FACT: The goal of local governments is to get every single penny in tax revenue from you! When I got my property tax bill in 2009, I was astonished to see that the City is taxing my primary residence based off an assessed value 7% HIGHER than in Armageddon 2008! In the biggest economic downturn ever, the San Francisco assessors office believes my property actually increased?! What a sham!
Like clock work, assessed values increase 2-3% higher every year, regardless of the economic environment. It’s as if the City is punishing me for succeeding to lower my assessed value last year by 3%. Too bad for the city, because they are messing with the WRONG person. The tax collectors office counts on citizens to roll over and listen to their every whim, but not me, and certainly not you!
I want to share some tips on how you too can fight against the machine.
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!
*** This is exactly what lawyers do if you’ve ever got those “lower your property tax” letters in the mail. Don’t be lazy and just do it yourself.
KEEP ON FIGHTING UNTIL THE END FOR YOUR MONEY
Persistence pays off. These guys don’t have to do anything for you so it’s important you approach them in a polite, but stern manner. The new assessor could have said it’s too late since I got my bill already, but he worked with me given my unwavering commitment to fight. After several months of going back and forth, they lowered my assessed value back down to last year’s value, thereby saving me $1,504 ($94,000 X 1.16%).
Use this downturn to your advantage and fight like hell to lower your property taxes. If you’re not selling anyways, who cares if you convince the city to believe your property is worth 30 cents on the dollar? You should be rejoicing instead! Don’t roll over and accept what the city bills you. Take action now!
Shop around for a mortgage: Mortgage rates have collapsed after Brexit, and US assets are aggressively being bought by foreigners due to our stability. Check the latest mortgage rates online through LendingTree. They’ve got one of the largest networks of lenders that compete for your business. Your goal should be to get as many written offers as possible and then use the offers as leverage to get the lowest interest rate possible. This is exactly what I did to lock in a 2.375% 5/1 ARM for my latest refinance. For those looking to purchase property, the same thing is in order. If you’ve found a good deal, can afford the payments, and plan to own the property for 10+ years, I’d get neutral inflation and take advantage of the low rates.
Look into real estate crowdsourcing opportunities: If you don’t have the downpayment to buy a property, are sick of dealing with bad tenants, or don’t want to tie up your liquidity in physical real estate, take a look at Fundrise, one of the largest real estate crowdsourcing companies today. Real estate is a key component of a diversified portfolio. If you study the asset allocation mix of college endowment funds and high net worth individuals, you’ll see real estate weightings of anywhere between 5% -25%. Real estate crowdsourcing also allows you to be more flexible in your real estate investments by investing beyond just where you live for the best returns possible. For example, cap rates around around 4% – 5% in San Francisco, but over 10% in the Midwest if you’re looking for strictly investing income returns. Check out my Fundrise review as well.
Updated for 2017 and beyond.