Are you paying too much in property taxes?

With the increase in housing prices in the Seattle area, homeowners are finding that their annual property tax bill is increasing by a much larger percentage than in the past.  For example, property taxes on a median-valued home in King County has increased 42.6% in the last four years! This is a huge increase, no matter your financial situation. You might be wondering what you can do to contest your property tax assessment? Indeed, you do have options.

Pursuant to Washington law, you have the right to file an appeal with your county’s board of equalization.  Before you file your appeal, there are some factors you should be sure to consider:

1.      Contact your Local Tax Assessor’s Office.  If you feel that a mistake has been made in valuing your property, it may be beneficial to first contact the office of your county’s Assessor to see if you can settle the disagreement over the value of your property without undertaking the appeal process.  This is especially true where the characteristics listed for your property (parcel size, area of the improvements (residence), views, number of bedrooms, etc.) are incorrect.

2.      Pay your Property Taxes.  You should always pay your property taxes when they are due.  If your property tax appeal is successful, the county treasurer will notify you of any adjustment to your property taxes and refund you any overpayment.

3.      Tax Assessment Value.  Unlike in other states where the county can assess property at less than fair market value, Washington State requires that the tax assessment be 100% of the fair market value of the property.  This amount may be less than the appraised value for your property if you are receiving any type of exemption or reduction.

4.      Timing.  Should speaking with the Assessor’s office not result in a reduction of the assessment value, you have the right to appeal your assessment to your county’s Board of Equalization, but you must be careful to file your appeal within the strict time frames.  The deadline for filing an appeal is the latter of July 1 of the assessment year or within 30 - 60 days (depending on the time period established by your county’s legislative authority) of when the value change notice was mailed by the assessor’s office.  You should receive a value change notice when the assessed value of your property changes. 

5.      Specificity. Your appeal must include specific market reasons why you believe the assessor’s valuation of your property is incorrect.  You should specify why the assessed value does not reflect the fair market value of the property.  Examples might include:  recent appraisal of your property; excessive deterioration of your property; and sale of similar properties reflecting a lower value of your property.  The Board of Equalization is independent from the Assessor, so it is important to be aware that the Board may not be aware of how your property is described or valued by the Assessor.     

6.      Comparable Sales.  Providing evidence of comparable sales of property in your area or neighborhood is beneficial when filing your appeal.  You will want to be sure to provide market evidence demonstrating that these comparison properties are valued at fair market value, while your parcel is valued above fair market value. Comparable characteristics to consider include:  location, lot size, type of construction, square footage of living area, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

A hearing will be set by the clerk of your county’s Board of Equalization.  The Assessor will receive a copy of your appeal and you should expect the Assessor’s response a couple weeks prior to your scheduled hearing. 

As the taxpayer, you will have the burden of proof at the hearing to show that the assessed value is not correct.  Both you and the Assessor may give oral testimony and present written evidence to support the value.  You must present clear and convincing evidence to support your written estimate.  When issuing its written decision, the Board of Equalization may either raise, lower or sustain the Assessor’s value.  Should the Board of Equalization not rule in your favor, you may appeal the Board of Equalization’s decision to the Washington State Board of Tax Appeals. 

Another option, instead of filing an appeal with your county’s Board of Equalization, is to pay your taxes under protest and then file an action in superior or federal court for a refund.  Under this option, you will need to present a written protest to your county’s Treasurer at the time of payment of the tax and list in writing all the reasons why you feel the tax is unfair.  It is highly recommended that you consult with an attorney before submitting a letter of protest since Washington law has very strict requirements and you may jeopardize your case if the letter of protest is incomplete.

Should you have any questions or need assistance with a property tax appeal, feel free to reach out to the attorneys at Holmquist & Gardiner, PLLC.