Because the amount of real estate property tax you pay is based on the assessed value of the property, it is in your best interests to be sure the assessment is accurate. Counties periodically reassess property values, and any time they do so, you should receive written notification of the new assessment. Your tax bill should also state the assessed value of the property in question. How properties are assessed varies by location. In some counties, properties are assessed at their full market value while in others assessments are made at a percentage of actual values. Your county assessor's office Web site should explain how it assesses various types of properties. In most cases, property owners are free to appeal the assessment. If you feel the assessment on your property is too high and you can provide evidence to back up your claim, you may be able to get the assessment reduced. Simply feeling that your taxes are too high is not an acceptable reason for getting an assessment reduced. Evidence for changing the valuation on a property could include:

  • An error in the property information, like listing a finished basement when yours is unfinished
  • Comparable sales information used in determining market value was for properties significantly different from yours
  • Similar homes in your neighborhood have sold recently for much less than the stated market valuation on your home
  • Hidden conditions like a cracked foundation, which can negatively impact a property's value

The best case for reducing property tax assessments is based on sale prices of similar homes in your neighborhood. But because a highly motivated seller may have sold a home for considerably less than its value just to get rid of it, you will need to present information on several homes to have a strong case. Procedures for challenging a property tax assessment vary by state, although the first step is usually to file an appeal with your local assessor, often at the county level. Many counties now allow you to file these online. If denied, the next level is often an administrative agency, like a review board. There may be higher levels of appeal as well, including court action. Many assessors' offices post appeal procedures on their Web sites. Make sure also to note the deadline for filing an appeal. In some counties, different townships have different deadlines. You may also have a few weeks after filing an appeal to submit supporting documentation. If you really believe your assessment is too high and all appeals have been denied, talk to a lawyer experienced in property law. Inability to pay your property taxes is not sufficient reason to challenge a property tax assessment, but it may qualify you for an exemption or other tax relief program. If you can't afford your taxes, instead of filing an appeal, talk to your local tax collection authority to find out what programs might be available to you.