Buying a home is widely considered a better way to get ahead financially than renting. That being said, buying a home comes with a series of financial hurdles. Most people only focus on the upfront costs, but other fees can make homeownership a financial strain.
Even when you pay off your mortgage debt, you’ll have to pay property taxes, which can be steep. Luckily, there are a few ways to reduce these pricey fees.
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Appeal your appraisal
While it may sound counterintuitive in the long run, appealing your home appraisal for a lower value could help you save on property taxes.
Call your appraiser to see if you can appeal the verdict, but be aware that some states charge a fee for additional appraisals, and there are often deadlines to submit your appeal.
You should also provide evidence that your home isn’t worth as much if you want to win your appeal.
Hire an independent appraiser
If your local tax assessor isn’t willing to consider lowering your appraisal, consider investing in an independent appraisal.
This comes with a bit of an upfront cost, as independent assessors usually charge a few hundred dollars. However, if they assess your home to have a lower market value, you can generally use that verdict to get lower property tax rates.
Forgo curb appeal
Similarly, boosting your curb appeal could result in higher property taxes upon appraisal.
Dressing up the exterior of your home, whether through replacing the siding, reroofing, landscaping and so on, increases the fair market value and your property taxes. Consider holding off on major sprucing until you want to resell your home.
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Claim senior citizen exemptions
Depending on where you live, you may qualify for property tax exemptions. Several factors could qualify you for an exemption, one of the major ones being your age bracket.
Many states and municipalities give senior citizens exemptions on their property taxes, while others base that qualification on the status of their Social Security. Since this varies so widely, make sure you do your research before applying.
Use homestead exemptions
Another potential route to save on property taxes comes from the homestead exemption. This is especially helpful for those who are going through unforeseen financial hardships.
Who qualifies for this exemption differs by state, but examples include the elderly, people struggling with a disability or illness, someone who recently lost someone in their household, and people with lower incomes.
However, not all states offer homestead exemptions, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Claim a veterans exemption
Many states offer property tax exemptions for veterans, too. Not all states offer this exemption, though. Additionally, the qualifications for the states that do vary.
For example, in some states, you must be partially or totally disabled. In others, you have to have served in particular wars. Others require you to be above a certain age.
Claim a disability exemption
Many states offer exemptions for those with disabilities. Again, the qualifications vary based on location, as does the amount or percentage of the exemption itself. You’ll also probably have to undergo additional screening to verify your disability.
That being said, you may be entitled to additional credits, exemptions, and so on. For example, any home upgrade, like ramp installations or lower countertops, may be tax deductible.
Qualify for agriculture and horticulture exemptions
A less common but viable tax exemption is available for those involved in horticulture and/or agriculture. This includes activities like farming livestock, growing and harvesting crops, planting trees, etc.
If you have a large plot of land and want to lower the tax rate, investing in some sort of farming or agricultural endeavor could be worth it in the long run.
Conduct your own investigation
Even if your appraisal appeal doesn’t go as well as you’d like, you don’t have to necessarily settle for the result.
Snoop around real estate sites and public property records for homes in your immediate vicinity. Look for factors as similar to your home as possible, like square footage, property features, rooms, safety, age, upkeep, and so on.
If your home was appraised for a higher number, call the auditor who appraised your home for a reason.
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Look into your home’s history
Another way you can take the matter into your own hands is by digging into the history of your home and property. This can be especially helpful for older builds or lots.
Request a copy of your home’s property tax cards, either in person or, if possible, online. These will reflect past assessment details.
Do a deep dive on these cards, scrutinizing them for even the most minor errors regarding square footage, rooms, upgrades, etc. If something is wrong, you may just get your taxes lowered.
Apply for assistance
Even if you don’t qualify for an exemption, some resources can help alleviate the strain of high property taxes.
AARP, for example, offers property tax aid, which helps streamline the process of finding tax breaks, exemptions, credits, relief, and so on based on your location and other qualifying factors.
Some programs it assists with include homestead exemptions, property tax credits, and income-based tax refunds.
Welcome in the tax assessor
Many people may think that letting the tax assessor into your home, especially after a remodel or upgrade, would result in higher property taxes. However, the opposite could be true.
If you don’t let the assessor walk through your home, they may appraise it for a higher value than it’s worth, resulting in higher taxes. This also presents an opportunity to point out smaller quirks and flaws that could help lower the appraised value.
While not ideal, an almost guaranteed way to get lower property taxes is to move somewhere else with lower state property tax rates.
If you live in a state with exceptionally high property taxes, like New Jersey or Illinois, you’ll likely still be paying an exceptional amount in taxes despite your best efforts.
In states like Hawaii or Alabama, with much lower tax rates, you can get a lot more for your money or save a fair amount on a similar home to your current one.
Avoid major remodels and upgrades
You can avoid wasting money on property taxes by not making major upgrades to your home. Although it can increase the overall worth of your home, upgrades will also increase your property taxes during appraisal.
For example, adding a pool, shed, deck, gazebo, or other major addition to your property will likely result in higher taxes. Even interior upgrades, like a kitchen remodel, can increase your taxes significantly.
Property taxes aren’t all bad — when everyone chips in their share, communities have access to a host of valuable resources.
For many, however, they can be unsustainably expensive, and you want to ensure you don't come up short when paying property taxes.
Whether you challenge the decision of your tax assessor or apply for exemptions, there are options to keep tax rates low and keep your wallet from getting stretched too thin.