Property taxes too high? How to appeal your tax assessment

The Washington State Capitol in Olympia.

Property taxes in Washington are paid based on the “tax assessed value” of your home. The tax assessed value is supposed to reflect the current market value of your home, and the assessor’s office uses a variety of statistical analysis of sales data combined with the facts about your home that they have in their tax records to determine these values. However, the assessor’s office is notoriously slow to change values, and often is working off of tax record data that is incomplete or inaccurate, particularly if a home has been modified or remodeled over time. In the past, when home prices were rapidly increasing, virtually all assessed values were somewhat lower than the actual market value, as the process of assessment only occurs annually and was slow to catch up to the market. Now, after a period of price declines, there are many homes that are assessed for more than market value. This means that your property taxes are higher than they need to be. Appealing your tax assessed value can lower your tax bill, but the process is not automatic. You need to file an appeal with some very specific deadlines to make this happen.

In Washington you need to file an appeal with your county’s Board of Equalization. The appeal needs to show documentation that the assessor has erred in valuing your house. Usually this documentation is a list of comparable properties that have sold in your area, or data on what you just bought the house for. You also may be able to provide information that the assessor is not aware of, such as evidence of deterioration of property condition, encroachments, neighboring development or other factors that would drive your assessed value lower.

In the state of Washington, property taxes are assessed at only one time each year. That is your opportunity to change the assessed value. In King County, they will mail you a Value Change Notice each year. You have to file your appeal 60 days after the receipt of that notice, or before July 1, whichever is later. The appeal is for next year’s tax assessment, so if you apply before July 1, 2009, you are appealing your 2010 tax assessment. If you miss the deadline, you have to wait until the next tax year. If you live in a different state, you will have to research the procedures and deadlines for your state/county.

In developing your appeal, you can tap the expertise of a local real estate agent to help you develop evidence of comparable sales prices. We do this all of the time for clients who have bought a home with us to help them through the process.

Here are links for counties in the Puget Sound area to help you with this process: