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Questions to ask when covering property taxes

May 3, 2018

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As property taxes rise in some parts of the country, readers want to understand why. (Photo by Pixabay via Pexels, CCO)

In many parts of the country, spring is the time of year when homeowners get their assessment for property taxes, and some readers may be in for an unpleasant surprise if their home assessment is higher than they expected.

Here’s a look at questions to consider when covering this topic:

Have property taxes increased in your area? Why or why? Start with your state’s department of revenue or comptroller office website to see what stats are publicly available. For instance, Washington State’s Department of Revenue has a number of statistical reports on property taxes available online. You can also contact your state or county’s office for more details and gather anecdotal information on property taxes from local homeowners.

Where does the money go? An explainer on what programs get funding through property taxes could help readers understand their property taxes in context. The Tax Policy Center has an interesting chart showing which states are most dependent on property taxes (in 2013, that was New Hampshire, since the state doesn’t have general sales tax or broad-based income tax). Your county tax assessor’s office and/or your state’s comptroller or department of revenue might be able to shed some light on this topic.

How much do homeowners pay compared to local businesses? Different states and counties assess business or residential properties differently, so readers might be interested in know how their property is assessed and how the process differs for commercial properties.

What options are available to homeowners who can’t or don’t want to pay? Is there a homestead exemption and if so, what’s the application process? Can seniors or disabled veterans in your community get a break on their property taxes? How does that work? And if homeowners want to appeal their home’s assessed value, how does that process work? When should they hire someone to appeal the assessed value and how should they identify the right person or company to help? The Appraisal Institute is a global professional association of real estate appraisers. Professional organizations like AI may be able to connect you to appraisal professionals in your area.

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