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Stop Paying Too Much in Property Taxes

Monday, May 16th, 2011
A pharmacy reader who thinks his property tax assessment is too high may be right—more than half of all US properties may be assessed at more than their current value. Here’s how to find out whether it makes sense to appeal your property taxes.

Question: Home prices in my area are falling, yet my property taxes keep going up. What’s the easiest way to find out if my property assessment is too high?

Answer: If you think your home is being over assessed, there’s a good change you’re right. More than half of all US properties may be assessed at more than their current value, according to an estimate by the National Taxpayers Union. Many communities haven’t reassessed property values since the housing market’s boom years, and as a result some homeowners are paying far more in taxes than they should.

Most homeowners don’t bother to challenge their tax assessments because the process can be complex and time consuming, but those who do often discover it’s worth it—between 20% and 40% of homeowners who challenge their assessments win, according to the National Taxpayers Union.

One quick and easy way to get a feel for what comparable homes are selling for in your area is to compare home values on real estate Web sites such as Zillow.com. The site includes listing of similar homes for sales, as well as prices for comparable homes that sold recently. Pay attention to sale prices of comparable homes (similar styles, same number of bedrooms, baths, etc.) within the last 3 to 6 months—these are the numbers property tax appraisers use to help determine your home’s assessed value.

If you’re convinced your home’s assessment is too high, there are a number of Web sites that can do the legwork you need to appeal your property tax assessment. Here are a few:
  • LowerMyAssessment.com. This Web site will quickly assess your property for free, telling you whether your current assessment is in line with comparable homes in your area. If you are being over assessed, the service has 3 packages: For $39.95, you’ll receive a list of sales of comparable homes; for $79.95, you’ll receive comparable home sales data and customized tax appeal forms (although this service is only available in 11 states); and for $299.95, you get a professional home appraisal by a licensed appraiser, along with appeals forms and comparable home sales data.
  • ValueAppeal.com. This service will also provide a free evaluation of your assessment, and recommend whether or not a property tax appeal makes sense. For $99, the service will provide you with a custom property valuation (using the same database local tax assessors use to determine home values), a list of home values for 10 comparable homes, and a customized appeal report to mail to your property tax appeals board. Best of all, you get your money back if the appeal is rejected.
  • The National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers. One of the easiest ways to appeal your property taxes is to search for a professional real estate appraiser in your area who is familiar with the local market and who can do a thorough appraisal of your home. The cost for a professional appraisal can be between $250 and $300, depending on your location.
Finally, before you pay for any appraisal service, check with your local tax assessor to ensure that third-party assessments are permitted for purposes of appealing your taxes.

Do you have a personal finance or financial planning question? Email me at tcullen@hcplive.com and I’ll answer them for you and we’ll post answers (with no personal information) here at “On the Money.” Or you can leave a comment for your colleagues. You can also sign up for Physician’s Money Digest’s weekly eDigest email of money articles relevant to today’s health care professionals at www.physiciansmoneydigest.com/signup.
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Terri Cullen, Managing Editor, Physician's Money Digest
Blog Description
This financial expert blogs on financial information, advice, and news you can use.
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ABOUT TERRI CULLEN, Managing Editor, Physician's Money Digest

When Physician's Money Digest launched as a monthly print publication in 1994, the United States was powering out of its last recession, the economy was growing at a healthy 4% clip and unemployment was at its lowest levels of the decade. But Healthcare Reform under then-President Bill Clinton had just belly-flopped spectacularly, and doctors were fuming that legislators had failed to fix the flawed Medicare physician payment formula or nationwide medical liability reform.

Flash forward to today: The economy is struggling to claw its way out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, and long-term unemployment is a record levels. But health care reform under the Obama administration passed with great fanfare--yet we're still are no closer to fixing the flawed Medicare physician payment formula or nationwide medical liability reform nor have we addressed reimbursement issues for pharmacists.

In my 13 years as a senior editor and columnist for The Wall Street Journal Online, I witnessed entire industries adapt and change in response to advances in technology and the changing global economy. But rarely have I seen a profession undergo such a dramatic reversal in fortunes in such a short amount of time.

The tough decisions law makers continue to put off until tomorrow are today causing an alarming number of doctors--and other health care professionals--to put off retirement, close or limit their practices, or eschew primary care as a profession entirely. In addition to providing customized personal finance and financial planning advice, this new blog for Pharmacy Times will cover financial topics of concern to all pharmacists as well--and I will answer specific questions from pharmacists as they plan their personal financial futures.

Now, more than ever, all health care professionals need to focus on their financial health, and this includes pharmacists from every segment of the profession. As Managing Editor of Physician's Money Digest, I remain committed to bringing readers the latest in-depth news, personal financial advice, and investing information that directly impact your practice and your pocketbook. Please continue reading here for financial information that will help you in your personal and professional life.
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