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Houston Matters - Answers to Your Property Tax Questions

March 21, 2016

This is the time of year the Harris County Appraisal District sends out appraisal notices to property owners.

Those valuations have been on the rise in recent years, prompting Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan to offer a series of property tax workshops to explain how those taxes are valued and collected.

Sullivan joins us, along with property tax consultant Sylvie Novotny and the county appraisal district’s Jack Barnett, to field your questions about your property taxes.



Houston Matters - Clean Power Plan & Property Taxes: Wednesday’s Show

April 1, 2015

The Texas Public Policy Foundation recently released a study about the federal government’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which aims to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. Their assessment: doom and gloom, lost jobs, and rolling blackouts throughout the state. But others say the plan is positive, forward-thinking and the criticisms are overblown.

On this edition of Houston Matters, we look at arguments for and against the plan and Dave Fehling, News 88.7’s energy and environment reporter, joins us to help sort through the rhetoric.

We also consider whether Houston’s real estate market is taking a little breather. It’s what some in the industry are calling a “pause” in the market. We discuss what that means and how it could resonate with the rest of Houston’s economy.

Then: did you recently get your property appraisal? Did it leave you with questions, concerns — and maybe even a little bit of frustration? Our experts on property taxes will answer your questions and even advise you how to fight an unfair appraisal.

How to Dispute Your Property Appraisal

Many homeowners in Harris County may still be reeling from a property appraisal notice they recently received in the mail. Officials say about 90 percent of Harris County saw an increase in their property value. Of course, that also means a hike in taxes.

To discuss why home values have gone up, and how Harris County homeowners can reduce their tax burden, we’re joined by three guests: Elizabeth Doss is property tax director in Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan’s Office; Jack Barnett is chief communications officer for the Harris County Appraisal District; and Sylvie Novotny is a property tax consultant with Novotny and Company.



Home appraisals in Harris County expected to increase

March 24, 2015

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Get ready for property tax sticker shock. Hundreds of thousands of Harris County homeowners are getting their appraisals in the mail soon, and most of them will see increases.

The first assessments are in the mail and, for some homeowners, online.

Colby Hodges bought his home a year ago and now HCAD says it's worth $33,000 more than the purchase price.

"It's shocking, it's just really shocking," said Hodges. He plans to protest the increase.

"The first year, obviously, we don't have the ability to have a homestead exemption so we just have to eat that, there is nothing we can really do," said Hodges.

Officials at the Harris County Appraisal District say it looks like home owners will see 15 percent increase in appraisals across the board.

The reason for the spike? Houston's still sizzling housing market.

"More and more people are moving to Houston all the time, so the values are going to go up because the demand for housing has gone up," said Sylvie Novotny of Novonty and Company.

Novotny says the best way to fight increasing values is to protest your appraisal.

Even in areas of town values have gone way up, protesting may still be worth it.

"Harris County is a great county, but they appraise on a mass basis and sometimes what they are doing the value on, or basing the value on, may be misinformation," said Novotny.

The only way to fight increases is to protest, you can do that on line and there is a step by step guide on how to file a successful protest on www.hcad.org and also the folks at Novotny are holding a seminar for home owners.

Click here for a link to the story including video

The Significance of the New Year to Property Tax Appraisal

January 3, 2014

As the calendar is set to a New Year, your local county appraisal district is starting to gear up to set your new appraised value for the New Year as well. It may appear currently the county is primarily concerned with tax collection until the 31st, however, January 1st is perhaps one of the most significant dates in property tax valuation. The reason for this is that it’s the date of valuation for all types of taxable property entities.

Real Property (Commercial and Residential)

Real property is assessed based on ad valorum market value and physical condition as of January 1st. Ad valorum taxation simply means that market trends in your respective neighborhood or economic group (for commercial properties) within the last year or 24 months are considered up to this point. Most market data for the current year will not be used in determining a value. It also is the determinate date of physical condition of a property. If your property sustains damage from a fire or foundation issues as of November of the previous year but is corrected before January 1st, the county is unlikely to use evidence of damage to a property because the damage was corrected before the valuation date.

Similarly, if you demolished a building in February of the new protest year, you would not be able to claim that the property was a vacant lot for your protest because as of January 1st, the building still existed on the property.

Commercial properties that are valued based on income (typically properties that produce rent; office or retail multi occupancy buildings) should contact their property tax consultant when their P&L and rent rolls are completed from the previous year so that preparation may begin for the new protest season.

Business Personal Property

When it comes to business personal property, ownership of taxable assets is instrumental. If a computer is retired or purchased before the valuation date and can be found as an asset on your books, it will determine cost value that you render for your business. The inventory that you have at the end of the year also taxable but doesn’t enjoy the depreciation that furniture, computers or vehicles do.

State Legislatures Considering Statewide School Funding

As HISD considers increasing the tax base for 2013, following massive deficits in the school budgets, we should not only look at the possibility and importance of properly funding our schools but also where the issues truly stem from. As part of a finance restructuring, Texas’ legislature voted to reduce property tax rates in schools by one third in 2006. This move mandated that any school district that wanted to levy a tax over $1.04 per $100 of property value must hold a “tax ratification election” (TRE) to get it passed. That is exactly what HISD is proposing to do this July. The new proposal in Houston is projected to cost the average tax payer located in the respective jurisdictions an additional $89 annually.

In an effort to reform school taxes even further, Sen. Robert Duncan-R, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is planning to file a bill that would result in a statewide property tax rather than a local property tax. This idea has been floated around the legislature for a few years now, by both Duncan and Sen. Steve Ogden in an effort to fix what some in Austin consider a “distribution” issue with Texas State funds. To pass such legislation, however, Duncan will have to convince two-thirds of our legislature as well as the people of Texas to vote in a constitutional amendment. On Feb. 4, Texas’ funding of public schools was ruled unconstitutional by District Judge John Dietz partly because the current funding of our schools is too similar of a statewide tax. Measures proposed by Duncan would change that.

The housing and real estate market grew strong in 2012 and property owners are very likely to see significant increases in their taxable value this year. Even with current legislative restrictions, this may bring some but not enough tax revenue. Much of the tax base comes from residential properties with Homestead Exemptions which allow for a $15,000 and 20% value reduction off taxable property value and caps value increases to 10%.

When compared to the nation, Texas ranked 42nd in school expenditures, however, our districts don’t have the necessary funds to meet the increasing demand. As schools continue to struggle with budget deficits and a low tax base, the question isn’t really if but when the people of HISD will vote “yes” in a tax ratification election. Whether a statewide tax will efficiently correct this problem will be debated when Sen. Duncan presents his bill in Austin.

HCAD Predicts Property Values May Be Flat In 2012

February 8, 2012

by: David Pitman

Property values in Texas are up slightly. The State Comptroller's office says the total value of all land and buildings in Texas increased by a little more than 1 percent in 2011, to reach $1.67 trillion. Property values also rose in Harris County last year, but the people who keep track of those values don't expect much, if any, of an increase this year.


According to the Harris County Appraisal District, property values rose $5.5 billion last year to top $276 billion. That's a 2 percent increase, which is a healthier growth rate than the state as a whole.

Jim Robinson is the chief appraiser for HCAD. He says the relatively strong local economy has driven up the value of commercial properties like high-rise office buildings, oil refineries, and chemical plants.

"We have had investors that have been extremely interested in getting into this market, and they have paid some very good prices, some premium prices, in fact, for Class-A office buildings in the county. And that trend is still continuing."

More than half of last year's bump in property values came from the commercial side of the real estate market. Robinson says residential properties didn't contribute much to the increase because of a slowdown in new construction and the rise of foreclosure sales.

"Also, I think the fact that loans became more difficult to obtain. The national crash, that largely was due, I think, to highly speculative lending — that has put somewhat of a damper on the residential market."

Robinson says the dampened residential market will probably result in flat property values for Harris County as a whole this year. HCAD will finish its valuations at the end of April. Property owners will have until the end of May to file a protest. The final property value numbers for 2012 will be certified sometime in August.

Urgent Reminder! Wednesday, June 30, 2010 is deadline to avoid additional 23.1% on delinquent taxes.

Delinquent taxpayers have until June 30th to avoid 23.1% added penalties for their unpaid 2009 property taxes. Property tax payers who find full payment difficult or who have any questions should contact the Tax Office at 713-368-2273 and set up an installment agreement.

‘Skip the lines’ and pay online in full at www.hctax.net.

New 100% Disabled Veteran’s Homestead Exempts Property Owners from ALL Taxes

Texas Bill HB3613 provides a 100% exemption for a residence homestead for those who have a disability rating of 100% disabled or of individual unemployability. This bill also increases the amount of the regular disabled veteran’s exemption for veterans with a disability rating of 30%, 50% or 70%.

Those who qualify for the new 100% exemption:

  • Own and occupy a residence homestead
  • Are receiving 100% disability compensation for service related injuries from the US Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Have a disability rating of 100%/ individual unemployability

This exemption will totally exempt you from your property taxes in all jurisdictions regardless of its value. If your home is co-owned with someone other than your spouse, the exemption will apply to the share of your ownership.

This exemption is not given automatically. You must apply for this new exemption but do not need to reapply every year.

To attain this exemption fill out and return Form 11.131 Disabled Veteran’s Homestead Exemption Application and attach a copy of your award letter, a “VA tax letter”, or another form of documentation showing 100% disability compensation from the Department of Veteran Affairs due to service-related injuries or of individual unemployability.

Obtain documentation of your disability status from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs by calling 1-800-827-1000. Their website is www.va.gov

To Render or Not?

Harris County Appraisal District continues to lead the way among appraisal districts in aggressively pursuing business personal property value. As a result of a lawsuit filed in 1998 by HCAD, the courts have ruled that owners of equipment and inventory must file renditions at the appraisal district by April 15 every year to report value of the property.

While there is still no penalty proscribed by the tax code for failing to render, appraisal districts can retaliate against owners who fail to render by raising the values on their accounts and/or threatening to sue.

Appraisal districts will mail out the yearly rendition forms in January. Not all assets need to be rendered, as some assets are either not taxable or may be classed as real estate. To get help with rendering, please give us a call.

Property Tax Law Updates

A law effective Jan 2002 made it possible for recipients of Surviving Spouse tax exemption to transfer their Over 65 school tax freeze. This is a certainly a benefit to Surviving Spouses who wish to move to a new residence, since the school tax freeze can now move with them.

The last legislature also passed a law requiring a person conducting a going-out-of business sale to file a report with the appraisal district along with a $20 filing fee. Previously, the paperwork was filed with the county clerk.

Also, leased vehicles that are not used for the production of income are exempt from property taxes if the lease was entered into on or after Jan. 2, 2001.

Save Money on your Mortgage Payment

PMI, or Private Mortgage Insurance, is required on all new conventional home loans when buyers pay less than 20% on the down payment. This insurance protects the lender in case of default, but doesn't do much for you, the homeowner. You may be able to lower your mortgage payments by dropping the PMI coverage.

If the principal balance on your mortgage loan represents less than 80% of the value of your property, in most cases you can request the lender to stop charging you for PMI. You could save $50 - $100 per month!

The lender will probably require a certified appraisal by an independent appraisal company, so call Joel Brock at Ameriapraise, Inc, for an appraisal of your house. His phone is 281-464-7979 or check his web site at www.ameriapraise.com.

Mold infestation

Because of changes in insurance coverage for homeowners, it will be harder to get payment for mold damage from insurance. This makes it more important than ever for homeowners with mold damage and infestation to try to get some property tax relief. Please send us any documentation you have of mold problems..

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