Dallas Central Appraisal District staff saw Stephen White a lot last year. The founder and president of Sentry Real Estate Advisors spent hours in the musty DCAD building researching property appraisals. His goal was to help clients fight their perpetually increasing property tax bills. He expects to be even busier this year.
“With the new tax laws that are out there, it is important that people keep focused,” White said.
Homeowners were previously allowed to deduct property taxes from their federal income taxes. Under the terms of the new tax code, that amount is now capped at $10,000, increasing the financial burden for those with large property tax bills.
“A lot of the ramifications have not been realized because people haven’t felt the pain yet,” he added.
White, a Park Cities-based agent for Allie Beth Allman and Associates, founded Sentry last year on the premise that he could generate business by providing a service that nobody else would offer for free.
“I do it as a service because I think that when you need an agent, you’re going to remember the guy that maybe saved you a few thousand dollars,” he said. “Win, lose or draw I’m the one who fought for you.”
Fighting property taxes is personal for White. In 2016, he decided to protest his own tax bill. During one of the hearings he learned that DCAD had assigned his home a special “view tax” nearly a decade ago because of its proximity to the Dallas Country Club. The note was buried in the details of a previous year’s appraisal, but never spelled out in his tax bill. Even more infuriating, heavy foliage actually obstructs the view of the club from his home.
“I looked at everyone in the room and said, ‘You mean I’m getting taxed for a view I can’t see?’ ”
Armed with this revelation, he returned to the DCAD offices and began looking for hidden charges on other nearby houses. He was surprised to find that some homes in flood plains were also assigned a view tax while others received tax breaks. Homes on some side streets received discounts for being near traffic, while others on major thoroughfares did not.
“People need to know about this. It’s not right,’” White said.
He eventually got his own taxes lowered. White has also helped many of his clients reduce their bills. As he sees it, fighting property taxes is the best way for him to showcase the level of service that his company will provide.
Sentry bills itself as an “all-inclusive real estate concierge.” In addition to providing the full-array of real estate agent services, it offers added benefits like assistance in preparing for a sale, tips on upgrades and even tiny extras like last minute window cleaning. White says Sentry’s goal is to not get caught up in all of the little things, but rather build a long-term working relationship that stays focused on the all-important goal of buying or selling a home. He believes that starts with helping people save money on their tax bills.
“I think you are going to see more and more people offering this service, but for a fee,” White said. “I fight Park Cities and Preston Hollow property taxes for nothing. I’m betting or hoping that you will remember me.”