Complaints about skyrocketing property tax bills are nothing new, but few people take the time to find out exactly what goes into that number. For many, fighting property taxes has not been a priority because they could ultimately write-off the amount on their income taxes. That changes this year.
Under the guidelines of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was passed at the end of 2017, write-offs are now capped at $10,000. In Dallas County, that’s about the average tax bill of a home valued at $450,000.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand that and they are going to be shocked this year,” local entrepreneur and Allie Beth Allman & Associates agent Stephen White said.
Three years ago, White decided to find out why his own property taxes were so high. He compared them to similar homes in his neighborhood and found no consistency. In search of more details, he went to the Dallas County Appraisal District (DCAD) office. He soon discovered an old note in his file stating that his home was appraised for a higher amount because it had a view of the Dallas Country Club. Of course there is no scenic view — thick shrubs prevent him from seeing the links, leaving only Mockingbird Lane to gaze upon.
After enduring a lengthy appeals process, White eventually had his tax burden reduced. The experience motivated him to start Sentry Real Estate Advisors, a group under the Allie Beth Allman umbrella that contests property taxes free of charge. Last year, White fought nearly 80 cases, saving clients approximately $7 million. One client saw his property appraisal reduced by more than $575,000.
“It’s amazing how poorly the city comes up with values,” White said.
Examples he found this year included multiple homes located in FEMA-designated flood zones that also received a “view tax” like him. Some homeowners got a break for being on a busy street while others saw nothing. In one case, a homeowner was paying $200 per square foot, while his next-door neighbor with a similarly sized home was only paying $82.
“Your neighbor may have a lower rate because they fought for it, but you don’t because you didn’t know that you needed to fight for it,” he said.
Of course there’s a reason your neighbor may not have said anything. Very few property tax appeals actually reach the courtroom. DCAD mediators regularly negotiate settlements before the process can go that far. Homeowners are often directed to not publicize the amount. Consequently, even when the county admits that a home in a flood zone or on a major street should not be taxed more, there is no process to ensure that others aren’t being unfairly penalized. Ask a DCAD representative why this is the case and you are sure to get the stock “everything is handed on a case-by-case basis” response. (Note: DCAD representatives did not respond to interview requests for this article.)
For those looking to appeal their property appraisal value, White recommends taking pictures of things that need to be repaired or updated. Get estimates to show how much it will take to fix them. Also, conduct a little research and see how your home’s appraised value compares to similar properties in your neighborhood.
“What many people don’t know is that DCAD is not allowed on your property or in your home,” he said. “They can drive by but they have absolutely no way of knowing if your house looks great or if sheetrock is falling down all over the place.”
As for the coming year, White expects the issue to receive more attention now that it will affect homeowners more directly.
“It’s ridiculous that this hasn’t become a bigger issue, but I think it’s gong to become one soon,” he said.