real estate

Stop Overpaying Property Taxes

These three Web sites can help you appeal your assessment.

In 25 Ways to Waste Money, we show you several spending holes that may be in your budget and how to plug them. Here's one more waste of money to add to the list: paying too much in property taxes.

As many as 60% of properties in the U.S. are assessed higher than their current value, according to the National Taxpayers Union. That's because local governments assess properties, on average, once every two to three years. As we've seen, home values can fall a lot over that period of time. So if your property's value hasn't been assessed since it tumbled, you're probably paying too much in taxes.

You don't have to keep throwing money away, though. You can appeal your property tax assessment, and there are Web sites that can help. These three sites find comparable properties in your area that have sold for less than the amount at which your property is valued and provide varying levels of help with the appeals process.

ValueAppeal.com. For $99, you'll find out whether you're paying too much and how much you could save by appealing. You get a property valuation based on the same data your county uses for its assessments, a list of ten comparable properties, a customized appeal report to mail to your appeals board and access to a tool that analyzes the property assessor's comparable properties to demonstrate that they unfairly support a higher value for your home. You'll get your money back if your appeal is rejected. Although ValueAppeal.com recently expanded its service nationwide, there are some rural areas that are not covered.

EasyTaxFix.com. For $79.95, you get three comparable properties (with the option to select other ones if you think they better reflect your property's value), a completed appeal form, valuation document and instructions on how to proceed. You'll get your money back if you don't win your appeal. However, the site covers only New Jersey and select cities or counties in Florida, California and New York. But it will be expanding coverage in Florida, California and New York this year, says EasyTaxFix.com President Adam Berkson.

LowerMyAssessment.com. You can see your property's assessed value and market value for free. For $39.95, the basic package provides comparable sales data. This package is available to property owners in all 50 states (but data aren't available for some rural areas). For $79.95, the deluxe package includes completed appeals forms in addition to sales data (it's only available in 11 states). For $299.95, the premier package includes an appraisal by a licensed appraiser, along with appeals forms and comparable properties.

According to the April issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, hiring a professional real estate appraiser who will take a thorough look at your property provides the strongest evidence of its worth. But check whether your community allows outside appraisals in an appeal before you get one. You can find certified appraisers through the Appraisal Institute or the National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers.

The April issue also cautions against using law firms or other services that offer to assist you with an appeal in return for a high percentage of any savings on your bill. Most often, residential homeowners can go through the process on their own. You can get more information about appealing your property tax bill in the April issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, which will be available on newsstands and online March 15. For $9.95, you can buy the National Taxpayers Union's guide How to Fight Property Taxes.

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