Appealing Property Tax Increases at Lake Martin

Have you received your property tax assessment yet?

If so, how did you feel about it?

In my role as a real estate agent, I have heard from many of my friends and past clients that were not feeling so hot about theirs. Some felt that their property tax assessment seemed too high, and they asked what they could do about it. I have heard these complaints across the board from all of the counties that surround Lake Martin: Tallapoosa, Coosa, and Elmore,

In Alabama, the property tax year is a fiscal year that runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. It does not run parallel from Jan. 1 to Dec.  31. Also, property tax is done in arrears, meaning you pay this year for the assessment value of last year. For example, the assessment that you just got in the mail in the summer of 2023 was based on the value of your property on October 1, 2022.

The first step I advise is carefully reviewing the assessment for your property. Make sure it is correct. For instance, make sure it has the right amount of acreage, amount of square footage, and structures on your property. Have there been any changes in your property in the last year?

Next, you need to research recent property sales in your neighborhood. Look for comparable properties that have sold that can give an indication of value for your property. You will want to look for properties with similar views, privacy, and location of yours. The view is especially critical and valuing waterfront property, as we have discussed before in this column.

How can you research past sales? Other states put property sales online very quickly and accurately. In Alabama, we are not quite there yet. You may want to talk to a local real estate agent that will be able to gather some comparable sales for you. That way you can at least know if you are in the ballpark of being correct in feeling that your assessment from the county is too high.

After doing that, if you think you need to appeal, the next step is to file a written appeal with the county your property is (not necessarily where you live). The notice of assessment usually includes instructions on how to appeal the assessment. You need to follow those rules to the letter. Our counties are in rural areas and are understaffed, and this appeal process can be overwhelming for the employees. Don’t try to just call them up on the phone and have a long chat about your property. Please respect their time and be sure to follow the appeal processes that they stipulate.

Once you filed your notice of appeal, remember that the burden of proof is on you to prove that their assessment is incorrect. You can’t assume that they will take your case for you and just reduce your property taxes back down. You are going to have to make the case to them that your assessment is too high.

I think that the best chance to do that is always to hire a certified appraiser. Merely getting a list of comparable sales from a local real estate agent, in my opinion, is not going to be enough evidence to ask them to lower your taxes. A certified appraisal for a residence is likely going to cost you anywhere from $800 to $1,000. So, while it is not a free service, it may well be worth it for you if there’s a chance your taxes may be reduced.

Is it mandatory by law that you get an appraisal in order to appeal your property tax assessment? No, it is not. But, in my experience, you’re not going to get very far without one.

When you get your day in court, so to speak, this will be your chance to shine. I’m sure I don’t have to say this, because the readers of Lake Magazine are so courteous and nice. But, just in case, I will say, be polite. Be sweet. The employees in the assessment offices in all these counties are public servants. They are not out to get you. So do your best to be polite, prepared, and succinct. Don’t go into a history of you and your property since Noah and the flood. Keep the conversation pointed on the appraisal and the recent sales during the period that you were appealing. What happened 10 years ago has a small chance of affecting anything. Stick to the facts. They will appreciate it, and you will have a better outcome, I think.

You should also be prepared that they will not reduce your property taxes at all. I have talked to a lot of folks that I thought had pretty good arguments, were prepared with appraisals, and were very polite. But they still did not get their property taxes lowered.

Lake Martin and the rest of the country has seen property values soar in the last several years. Honestly, I think that most of the property tax increases I have seen have been justified. But that doesn’t mean you can’t appeal it if you have evidence that the increase was too much.