Top 10 Tips for Successfully Appealing Property Taxes
Michael S. Hagen gleans useful appeal action steps from his 21 years of property tax experience, from both sides of the table, attorney to the county property appraiser as well as representing property owners in SW FL.
IntroductionWith preliminary 2015 property tax values estimated to increase 5.5% in Lee and 8.4% in Collier County over the prior year, I expect this to be an active year for local property tax appeals. Here are my top ten appeal suggestions gleaned from my property tax practice experience, which dates back to 1994.
Top 10 Tips For Property Tax Appeals1. Start Early. TRIM Notices (proposed property tax notices) are typically mailed around August 20th each year. Most property owners pay no attention to their property tax issues until that date, if at all. Once those Notices are mailed, Property Appraiser personnel get very busy. Owners who start their challenges well in advance of TRIM mailings greatly increase their likelihood of success. 2. Apply For All Allowable Exemptions. Florida is a "market value" state as to its assessments, however, numerous exemptions are allowed which reduce property tax bills for successful applicants. These exemptions include homestead, agricultural, religious, working waterfront and others. The exemptions are not automatic and require timely application. Call for details. 3. Verify All Property Data. Property Appraiser personnel measure buildings, land sizes and input other property data, all of which is the "building block" of the assessment. Owners of improved properties should verify all data. Obtain a "property record card" from the Property Appraiser (available online at leepa.org) and confirm the accuracy of this data. If , for example, the Appraiser shows the building as larger than it actually is, that inflates your value. 4. Income Properties: Compare Actual Income to Property Appraiser's "Pro-Forma" Income Approach. Owners of income-producing properties should obtain from the Property Appraiser his prior year income parameters and compare actual year-end income and expenses to that hypothetical information. Actual net income that is less than the Property Appraiser's is an excellent basis for a reduction. 5. Ask for an Informal Meeting. Property Appraiser personnel, by law and upon request, must meet with the owner or representative to discuss the valuation. This is an excellent opportunity to learn the basis of the assessment and to provide data in support of a reduction. See Point 1 above. 6. Learn the Appeal Rules. The playing field has leveled, but the property tax game has become much more complicated and deadline-driven. See the LeeClerk.org Value Adjustment Board ("VAB") page, where you can read the voluminous statutes, administrative rules and local procedures. 7. "Respect the Man." Local Property Appraisers Wilkinson and Skinner have been in office for decades. They are diligent public servants. Don't waste their staff time with unsupportable appeals. "Pull the plug" if a parcel is not over-assessed. 8. Retain a Property Tax Pro. Real estate professionals without property tax experience may be able to navigate the many appeal mine fields, however, owners without valuation experience should contact a property tax professional. Most firms work on a performance basis. 9. Go to VAB, Not to Court. The VAB administrative appeal process is vastly superior than going to court, based upon time and money factors. Do not bypass an administrative appeal to go directly to court. 10. Start All Over Again Next Year. We'll be here, God willing.
Conclusion and contact informationMichael S. Hagen is a Fort Myers-based property tax/real estate attorney and owner/broker of TaxCuts 1, Inc., a property tax consulting firm. Hagen was counsel to the Lee County Property Appraiser for 10 years and, since 2003, he has represented property owners across Southwest Florida in valuation and exemption appeals. For more information, please call (239) 275-0808, e-mail [email protected] or visit TaxCuts1.com and MikeHagen.com.