, Port Arthur, Texas


June 11, 2013

Protesting the property value

Editor's Notes

BEAUMONT — No one likes paying taxes, and usually there is little that can be done but write the check. That’s what I’ve done with local property taxes for years. And year after year, it seems, the appraised value on my property inches upward until it has gotten well past the price for which I actually think I could sell my house.

But something changed within the past year that made the annual check writing ritual unacceptable. I got married.

My sweet wife, Celines Del Valle (modern woman — she kept her name), moved here from Florida. To hear her tell it, they hike property values like clockwork there and everyone protests their appraisal. She was pretty pointed when she asked why I hadn’t protested my appraisal. “Do you like paying money to the government?” or words to that effect are what I remember.

She is quite business savvy and soon had a deal worked out with me that she could keep whatever she could save in local taxes. This was all back in January when preparations were being made to beat the Feb. 1 deadline to pay the tax man.

She called the Appraisal District office and told them straight up that our property value was too high and she needed it reduced. I imagine they were getting a number of similar calls about that time from people in high tax shock, and they had the answer ready. To protest the appraised value of your property you have to call back in April.

April came and cold fronts were still coming through regularly. Celines called the Appraisal District again and told them our property value was too high and she wanted it reduced. The people at the Appraisal District told her quite patiently that it was too early in April and that she needed to call back in a couple of weeks.

I imagine they cull quite a few value protesters with the need to call back later, but they weren’t getting rid of Celines that easily. She called back at the appointed time and finally they were ready to make an appointment for her to call back to talk about our appraisal. Winter lasted until late in the season this year and cold fronts were still coming through in May when the appointed day to call the Appraisal District arrived.

I was at work and didn’t hear all the details of the call when she and one of the appraisal review people worked over our property appraisal. I do know that process lasted through multiple phone calls over a couple of days and ended up with the appraisal district making an offer to reduce our appraised value by about 10 percent.

Pretty cool, I thought, imaging the reduction in the next tax bill. But Celines would have none of it. She turned down their settlement offer and got on the agenda for one of the appraisal review board meetings.

As the time grew closer and the cold fronts finally stopped Celines photographed everything that was wrong with our house. Now I have to admit to not being the best at home maintenance and I had lived for more than 10 years as a bachelor, most of that time with kids in the house. That’s a lot of wear and tear, not to mention what two significant hurricanes can do. So the old homestead was showing its age.

The sweltering heat of summer had arrived in full force by the time of our June 4 meeting with the appraisal review board. Celines was armed with the printouts of her photos as evidence to present to the board when we arrived at the Appraisal District offices on Fourth Street in Beaumont.

Public notices of the review meetings were taped to the front door. We searched through the several hundred protests that were listed until we found ours. There we were: Account 303 Roger Cowles et ux. I didn’t know what et ux was until I looked it up, and it’s Latin and means “and wife.” I have no idea why they couldn’t just put “and wife.” I guess it’s so lawyers will have to pay all that money to go to law school to learn things like et ux, etc.

We were directed to a secretary in the receiving office who asked us if we had any documents for the review board. My et ux brought out her stack of printouts of the photographs of all the things I haven’t fixed in our house. The secretary explained to us that the review board was a paperless process and she would have to scan all our photographs into the computer.

She completed the scanning without many complications and we were directed into a waiting room until it was our turn with the review board. Only one other protester was in the waiting room when we took our seats. On the wall was a poster with all sorts of information about the appraisal review process. It explained that “decisions will be based on evidence.”

Without too much more of a wait our turn came to enter the Appraisal Review Chambers. We were seated in front of a computer screen on which we could see all the photographs Celines had taken of the house. Three people who served as the appraisal review judges were seated across from us and two people who represented the Appraisal District were next to us. Everyone had computer screens displaying the photographs.

The process was informal and Celines went through all her photographs explaining all the problems with our house. Her evidence and her presentation were quite convincing and they began changing the condition and plugging in numbers lowering the value of the property.

Then it happened. They asked me a question: If I were going to sell my property what price would I ask. And I gave an answer — almost 25 percent below the original appraised value.

They worked with the numbers filling in the blanks and running the program until they came up with an offer — almost exactly the number I had said. What would I think if they offered to reduce the value to that. I said I thought that would be great.

So we made the deal. They slid a sheet of paper over and I signed it. My et ux signed it and the appraisal district people signed it. The process was over and we had prevailed, our property value was reduced.

We got in the car and cranked the AC up to blow away the summer heat then Celines asked me, “What did you do that for?” What? I replied, having no idea what she was talking about.

“They would have gone a lot lower,” she said. And when I thought about how it had worked out, with no dickering over a number and not even using the review judges to decide, I knew she was right.

Our experience with the Appraisal Review board and our valuation protest taught me several lessons. One was that the process to protest a property value is informal and can result in a significant reduction in value if you have a good case to make and you have evidence to back it up. The other, and perhaps more important, is to keep my mouth shut and let my et ux run the show when she’s prepared her case and is ready to present it. Now we’ll see if she remembers that she’s supposed to get the money we save in taxes.

Twitter: @RogerCowles

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