By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

A reader writes: “I bought a home in 2018 and my taxes are escrowed by my mortgage company. How do I get a homestead exemption to get a discount on my taxes? Do I need to repeat the process every year? How much does it save me?”

You most definitely want to know how to file for a homestead exemption for your 2019 property taxes. To get a homestead exemption, you must own and live in the property as your principal residence as of Jan. 1 of that tax year. So, if you purchased in 2018, you may apply for that exemption after Jan. 1, 2019.

A homestead exemption removes part of your home’s value from taxation, so it lowers your taxes. I don’t know the details about your home to tell you how much a homestead exemption can save on your property taxes, but it is generally about 20 percent. Given the property tax rates in Texas, it is worth the few minutes it takes.  

To qualify, your home must also be owned by you as an individual (or individuals). A corporation or other business entity doesn’t qualify for this exemption. Do not pay someone else to do this for you. It is free and you can do it online in a few minutes.

Here is a step-by-step guide for how to apply for a homestead exemption in the DFW area:

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popularDuring the holidays, we’ve been sharing our best stories of 2018. But as Director of Audience Engagement, I was curious — what stories were the most popular this year?  We took a look at the most popular stories based on comments and social media likes and shares. Have a favorite of your own? Share it in the comments!

January: The Lakewood Porch Pirate Nabbed

While we started covering this story during the holiday season in 2017 (in fact, we were the first news organization to bring you the story of the Lakewood Porch Pirate and the box of poop she stole), that coverage continued into 2018, when Kelli Russell was arrested. (more…)

Special contributor Lydia Blair with Mary Doggett, VP of National Investors Title Insurance

By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Property taxes are the talk of the town right now. Municipalities all over the Metroplex are proposing tax rate increases on top of the frequent increase in property values. This year’s tax bill may be a double whammy for our already steep homeowner taxes. If you’re thinking of avoiding those taxes, here is your warning.

“Texas is pretty efficient with collections or foreclosing because our property taxes are high,” says Mary Doggett, VP of National Investors Title Insurance.

Despite our strong homestead rights in Texas, you can lose your home if you don’t pay your property taxes. Rest assured that the taxing authorities will collect their money one way or another. There is no escaping it.

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I never realized DCAD’s boundaries create a great big bug.

Last week, Robert Mundinger over at TheMap showcased the work of his friend Owen Wilson-Chavez who’d created a 3-D map of tax revenues generated across the DCAD taxing area. During my self-guided tour, I discovered a bunch of other, equally interesting, maps. It’s Dallas like you’ve never seen it …

Above, you can immediately see the unsurprising fact of Southern Dallas not contributing much money in property taxes to the city’s coffers. But it’s more nuanced than that. First, pretty much all the green you see are concentrated areas of commercial real estate. Below the Park Cities “white spot” is downtown and Uptown. To the right is the Central Expressway corridor with the North Park Shopping Center area being the tallest green. Beyond that there’s Galleria, Preston Center and the commercial space bordering LBJ and Central Expressway. The lesson here is that higher density generates more taxes than it costs in services.

How much more?

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When we “feel like just a number,” we’re really just reflecting our uniqueness being ignored. We’ve long known we’re just a number to taxing bodies like DCAD … albeit one with a dollar sign in front. But recently, I’ve found we’re a percentage, too.

In valuing property, DCAD calculates the total market value based on both land and “improvements” (structures). The combination of these numbers equals the total assessed value of a given property. All fine so far. A (land) + B (structures) = C (total market value)

But did you know that there’s a ratio used between land and improvement values? You likely think this means that land appreciates at roughly the same rate of structures. Partly. It also means that land should be equal to a certain percentage of the structure. And when the ratio gets out of whack, it’s adjusted. On the surface this too seems generally fine, provided you start with structure and land that fall within the ratio (and nothing changes).

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Beginning in 2014, Central Market parent HEB began snapping up parcels on the city block bounded by Lemmon and Bowser Avenues between Reagan and Throckmorton Streets. Their intent was to open a Central Market. That plan has been abandoned for what I last heard was a Central Market planned for the old Albertson’s location on Lemmon and McKinney Avenues.

The main reason the deal failed was zoning. The parcels facing Lemmon Avenue are zoned for commercial operations while the Bowser-facing lots were zoned for residential use. The Oak Lawn Committee told HEB there was no way they’d support a commercial encroachment into a residential area. I’m sure the fear was that if they’d said “yes” here, other Lemmon Avenue businesses would want to convert the residential backs of their blocks to commercial too. (more…)

Recently sold 3131 Turtle Creek offers glimpse into DCAD’s commercial problem

Whenever property taxes are spoken about, residential usually gets the most ink. The reason is simple. The commercial market offers a fraction of the data available to a residential assessor. In the residential world, similar homes are typically clustered together, placing them in the same valuation realm. There aren’t a lot of crackerboxes on Strait Lane.  However in the commercial world, a four-story building can be next to a skyscraper.

Also, unlike residential, there is no centralized multiple listing service to get a view of commercial properties for sale. If residential is iPads and apps, commercial real estate is the equivalent of a quiet conversation in the back of a darkened, smoke-filled restaurant. It’s just more difficult.

I’ve made the suggestion that DCAD needs to hire appraisers to zoom around town and physically inspect commercial real estate to accurately assess its value. That’s because …

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921 N. Fitzhugh

It’s that time of year when most of us needed a bottle of Jack and a bullet to bite on just to open our property tax bills. Personally, my taxes are up nearly 52 percent in the past five years with this year alone squeaking in a nearly 13 percent rise. I’ve been increase-capped four years out of five.

One recent morning I saw a new listing pop in for a 616-square-foot home on Fitzhugh between Swiss and Gaston Avenues priced at $179,000. At $290 per square foot, I was curious, especially because as of this writing it’s under contract.

Turns out it’s a flip and bundled with 1001 North Fitzhugh, a 1,324-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home adjoining and sharing a driveway with 921 Fitzhugh. Both properties were listed at $478,000 or $246 per square foot. (Investment properties, same owner)

Being the season, I decided to look at their taxes. What a story they told.

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