Protesting property values during COVID-19 emergency

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Here’s our how-to guide for protesting your property values

About two-thirds of Travis County property owners will not see significant changes in their property values in 2020 because TCAD did not have enough data to update its residential appraisal model. Whether that means those property owners will see a property tax increase will depend on the tax rates that taxing entities set this fall.

“Overall, the Travis County appraisal role increased 5 percent to $287.2 billion, led by more than $6 billion in new construction and value increases in office, industrial, and multi-family properties,” TCAD announced in an April 10 press release.

“An analysis of the limited residential market data available showed that TCAD was unable to recalibrate its models this year, resulting in most residential properties retaining their 2019 market values.

“According to this year’s values, the 2020 median market value for residential property in Travis County is $354,622.”

It’s time to file your protest

On Monday, the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) opened the 2020 season for protesting the property values that it assigned to real estate this year.

Marya Crigler

Protests may be filed through May 30 but Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler urges property owners not to wait till the last minute, as the new system in place to accommodate protests will be overwhelmed and unable to handle the volume.

TCAD is in the process of sending out Notices of Appraised Value (NOAV) reflecting updated market values to 144,882 property owners. Market value changes result from a variety of factors including new construction, changes to property characteristics, and changes in ownership. More than 84,000 of those residential property owners will only see increases in their market value due to homestead exemption protections, TCAD said in a press release April 10.

In addition, 258,203 property owners whose market values or assessed values did not change by more than $1,000 will get just a postcard.

Regardless of the method by which property owners are notified of their 2020 property valuations, all have the right to file protests and can do so immediately. Even owners whose values did not increase in 2020 have the right to file a protest.

How to protest your property value

Due to the health emergency TCAD’s office is closed for in-person transactions. Protests may be filed by any of the following methods:

Online portal—Crigler said this is the fastest and easiest way to protest. You can set up a user account by entering your Owner ID and PIN, both of which are printed at the top of the NOAV. Owners who get a postcard and not an NOAV will need to call 512-834-9317 and ask for Customer Service to get an Owner ID and EFile PIN.

Once you have set up a user account, you should receive an email confirmation. Then you may log in to the portal, file a protest, and upload evidence to support it. The evidence TCAD used to determine your market value will be made available there as well.

One of the advantages of filing a protest online is that fields within the electronic equivalent of the paper Form 50-132 (Property Owner’s Notice of Protest) will automatically fill many of the boxes for which you would otherwise have to find information and enter it.

By mail—You can mail your protest Form 50-132 with evidence to: Travis Central Appraisal District, P.O. Box 149012, Austin TX 78714.

By drop box—You can stop by TCAD’s offices during normal business  hours at 8314 Cross Park Drive, Austin TX 78754 and put your protest Form 50-132 and evidence in the box located at the front entrance.

For more information go to www.traviscad.org/protests.

Speak to an appraiser

The TCAD website also provides a means to Get in Line to speak to a staff appraiser about your protest in a telephone call. You can either wait in the queue or make an appointment for a specific date and time for a call back.

In addition, there is a chat box on the home page (a bright yellow rectangle) that floats at the bottom of your screen.

Crigler strongly recommended that property owners submit evidence being used to argue for a lower market value before arranging to speak to an appraiser. “If you sent evidence by other than online I recommend you wait five to 10 days so it’s in the system and the appraiser can see it before your conversation,” Crigler said.

Cynthia Martinez

“If a person protests through the online portal, TCAD’s evidence used for determining property value will appear in the portal when ready, usually about three days after the protest is filed,” said TCAD Communications Director Cynthia Martinez.

“If a person files a protest by other means, they can request our evidence,” she added. To facilitate that request, TCAD has published an updated Form 50-132, Property Owner’s Notice of Protest, on its website. Section 6 on that form now has an insertion that reads, “**Check this box to receive CAD evidence.”

“There will be one meeting per property owner,” Crigler said in the webinar. If you reserve a date and time for TCAD to call and don’t answer the phone, you will still be able to talk to an appraiser about your protest but you must go to the back of the line.

Once you’ve had an informal telephone conference with a staff appraiser and TCAD has reviewed all the evidence, a decision will be made about whether to lower your property valuation. If warranted, TCAD will send an offer within 10 business days. Then you have the opportunity to either accept the offer or decline it and pursue a formal protest through the Travis Appraisal Review Board (ARB).

For more information go to www.traviscad.org/informals.

Evidence of lower market value

Crigler listed a number of types of information that may be useful in arguing for a lower market value, including surveys and floodplain data, although she said there is a lot of property in floodplains and such data may not affect the value.

New construction would be valued based on the percentage of the structure that was completed on January 1, 2020.

If the property has had a recent fee appraisal performed, submit a completed and signed document to that effect.

Commercial properties would want to show an operating statement and a rental roll with a three-year history, she said.

Be sure to claim exemptions

Crigler said that property owners should be sure to file for any exemptions for which they qualify, including homestead, over age 65, disabled, and surviving spouse.

The over age 65 exemption freezes school-district taxes, which make up about half of a property owner’s total property taxes. “Apply as soon as you turn 65, and the exemption applies for the whole year,” she said.

Veterans who are 100 percent disabled are exempt from all property taxes and need a letter from the Veterans Administration to confirm the disability.

“Filing for exemptions is free,” Crigler said. “Don’t pay anyone to do that for you.” Exemption forms may be accessed through the website.

Things to avoid

Waiting until May 15 won’t be effective because if everyone does that there will not be time for TCAD staff to talk to all who want to informally protest.

When compiling a list of comparable properties in an effort to show that you have an unequal appraisal, Crigler said there may be reasons. “A house with a pool and an additional dwelling unit won’t be the same value per-square-foot as a house without these amenities.”

“Do not argue about property taxes, tax increases, or your ability to afford taxes,” Crigler said. When protesting you are only debating the market value. Complaints about taxes should be directed to taxing entities that set the tax rates.

ARB hearing process

The ARB is an independent body whose members are appointed by a Travis County administrative judge and trained by people whose qualifications have been approved by the state comptroller. The majority of ARB members will have performed these duties in a previous year.

In a formal protest hearing a three-member ARB panel will hear evidence presented by the staff appraiser and the property owner (or agent), then decide what market value to assign to the property. Property owners who are not satisfied with the ARB’s decision have the right to appeal through binding arbitration, filing a lawsuit in district court, or, for properties valued at more than $1 million, appealing to the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

ARB hearings on formal protests are to begin this summer, Crigler said. She did not specify a date.

TCAD’s new facility at 850 E. Anderson Lane is being renovated to accommodate formal hearings if in-person hearings are feasible, given the health emergency. This is the same location as was used for hearing 2019 formal protests before the renovation project started.

“We anticipate that ARB hearings will be held by telephone,” Crigler said. “More information is coming and will be posted to the TCAD website. It’s too early now for specifics but I anticipate there will be changes.”

Links to related material:

Property Owner’s Notice of Protest, Form 50-132 (2 pages)

Sample Notice of Appraised Value (3 pages)

Sample postcard (2 pages)

Traviscad.org/protests provides extensive guidance on the protest process, including short videos on: registering your online account, filing your protest, how to submit and review evidence, and how to accept, reject or withdraw an offer. There is also a video recording of Crigler’s webinar.

Trust indicators:

Photo of Ken MartinKen Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981 and investigating and reporting on Travis Central Appraisal District since 2011.  See more on Ken on the About page.

Email [email protected].

Other Bulldog coverage of TCAD:

Chief appraiser on a losing streak, March 17, 2020

TCAD to ABoR: thanks but no thanks, February 27, 2020

School districts blast appraisal districts, February 19, 2020

Judge undercuts chief appraiser’s authority, February 17, 2019

Appraisal review board and appraisal district sued, January 6, 2020

TCAD board rewards chief appraiser, December 19, 2019

TCAD 2020 to resume face-to-face informal protests, December 11, 2019

By every measure TCAD is having a bad year, December 1, 2019

TCAD board gets earful about impact of barring face-to-face appeals, November 18, 2019

TCAD alone in barring face-to-face informal protests, November 12, 2019

TCAD board member had dual homestead tax exemptions, October 20, 2019

Property value protest hearings harshly criticized, August 29, 2019

Jam-packed hearings for protesting property values, August 16, 2019

TCAD flubs public notice for hearing on Proposed 2020 Budget, August 9, 2019

TCAD loses Catherine Tower lawsuits at cost of nearly $850,000, July 23, 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