Curb Appeal: Lowering Your House Assessment

It's true that nothing is certain but death and taxes. (Oh, and higher gas costs these days, too.)  I can’t help you with the former but, as for the taxes, although they won’t be less certain you can make them less.

Here’s how to bring down your property tax bill.

Officially, you are not changing your property taxes. You are going to challenge your home assessment, which partially determines the amount of property taxes you pay. This may be the only time you will be grateful your home is worth less than it used to be.

Chances are your home’s value has declined (nicer word than plummeted), but your property taxes have not. Unless you’ve had an appraisal since the boom busted, your home is likely worth less than your tax bill indicates. And that’s just not fair.

As Elaine Lucas with Precision Appraisers Inc. told me, “Most homeowners don’t mind paying taxes; they just don’t want to be overcharged.”

I recently learned the assessment of my home was outdated when an appraisal for a refinance was far lower than the value the municipality used for my taxes.  My appraiser suggested I could probably save $1,000 in property taxes each year (I live in one of the highest taxed states) for the price of filing an appeal and the few hours required to go to the courthouse and town hall.

Of course, the process of appealing your home assessment varies wildly from state to state, so look up the governing body or review board that handles property valuations in your local area. Find out when your filing deadline is. You often get a notice with your annual appraisal mailed to you.  That can help you learn where to call and when you need to file.

Then, decide if you want help or prefer to do it yourself. You can hire an attorney or appraiser to guide you in the process. In New Jersey, where I live, many people do it on their own.

The main part of the process is building a case. That is based on finding comparable properties -- recent sales information of property that is similar to your home.  A real estate agent can help you with that if you are a previous or prospective client. You can also get the info at the county board.  Three or more comps is usually best, but I could find only two in my town, as attached condos such as mine are rare in this suburb.

When I filed with the town assessor, he said, “That’s fine. You can’t make it up.”

The main point of this evidence is to show that the valuation you are contesting is higher than market value.

Usually, you will be assigned a hearing to present this evidence, or the assessor may decide to settle. In New Jersey, municipalities are so overwhelmed with appeals, they are settling more and more rather than face the cost of fighting them.  And a lot of homeowners have saved a lot of money.  According to, a whopping 3.8 billion bucks in the tax base has been lost by municipalities last year because of reduced assessments.

I’ll let you know how my appeal turns out.  In any case, all is not lost even if I don’t win my appeal.  While waiting at the assessor’s office, I was lucky enough to meet the owner of the local bagel shop who told me he would be happy to give my teenage daughter a few hours of work a week. She is just starting to drive and I think she should start paying for the gas she uses.

So, maybe taxes and gas costs aren’t all that certain.