5 Steps To Reduce Your Property Tax

If we had a penny for how many times we get asked to provide sales comps for clients/readers that are hoping to lower their property taxes, and how many times we get asked for tips on how to be successful doing so, we’d be millionaires! So, the “Financial Samurai” has come to our rescue by offering “5 steps to reduce your property tax“:

1) Google “[Your City’s Name] assessor’s office.” San Francisco’s site is here. It’s important you proactively find out what the city/county is assessing your property first before you get your bill. You need as much time to prepare for battle.

2) Go to their contact page and call and e-mail them every single day until you get a response. I’m not kidding here. They are sloooooow. Make sure all your v-mails and e-mails are polite, but stern saying you disagree with your assessment with proof.

3) After they respond, you must specifically ask how they came up with their ridiculous assessment value. Ask them to provide comps. Also, ask them what you need to do to make your case. There will undoubtedly be appeal forms to fill out. Fill them out and make copies for yourself (important as they like to tell people they never got it 2 months later, hoping you’ll give up and be too late!)

4) Like any good negotiator, you must highlight the lowest comps and negotiate accordingly. Let’s say your house is worth $1 million bucks. Go in with horrific comparables that look like bomb shelters in terrible locations, such as a house next to a firehouse that may be worth $500,000. Your comparables need to be similar in dimensions and as close to your home as possible. Set your anchor low. The more comps you can provide, the better. The assessor doesn’t usually have time to verify the comps physically, and just uses online comparisons.

5) After sending in the appeal forms and providing comps to your assessor, make sure you courteously follow up every month until you get confirmation of receipt. After reaching out this February, I failed to follow up with more comps until July (big mistake). By then, the assessor had moved to valuing a different district, and another person was recommended to me. Good thing the new person had the forms, and decided to e-mail and call me back. Otherwise, I would have wasted a lot of time. Therefore, don’t forget to back up all your data!

Most important is to “fight like hell”, then go get a cocktail, cuz you’ll need one!

Thank you Samurai.

How to lower your property taxes. Adventures in property tax reassessment [Financial Samurai]

13 thoughts on “5 Steps To Reduce Your Property Tax

  1. What a great post and very helpful. It’s amazing the SF assesor’s office continues to raised property value prices in this economy.

    I read Samurai’s original post, and it is spot on. This downturn reflects the uscrupulous ways of our local government just so they can tax us more.

  2. Like Samurai says, lawyers can do this for you, but they take a 50% fee (half of 1st yr savings) if they succeed. Lawyers are impersonal. This is a relationship game.

    Nobody cares more than you, the homeowner!

  3. Really good information here. Oh and please do Sexiest Realtor for 2009! There are some new good ones out there.

  4. Hey Alex, thnx for highlighting.

    It’s really important to fight, and get mad. It’s LUDICROUS the SF assessor’s office can raise property valuations in the biggest downturn in the history of our lifetimes.

    I was shocked when they raised my assessed value by $94,000. What a bunch of crock.

    They KNOW it’s a sham, and they are just HOPING nobody questions their decision. Once you do, there’s no denying they are trying to rip you off. It’s easy to fight.

    Stand strong folks!

    Financial Samurai

  5. They raised mine $120K on a new purchase. Basically saying, we don’t care what you paid, this is what we think it’s worth. During our on-going dispute they have also claimed that it was not an arms length purchase, although again they had no information to support the claim.

  6. Great advice, but the process to appeal your San Francisco property has passed. I think the deadline was in September, so anyone who wants to appeal; you need to wait until next year.

    Phil Ting and the Assessor’s Office are complete idiots and sllloooow. As mentioned here and SS, he’s all politics. He knows property has dropped but still continues to raise prices. Since it’s all politics, he needs to promise the unions/ voters (majority renters in SF) that he’ll maintain values so that the City wont get hammered with the General Fund or wont cut jobs.

  7. You’re right and wrong Anon415. The deadline may have passed, but if you read Samurai’s post, he just lobbied successfully to lower his prop assessment this month.

    It’s worth going to an appeals hearing b/c it is so easy to fight now as lower comps are ubiquitous.

  8. Jim, I think it is too late to file an appeal for a reduction. The assessor will only look at the ones filed before the deadline. Even though Samurai recently got granted a reduction, it doesn’t matter if the tax bill was sent out or not. If you pay your higher bill, the tax office will refund you the difference if they settle. In his post, he also states that he’s been working with the office for a few months, so I assume he filed his papers on time.

    I doubt the Assessor’s Office will take new cases, especially if they are trying to save the city’s budget.

  9. Why not plan to fight Sophie? If the city is charging you more than what your property is worth, that’s akin to highway robbery if you ask me.

    Fight apathy, as that’s what big governments expect and hope for it’s citizens every day!

    It’s never too late to fight. Start contacting them now! The window for 2010 comps is basically the first 90 days of 2010.

    Fight on.


  10. “It’s never too late to fight. Start contacting them now! The window for 2010 comps is basically the first 90 days of 2010.”

    assuming they will raise again by 3% (that’s what you are saying), yes, it will go over my threshold.

    I have 2 questions:
    1. is the new value used for the future raises? ie. if one drop from 1.2 to 1, then the following year, is it 1.2+3% or 1+3% ? Will they ever have an opportunity to reverse to the old 1.2 scale? If so, this winter I would have the means to lower (closing price is decent enough) and reap the benefits for some years

    2. sorry to be thick. Would you kindly write a typical timeline? like xxx= window for comps yyy = letters sent zzz= appeals etc. I’m not keen on looking back, but given the appropriate warning and time line, I can prepare my file and file it in time in the future. Also, I can set an email warning for comps, so I don’t have to thank Alex for comps with my dimes and nickels (or a bottle of Tequila for his marguaritas!)

    thanks for your encouragement.

    ((I can’t tell if the city is charging me more than reasonable. Living in the city is WAY too expensive anyway… But YES, I’m mad mad mad at each property tax statement))

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