Property owners may protest new appraisal values

by Crystal Gottfried, Staff Writer

Property owners began to receive their proposed property appraisals last week from Comal County Appraisal District Chief Appraiser Lynn Rodgers.

Rodgers reportedly said that the district is three to four years behind with commercial property appraisals, while residential property is assessed much more accurately because it changes hands more frequently.

As part of the appraisal process, the district uses sales price information to set its values, but disclosure of sales price information is not required under state law.

Appraisers utilize the same Internet-based Multiple Listing Service that real estate agents use to help them set property values.

At the May 22 New Braunfels city council meeting, Rodgers said that his staff was blessed with what he considers a windfall of data this year for the downtown area.

"Since 2003, we've had 24 properties change hands downtown," he said. "This year, we were able to obtain information on three of those sales, giving us the ability to raise area values."

For most businesses and residential property owners who are shocked at their new property valuations, their current option is to protest their new appraisals.

Protesters must submit a Notice of Protest form that can be found on the Comal Appraisal District website or on the back of the appraisal sheet. Then the Appraisal Review Board, made up of citizens in the county, will hear the owner's objections, and make a decision based on what they hear from the property owner and the appraisal office.

Basically, a property owner has grounds for a protest if he feels that the proposed appraisal value exceeds the appraised or market value of the property; if it is an unequal appraisal based on values of surrounding properties; inclusion of the property on the appraisal records; denial in whole or in part of a partial exemption; the determination that the property does not qualify for special appraisal; and other actions of the appraisal district, chief appraiser or ARB that applies to and adversely affects the property owner.

Protesting property owners would submit written or oral evidence about the protest or challenge to the ARB during the hearing and the burden of proof lies with the appraisal district regarding protests related to the appraised or market value of a property.

In other words, the appraisal district must prove that its value is correct by a "preponderance of the evidence."

Evidence is simply information that helps the ARB to decide what the facts are. Evidence may take the form of data, schedules, formulas and other relevant information that has a particular meaning in the hearing such as recent sales of similar properties that a property owner uses to demonstrate too high of a home value.

According to information on the Texas State Comptroller's office, the job of county appraisal districts is to set property values in their area to 100 percent of market value.

In a protest on appraised or market value or unequal appraisal, the law states that the appraisal district has the burden of establishing the property's value by a preponderance of the evidence presented at the hearing.

"Appraised values may not be presumed to be correct in protest hearings," according to the Appraisal Manual found on the comptroller's website. "If the appraisal district fails to meet the burden of proof, the ARB must determine the protest in the property owner's favor."

In the past, homeowners who protested their property-tax values and received unsatisfactory decisions from the ARB, had to accept their fate and grumble to the neighbors or appeal the decision to district court.

In December, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 182 and Senate Bill 1351 to give homeowners a less expensive way to appeal the ARB's decision through binding arbitration, a process that costs only a $500 deposit.

The arbitration alternative to district court only applies to properties valued under $1 million. The two parties must agree on an arbitrator or one will be randomly selected by the Texas comptroller's office, which administers the appointment of arbiters.

During arbitration, the arbiter will decide only the value of the property and his decision is final. If the arbitrator's decision is closer to the value that the property owner claimed, the property owner's deposit will be returned, less a $50 administrative fee.

If the a arbitrator's decision places the property's value closer to the what the appraisal district claims, then the $50 administrative fee and the arbitrator's fee is paid out of the property owner's deposit and any remaining funds are returned to the property owner.

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