Near impossible parking, running hours behind schedule
It was 12:20pm Tuesday and Mark Young, a retired CPA, was one of hundreds of people sitting in rooms and standing in hallways at 850 E. Anderson Lane. Like everyone else, he was waiting to be called to an Appraisal Review Board hearing to protest the property valuation assigned to his home by the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD).
When I sat down at 12:15pm to chat he had been waiting more than two hours since arriving at 10am for a scheduled 10:45am appointment to present evidence to a three-member Appraisal Review Board panel.
He said it took him about 10 minutes to find a space in the surrounding parking lot before he lucked into one. “Parking was ugly,” he said.
Young said that a year earlier when he protested his 2018 property valuation he met at with a TCAD appraiser at the district’s Cross Park Drive offices. “I was in and out of there in 20 minutes,” he said.
Having to go through the formal ARB protest hearing is a significant additional burden, he said. As a retiree he has the time, but said, “It’s property owner not-friendly.”
“I was expecting they might have some kind of informal process here but they didn’t,” Young added.
He settled the 2018 protest for a valuation of $420,837, a reduction of nearly $14,000.
The 2019 Notice of Appraised Value for his home shows a market value of $470,109, reduced by a homestead exemption to a taxable value of $462,921.
“They whacked me for more than 40 grand,” he said, referring to the jump in his 2019 property valuation.
As reported by The Austin Bulldog June 6, 2019, the face-to-face option was no longer available this year. Instead of being able to meet with a TCAD appraiser to provide evidence of his home’s value and see what evidence the appraiser had to support the noticed valuation, he could only e-file a protest through the district’s online portal, then wait. He didn’t get to see the appraiser’s evidence. When he got an answer to his online protest of 2019 values, TCAD offered to reduce his valuation by less than $1,000.
“An offer of a thousand dollars is no offer at all,” Young said.
Which is why he, along with tens of thousands of other property owners or their agents, have been flocking to the formal protest hearings this year.
Betty Thompson, chair of the Travis Appraisal Review Board, told TCAD’s Board of Directors at its August 6 meeting, “We will end up hearing about 90,000 protests, more than ever.”
Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler did not respond to an emailed request for the number of formal protest hearings conducted in 2018. Rine Kaatz, a former supervisor of residential property appraisals for TCAD, and currently employed by Texas Protax, a property tax consulting firm, estimated there were fewer than 20,000 formal protest hearings before ARB panels in 2018.
Young said he spent more than a full day doing research through the Zillow real estate website to find properties in his area that were comparable to his home at 6400 Zadock Woods in the Legend Oaks subdivision of southwest Austin. He said he hoped the evidence would convince the panelists to lower his appraised property value.
On Wednesday, Young emailed to say that he got into his protest hearing at 1:30pm. “I was at the front end of the 10:45am appointments line,” he said (a two and a half hour wait).
“I spoke for 10 minutes presenting my evidence. TCAD made me a settlement offer that I accepted immediately. It was a bit higher than my low-end value but $20,000 less than the TCAD assessment value. Worth the work to attend and protest. I was out by 1:45pm. By the evening, TCAD had already posted my settlement value on my TCAD account.”
Schedule calls for high volume
Betty Thompson, who chairs the Travis Appraisal Review Board, said more than 1,100 protest hearings had been scheduled for Monday but there were a lot of reschedulings.
“People come thinking they will be here a half hour and can’t stay long enough,” she said.
Protests hearings are scheduled in groups. A group of cases are all set for a certain time and then each case is processed first-come, first served, though never quickly.
Despite boosting the number of people trained and working as Appraisal Review Board panel members this year, the workload is staggering because doing away with informal face-to-face hearings with appraisers this year exponentially increased the number of formal protest hearings.
Nevertheless at the August 6, 2019, TCAD Board of Directors meeting Chief Appraiser Crigler said she will be able to certify tax rolls no later than August 30. The 113 taxing entities in Travis County will set tax rates based on those rolls.
Tax rolls cannot be certified until 95 percent of the taxable property valuations have made it through the protest hearings. Even after certification the protest hearings will continue until every case has been resolved, a process that may continue until mid-October, Thompson said.
Options if ARB valuation not acceptable to owner
A property owner who isn’t satisfied with the valuation assigned by the Appraisal Review Board has three options to continue seeking relief:
File a lawsuit—A property owner can sue TCAD. This is an expensive process and it’s slow. As of July 22, 2019, according to information obtained through a public information request, TCAD was the defendant in 1,047 pending lawsuits stretching as far back as 2007. Fewer than 60 of those lawsuits have been scheduled for trials. Meaning the vast majority of those cases will linger in the courts for years, although attorneys familiar with these lawsuits said most cases are resolved through settlements.
When the stakes are high, property owners can and do seek relief in courts.
As reported by The Austin Bulldog July 23, 2019, Catherine Tower LLC, owner of a 15-story apartment building, sued over TCAD’s assessment for tax years 2016 and 2017. A settlement was reached April 4, 2019, involving a tax refund of more than $638,000. The appraisal district spent $204,000 on its own attorney fees in the case.
The Austin Bulldog reported July 16, 2019, that Texas Disposal Systems Landfill Inc. on June 6, 2019, got a final judgment that ordered a refund with interest totaling an estimated $800,000, plus $105,000 in attorney fees.
Both of these plaintiffs still have litigation pending for other tax years.
Enter binding arbitration—This is a relatively inexpensive and may provide results in a more timely and cost-effective way.
Extensive instructions for how to go about arbitration are provided on the Texas Comptroller’s website including who qualifies for arbitration. Among the criteria is a requirement that a property owner must apply within 60 days of receiving the Appraisal Review Boards order of determination.
The cost of arbitration includes a deposit and an arbitrator’s fee, with amounts for each based on the type of property and its value.
For a residence homestead with an appraised or market value of less than $500,000 the deposit is $450 and the arbitrator’s fee is $400.
At the high end of the six tiers for fees, a property that is not a residence homestead valued at more than $3 million but not more than $5 million requires a deposit of $1,550 and an arbitrator’s fee of $1,500—still dirt cheap compared with entering litigation.
As the comptroller’s guidance states, “The decision of the arbitrator is final and binding on both parties. By arbitrating the dispute you agreed to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.”
Administrative hearing option—If the property value determined by the ARB order is more than $1 million, a property owner may be able to file an appeal with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), advises the Texas Comptroller’s website. Qualifying criteria are provided on that site.
To appeal to SOAH a property owner must file a notice of appeal with the chief appraiser within 30 days of receiving the ARB’s notice of determination and pay a $1,500 deposit within 90 days of receiving the order.
Related Bulldog coverage:
TCAD flubs public notice for hearing on Proposed 2020 Budget, August 9, 2019
TCAD loses landfill lawsuit at cost of nearly $1 million, July 16, 2019
New offices for Travis Central Appraisal District, July 15, 2019
Deputy chief appraiser abruptly resigns, July 10, 2019
Appraisal Review Board heads off lawsuit, June 12, 2019
New procedures undermine appraisal process, June 6, 2019
Lawsuit Seeks Property Tax Hearings, December 17, 2018
Homestead Exemptions a Tax Loophole,” February 26, 2014
Homestead Exemptions Rife With Abuse, December 20, 2013
Chris Riley Nailed for Back Taxes, August 20, 2014
Appraisal District to End Records Suppression, November 22, 2011
Appraisal Records Hidden from Public View, November 18, 2011
Are Austin’s Property Taxes Fair and Equitable? July 30, 2010
Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page.
Email [email protected].
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