Property Tax Assessment
Appealing a property tax assessment has some clear financial benefits. If successful, it’s likely to save you a significant amount of money, and it costs little to nothing out of pocket unless and until an appraisal is required.
1. You Could Save Hundreds or Thousands of Dollars
That’s not hyperbole. Depending on the assessed value of your home and the total millage rate in your area, your property tax burden could easily reach into five-figure territory.
This is especially likely in high-tax, high-cost states like New Jersey, where a $600,000 home with an effective 4% property tax rate carries a $24,000 annual tax burden. In this case, a 10% reduction in your assessed value — which is a reach, but doable — nets you $2,400 per year.
2. It Costs Little to Nothing Out of Pocket
Appealing your property tax assessment costs little to nothing out of pocket. At most, you’ll be required to pay a nominal appeal filing fee, usually not more than $25 or $30. In many cases, this fee is waived.
Attorneys generally assist homeowners with property tax assessments on a contingency basis. You’ll only pay for an appeal that’s complex enough to require an attorney’s assistance if it proves successful. Even then, you’ll pay out of your windfall.
So the only significant out-of-pocket expense that may be required from a routine property tax appeal is a home appraisal. Hopefully, you’ll earn back the $300 or $400 you spend on that when your property tax bill falls.
3. The Process Is Educational
If nothing else, appealing your property tax assessment is an education. Any exercise that demystifies the bureaucracy and increases your confidence in your ability to navigate it is worthwhile, no matter how painful it is in the moment. You never know when you’ll need to do it again.
4. The Downside Risk Is Manageable
In most cases, the absolute worst-case outcome of a property tax appeal is the nominal financial loss of your filing fee and possibly an appraisal fee, plus a few wasted hours. There’s a small but real risk your appeal could result in a higher property tax burden, but even that may be a blessing in disguise if you’re planning to sell in the near future.
Disadvantages of Appealing Your Property Tax Assessment
Appealing your property tax assessment is not a sure thing. Disadvantages include unclear prospects of success, the small but real possibility that your property taxes will actually go up, and potential negative consequences for your home’s resale value.
1. There’s No Guarantee of Success
Property tax appeals aren’t guaranteed to succeed, and the success rate varies widely from place to place. A low local success rate isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but you’d be wise to take it under advisement.
Before you invest your finite time and energy in an appeal, talk to friends and neighbors who’ve gone through the process in your jurisdiction. Have them walk you through their appeals processes, noting actions and non-actions that may have contributed to their ultimate success or failure.
It also doesn’t hurt to contact your assessor’s office directly and ask, point-blank, for current success rates for tax assessment appeals. As long as you don’t ask for information directly pertinent to your case, they’ll likely share their figures.
2. The Process Is Time-Consuming and Tedious
Even with legal assistance, the appeals process can be time-consuming and tedious. Before diving in, determine whether your likely savings are truly worth the time and effort you’ll need to invest. Missing or interrupting multiple days of work might not be worth a small windfall of a few dollars per month.
And keep in mind that you’re not assured a speedy resolution. Disputes requiring multiple hearings can take months to resolve.
3. Your Taxes Could Rise After an Assessment
Many jurisdictions prohibit tax assessors from raising property taxes on appeal. That isn’t the case everywhere, though.
Check your assessor’s website for language indicating assessed value can rise or fall on appeal. This should be transparently stated.
If it’s possible the appeal could result in a higher tax bill, conduct an online assessment, if available, before formally appealing. The results aren’t binding or public, and the worst-case scenario is simply that you don’t proceed with your appeal.
4. You May Inadvertently Exacerbate Income Inequality & Housing Insecurity
Because they have more to gain, homeowners who live in more expensive neighborhoods are more likely to appeal their property tax assessments. Homeowners in less expensive neighborhoods, who tend to be poorer and less confident navigating local bureaucracies, are comparatively less likely to appeal their assessments.
Over time, this discrepancy has an unintended negative effect. Wealthier neighborhoods become underassessed, while poorer neighborhoods become overassessed. In other words, the greatest tax burden ends up falling on those who can least afford it.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t appeal an unfair assessment on your home if you live in a fancy suburb or high-end downtown district. But perhaps you can atone by contributing your time and knowledge to local financial literacy or housing assistance initiatives.
5. It Could Negatively Impact Your Home’s Resale Value
Assessed value is not the same as appraised or market value. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, either. Assessed value is one of several factors used by homebuyers and consumer-facing real estate data sources, like Zillow, to determine fair market value.
Unless local statutes explicitly limit year-over-year increases in tax assessed value, you can bet that buyers interested in your home will exploit the yawning gap between your tax assessed value and asking price during negotiations. If you’re planning to sell your home in the near future, holding off on property tax appeals may actually be a wise financial move.
What would you do with a property tax windfall?
If you’re planning to sell relatively soon, consider putting your property tax savings toward home improvements likely to raise your home’s resale value. If you think you’re going to stick around for a while, put your savings to work elsewhere, perhaps in a tax-advantaged retirement account.
Or do neither. If you already have adequate savings, use part of your one-time windfall to treat yourself with a nice restaurant meal, a quick weekend trip, or a discretionary purchase you’ve been eyeing for a while. The sky’s the limit – and, after all, it’s your money.