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Don’t panic: Four things to remember about your property tax appraisal

Tarrant Appraisal District officials mailed out 555,000 property tax appraisals last week, and Chief Appraiser Jeff Law estimates taxable values on homes went up an average of 5 to 8 percent.
Tarrant Appraisal District officials mailed out 555,000 property tax appraisals last week, and Chief Appraiser Jeff Law estimates taxable values on homes went up an average of 5 to 8 percent. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

For those of you suffering sticker shock after getting your annual property appraisal notice, Tarrant County officials have this advice: Don’t panic.

Tarrant Appraisal District officials mailed out 555,000 property tax appraisals last week. Chief Appraiser Jeff Law estimates that taxable values on Tarrant County homes went up an average of 5 to 8 percent, which has already created some social media howling, especially since it follows a double-digit value jump in 2016.

Homeowners can challenge their appraisals; the deadline for filing a protest for most homeowners is May 31, but technically it’s 30 days after receiving a notice in the mail. But first, sit back, look at the data and consider what it means before deciding whether to pursue a protest, Law said.

Here are four things to remember about the appraisal process.

This is not a bill.

While the notice includes an estimated property tax amount that you owe, this may not be what you ultimately end up paying. TAD is required to include the estimate, based on tax rates established last fall. But some taxing entities have since reduced their tax rates.

The new tax rates for 2017 won’t be established until September.

“This is not a bill. Don’t pay anything from this,” Law said. “We get people sending us checks but the tax bill comes in October and is not delinquent until Feb. 1.”

So put the checkbook away and take a deep breath.

Consider an online settlement

Before making a decision to protest your home’s value, Law suggests first using the eAccess feature on TAD.org. By using the PIN number on the notice, homeowners can review comparable home sales in their area to see how TAD came up with their value.

“It might be a sticker shock for them [the appraisal notice], but they may not realize what real estate is selling for in their neighborhood,” Law said.

Real estate agents are reporting a hot housing market, with some customers making multiple offers and paying $10,000 or more above asking price for a home. The Texas A&M Real Estate Center reports that a lack of inventory — less than a two-month supply of homes for sale, compared to the preferred five to seven months — is driving up prices.

Just follow the prompts on the TAD webpage to take you to the information. At the end, if homeowners disagree, they can say what they think their home is worth and receive an online settlement offer, Law said. Last year, 13,700 homeowners used the online feature to protest their tax appraisals.

“They can go through the online process and have it settled,” he said.

Do your homework

If you plan to file an appeal with the Appraisal Review Board, you can review the data used by the appraisal district to determine your home’s value. But it is also wise to gather your own evidence, such as pictures and any documents you have showing what the property may be worth, including your own appraisal.

Real estate agents say their offices are often peppered with calls soon after the notices are issued. They then search the multiple listing service for comparable sale prices.

“If the values are there, the Realtor can tell them,” said Mike Hale, an Arlington real estate broker and past chairman of the Arlington Board of Realtors. Sometimes the callers don’t like what they hear, because he will say, “I wish you had a chance but they’ve got you.”

But don’t despair, Law said. About 50 percent of the people filing a protest see some kind of relief. It may not be what they were looking for, but any kind of reduction “is a success for the property owner,” he said.

Sooner is better

Last year, the Appraisal Review Board, an independent agency that mediates disputes between the appraisal district and property owners, handled a record 105,000 protests, Law said.

There also were issues with TAD operations that ultimately impacted the bills received by homeowners. Computer software problems were blamed for leaving millions of dollars of property off the books in 2015, causing a late surge of taxpayer refunds in 2016 after it didn’t catch critical changes in accounts.

While TAD is planning for another “heavy protest season,” Law expects 2017 “to be a better year than the past two.” Still, it’s never too early to get your place in line. The review board begins hearings April 17.

“Again, we encourage anyone that feels they need to protest their market value to do so early,” Law said.

This story contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB

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