National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Reduce Property Taxes

Yes, Catholic, there are some ways to ethically reduce your property tax bill. By Phil Lenahan.

BY PHIL LENAHAN

January 14-20, 2007 Issue | Posted 1/10/07 at 11:00 AM

 

We bought a home a year ago, when prices were at their peak. Because of the high prices in our state, California, our property-tax expense takes a big chunk out of the family budget. Is there anything we can do to get these taxes lowered?

While each state is different when it comes to property taxes — some have none at all — and specific suggestions would vary state by state, there are steps you can take to reduce your tax burden. Many people have experienced substantial increases in property taxes over the last few years with the rapid run-up in real-estate prices. Now that there is a softening in the housing market, it’s a good time to see if you can save more than a little money.

Since I live in California as well, I’m a little more familiar with the scenario in this state, so we’ll use it as a case study. Property taxes in California are originally based on the price paid at the time of purchase. This becomes the “assessed value.” Each year, your county has the right to re-assess your home based on changing market conditions — but, thanks to Proposition 13, any increase is limited to 2%. That helps long-term homeowners. Meanwhile, those who made their purchase more recently are feeling the pain.

In most counties in California, property taxes are charged at a rate between 1% and 2% of the assessed value of the home. So, for every $100,000 in assessed value, you’ll pay between $1,000 and $2,000 in property taxes. With the average price of a home in many cities in California being more than $400,000, you can see your property-tax bill adds up very quickly.

Several years ago, I had success at reducing our property taxes by challenging the assessed value of our home.

When the county re-assesses property based on market conditions, they are doing so at a fairly generic level. They aren’t getting a specific appraisal for each property but rather applying a general formula based on overall market conditions.

Now is a good time to look for savings on two fronts. First, with the run-up in prices over the last several years, it’s possible your home has been over-assessed. If you can show that your home’s value has not increased at the same rate as the county average, you have a good chance of achieving a reduction in the assessed value.

Second, now that prices are on the decline, you’ll want to make sure your county is making the appropriate adjustment. Check out Zillow.com to get one estimate of your home’s current market value and compare it to your assessed amount. If it’s less, you may want to petition your assessor for an adjustment that will save you some money.

Because this leads to a loss in revenue for the county, many will be much slower to send out announcements reducing assessments than they will when it comes to raising the valuations. It’s up to you to keep an eye on it to make sure they’re being objective.

If your house has truly gone up in value and you can’t reasonably argue for a reduction, make a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the fact that he has blessed you with a home of greater value. God love you!

Phil Lenahan is presdent

of Veritas Financial

Ministries (VeritasFinancial Ministries.com).