Reduce your property taxes at no charge

March 12, 2010 6:51:19 PM PST
With property values still sagging across the state, many homeowners may be entitled to a temporary property tax reduction. But remember, there is no need to pay anyone to get your taxes reduced.

Previously, 7 On Your Side reported how one woman paid a company $179 for an application to reduce her taxes, until we warned against falling for those sales pitches. It is absolutely free to request a property tax cut, and if you think you are entitled, now is the time to apply.

Tina Schwartz is pretty certain her San Jose condominium has dropped in value over the past four years.

"I get notices in the mail a lot from realtors in this area who are telling me what they're selling for," she said. "I've noticed that they've gone down a lot."

But her property taxes have not gone down, they have inched up. That is why she fell for a ptich offering to reduce her taxes for a fee.

7 On Your Side has warned against paying anybody for this service. So we helped Schwartz get her money back and told her to apply for a tax cut herself -- it's free.

"I never even knew you could do that," she said. "I would not know how to go about doing that."

So we showed her how. You can get a Decline in Value form at your assessor's office or website. You will need your parcel number shown on the top of your tax bill. The form asks what you think your house is worth.

"I'm not sure what they mean by opinion of value," said Schwartz.

It sounds tricky, but a number of websites can help. We used Zillow.com. There, you type in your address and Zillow instantly gives an estimate of your home's value.

"They're saying it's worth more than I thought. They're saying it $344,000," said Schwartz. "But I'm really surprised."

Zillow warns, this is an estimate, not an appraisal. The best way to find your value is to look at recent sales prices for similary homes in your neighborhood. Zillow shows that, too..

"It's really more than I thought it would sell for," she said.

The Decline in Value form asks for sales data on three comparable homes. Schwartz finds several like hers, selling for $350,000 and more.

"Doesn't look good for me getting a property reassessment," she said.

Why? Because it means her home's market value is probably around $350,000, too. That is well over her property's assessed value of only $301,000.

"Well, it's very surprising to me what I found," she said "It wasn't what I thought I was going to find."

While this was bad news for her taxes, it was very good news for her house.

"It's nice to know that my house is worth more than I thought," she said.

Assessors across the Bay Area tell us they do not expect everyone to do a lot of research to complete these forms. Your house will be reviewed even if you do not fill in all the blanks.

"Most people who are suspecting that their values dropped, they have some idea what it is, so it doesn't have to be something that is founded in total numbers," assessor Phil Ting said. "It can just be their opinion of value."

"It's also good to know that it's easy to fill out the form and it's free," said Schwartz.

Each county has its own schedule for accepting Decline in Value forms. In San Francisco you have until March 31. Santa Clara County is reviewing every property and urges folks to wait until they see their new value in June.

Links to assessors by county:


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