HOW TO KEEP PROPERTY TAXES LOW — AT THE TOP Using figures from a study put together by the Service Employees International Union last year in support of striking janitors, Steve Jansen’s cover story in this week’s Houston Press highlights some spectacular feats of Houston highrise taxcutting: “For the 2011 tax year, if the owners of a class A skyscraper or office complex protested HCAD’s appraised value in front of HCAD’s appraisal review board or district court, they were 77 percent likely to have the value cut (and almost always by millions). By contrast, only 55 percent of owners of single-family homes won their appeals with HCAD.” Total resulting savings on those high-dollar tax bills: $58 million in 2011 alone. This year, HCAD is raising the market valuations on many of the city’s fanciest office buildings by more than 50 percent. But don’t expect those numbers to hold when the companies have lawyers at the ready. For 2012, 70 percent of large downtown commercial office property owners went ahead with property-tax lawsuits against HCAD. [Houston Press] Photo of Wells Fargo Plaza, which through lawsuits and negotiated settlements gained valuation reductions totaling $380 million between 2006 and 2011: Matthew Colvin de Valle [license]
Who came up with the name “iSettle” for HCAD’s new online settlement system for property-tax-assessment protests? It’s a name that appears crafted to attract the most docile of protesting taxpayers — which should work out well for the appraisal district: If you’re one of those more contentious homeowners who won’t settle for iSettle’s email offer in response to your protest, HCAD staff won’t even bother scheduling an informal meeting for you with an HCAD appraiser. You go straight to a formal hearing!
If you file your protest on line using iFile and indicate a realistic opinion of value, your account may be selected for an on-line settlement offer. The appraisal district reviews the protest and its own evidence, as well as trends in reductions in surrounding properties. If your suggested value falls within those parameters, a settlement offer will be sent to you at the email address you give when you file. Normally, you will have 10 days in which to log on to the iFile website and accept the offer. If you accept the offer, you won’t need to attend any appointments. The records will be changed and you will receive confirmations via email and regular mail. If you do not accept or do not respond, your account will be scheduled for a formal hearing . . . with the appraisal review board.
If you aren’t otherwise inclined to protest your home’s appraisal in person or hire a firm to do it for you, iSettle is probably worth trying. But personable homeowners with negotiating skills who’ve been able to finagle appraisal reductions in the informal meetings may want to avoid it.
And iSettle won’t be available to everyone anyway:
The iSettle process will be available only to individual homeowners. Most neighborhoods are eligible, but a few neighborhoods are not because of the complexity of the market in those neighborhoods. If you aren’t eligible, we’ll notify you.
Heights residents: This means you.