While Houston-based Realtor Daniela Antelo offers both homeowners and potential buyers tips on the Keller Williams website, January’s advice from her is for the homeowner who wants to save more money.
Antelo said that for 2020, you may qualify for a homestead exemption if you owned and occupied a primary residence by Jan. 1, 2020, which may result in a 20 percent reduction on your current taxes.
As defined by the Texas Comptroller’s office, a homestead can be a separate structure, condominium or manufactured home located on owned or leased land as long as the individual living in the home owns it.
Homestead exemptions remove part of a home’s value from taxation, so they lower the homeowner’s taxes. The example offered on the comptroller’s website is a home appraised at $100,000 that qualifies for a $25,000 exemption – the amount mandated for school districts – which means the homeowner will pay school taxes on the home as if it was worth $75,000.
Antelo said that to file for this exemption, you can either go online to the Harris County Appraisal District website (hcad.org) or download the application and submit it by mail. If you choose to do it by mail, you’ll need a copy of your driver’s license with your primary residence listed. The form can be filed from Jan 1-April 30.
“The filing process is completely free, so don’t fall for any spam mail that offers to file for you for a nominal fee,” Antelo said.
The other way to save money is by protesting your property taxes. Antelo notes that property taxes tend to increase every year, but you can protest yours by bringing a copy of your property tax disclosure to HCAD headquarters at 13013 Northwest Fwy.
“Texas is a non-disclosure state, so remember that you’re not required to reveal how much you paid for your property,” she said. “As with filing for homestead exemption, this process is free.”
Realtor Boris Kasabov said that to help prepare for a protest, you should review both the prior year and current year change in valuation, specifically the land versus improvement specs. It is also helpful to run a comparable report of the recent year and look at similar sales if there are any. This can be done by a Realtor or other licensed professional if help is needed.
A protest must be filed by mid-May. It can be done in January, but Kasabov said that often the taxable value is not yet determined by the county appraisers.
“Sometimes this doesn’t become known until late February or even March,” he said.
Kasabov said the process of protesting is multi-faceted, but in general, you can file an informal protest either online or in person with an appraiser to present evidence versus the evidence of the district. The next step, if an agreement is not reached, is a formal Appraisal Review Board (ARB) protest in which the case is presented to a panel of three neutral appraisal review board members and a fourth who will argue on behalf of the district.
The next level is binding arbitration within 45 days of the formal ARB protest, but this step is more risky because the protester must pay a deposit that might not be recouped if an agreement is not reached. It can also be taken to the court level with legal counsel, which is also costly and not an option many homeowners choose to pursue.
As for the informal protest, Antelo said it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot.
“You might be surprised at how much of a reduction you get,” she said, “and who doesn’t want that extra cash in their pocket?”