What should you know about hiring a property tax consultant to protest your home appraisal on your behalf? How do you find a good consultant? What kind of fees should you pay? What are warning signs that throw up red flags?
Let’s start with red flag warnings so you don’t get sucked into a contractual agreement based on questionable claims. I’ll give you an example of overzealous marketing.
Ownwell is the new kid on the block. The national tax protest company is in its second year in the Texas market. Several readers have questioned the company’s marketing materials. After studying them, The Watchdog does too.
The company’s postcard sent to a Dallas homeowner who shared it with me promises that “property tax savings” will be $614. How could Ownwell know this owner will save $614 in taxes? There’s been no protest hearing. No decision rendered.
When I went to Ownwell’s website and plugged at my address, the website said that if I hired this new kid on the block, my “estimated savings” will be $1,677. No way. That’s five times what I saved last year. Unless this company has a crystal ball that looks into the future, I find these promises deceptive.
Linsey Wilaford-West, Ownwell’s marketing head, told me “it’s our best guess on the data from last year.”
Keep in mind that this is only the company’s second year in Texas.
I also talked to the owner of Property Tax, Lock which sent me a letter offering its services. First, the name with the word lock implies that appraisal numbers will get locked in. But numbers do change.
Also, the company slogan is: “We care. We prepare. We win.”
But the letter states that the company has an “over 90%” win level. So the slogan should say “We win most of the time.”
When I told company owner James O’Day my qualms he didn’t disagree. “I think we can do better on that letter,” he said. “I’ll make an adjustment to our catch phrase.”
Fees for property tax consultants
You can protest without a consultant. But for people who want a licensed professional to handle their protest including all the paperwork and attending your hearing, hiring a company might be the way to go.
The menu of fees in the industry is hardly standard. You should understand a company’s billing process, but that’s not always easy.
The best deal would be a company that only charges if it wins you savings. Some companies don’t charge anything if they can’t lower your value.
Be skeptical of firms that charge hundreds of dollars upfront.
Some companies have different prices for different sized homes.
One company is offering two years for $295.
Watch out for this tactic: Some companies figure your savings by ignoring exemptions on the property. These companies concoct their estimated tax savings numbers without considering the discounts a homeowner gets through exemptions.
Some may charge a fee based on the percentage of savings on market value reductions, and not from the appraised value, which is what you’re taxed on.
Tips on hiring a property tax company
Can you meet the company owners in person or talk to them on the phone? Many companies don’t list a public phone number. How fast do they respond by email? Is the company local? What percent of their clients’ hearings do they attend?
Don’t sign a multi-year agreement.
Research a company’s online reviews.
In this market of booming home values, if you have a homestead exemption an agent may not be able to save you money because the numbers may not favor your cause.
Ask for a free initial assessment about your chances to win.
Don’t believe companies that promise to save you a specific amount of money.
Licensed property tax agents
One solution would be for the Texas Association of Property Tax Professionals to list all its members on its website. That way we could see who’s out there.
Association president Steve Laas told me “that isn’t really the purpose of our organization.” His group meets with state lawmakers to work on changes to state tax laws, he said.
One final step: Double check a company’s state license by visiting the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation website. Go to TDLR’s “license data search” to verify a license holder.
Good luck with this. I’ve had good and bad. One year the guy I hired forgot to show up at my hearing.
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