Please send me your stories, complaints, tips, and tricks about the appraisal districts and property taxes, and I will post them.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lines of Defense for Appraisal Districts

Common tricks Appraisal Districts use to keep you from getting help or reducing your property taxes:

Long hold times on the phone
I waited on hold for 20 minutes yesterday, on an "ARB Hearing Rescheduling Line Only," and when I finally got to talk to somebody, she was angry and not helpful. A free market based business, which values my business would never make me wait 20 minutes on the phone.

Rude Customer Service Reps on the phones and at the appraisal districts
I wonder if they intentionally hire angry, rude, ugly Customer Service Representatives to answer their phones and work at their front desk in an attempt to discourage you from calling or coming in. A free market based business, which values my business, would not allow a rude CSR, with a poor personal appearance, to work for their company.

Long wait times for your scheduled appointments
I was scheduled for an appointment at 8:15 am. I checked in at 8:12 am, and I waited until 8:44 am to be seen. I saw other people waiting in the waiting room since before I arrived, and they were still waiting when I left. There's no way the Appraisal District can be backed up 30 minutes on appointments by 8:15 am, considering they opened at 8:00 am!

THEY miss appointments, no problem...YOU miss appointments, you're S.O.L.
I had an appointment for an ARB Hearing during the second week after Hurricane Ike. I found out (on my own...they didn't tell me) that all hearings were being postponed, even though the Appraisal District HAD electricity on the day of my hearing. They tell you, if YOU miss a hearing, for whatever reason, and you don't call them one day in advance, then you're S.O.L. For some reason, they didn't bother calling ME one day in advance to tell me THEY wouldn't be able to make our appointment.

One central location, rather than several satellite locations
It's a pretty neat trick to cover millions of square miles of home owners but only have ONE (non-centralized) location. This means that, if you want to protest your taxes, or personally handle any other business with the appraisal district, you have to drive, up to 40-50 miles for some people, through heavy traffic (8-5 business hours), in order to get to the appraisal office. If this was a free market based business, which actually valued your patronage & cared about customer satisfaction, they would have a satellite locations every 5 miles or so (like a cable company, cell phone company, or bank).

Online iProtest...An attempt to discourage you or get you to settle
This year, the HCAD introduced its iProtest system, in which loyal subjects of the monarch are encouraged to submit an online protest, instead of showing up in person. They said it was for OUR benefit, it would save us time, and we would be able to save just as much money on our taxes. It turns out this was just another line of defense they figured out they could use to discourage us from protesting our taxes. They responded to most people by telling them they didn't have a valid protest or by telling them they would knock $1,000 off their appraised value (this equates to about $30 tax savings). This made people think, 'I could get $1,000 off right now, or I could risk going down there and not getting anything.' This caused a lot of people to take their offer, thinking they didn't have a valid protest, or thinking $1,000 was the most they would get. The Appraisal District actually told people, 'if you don't accept the iProtest value now, then the offer is revoked, and you may not get as good of an offer if you come to protest in person.'

Pre-hearing Hearing
The Appraisal District tries to get you to waste your time going to their office for a Pre-hearing Hearing. The purpose of the Pre-hearing Hearing is similar to the purpose of iProtest. They let you talk to some ignorant, rude, low-life who tells you that you're wrong and that you don't have a case. This is an attempt to get you to feel like you've lost. Then, they offer you a settlement value (usually a couple thousand dollars off the appraised value), and they hope that you accept it. That way you won't waste any more of their time by asking for a real hearing. You also have to get an appointment for the Pre-hearing Hearing. When you show up on time for your Pre-hearing Hearing, they make you wait 30 minutes to 1 hour past the scheduled time of your hearing, hoping you'll leave, I guess.

Arbitrarily give high appraised values, hoping they will stick
In most cases, the appraisers don't actually figure out the true market value of a house (that would take too long). They throw absurdly high values at your property, and they put the burden of proof on you. They get YOU to do all the work. Also, with an extremely high starting value, when you go to protest your taxes, they can lower your value a little, you'll be happy, and your value will still be higher than it should be. Also, if nobody takes the initiative to argue the exorbitantly high appraised values, then the Appraisal District makes a killing with very little effort. My buddy checked on the appraised values of some houses EXACTLY like his, which were just recently built and sold. We found out the actual sales price of the homes, which was around $210,000. The Appraisal District appraised the houses at around $330,000.

You have other issues?...Take a number and wait two hours
A few years ago, I had to fill out a form and get it 'date stamped.' This meant that I actually had to show up at the Appraisal District and talk to somebody. Nothing could have prepared me for the complete debacle I witnessed that day. You think the DMV is inefficient?...the Appraisal District is the Master Jedi of inefficiency. I was directed to a room which contained about 100+ seats, which means they've probably had long waits before. All 100+ seats were filled, and 30+ people were standing in the hallways. They had a 'take a number' system. I took a number and stood in the hallway. I waited for approximately 2.5 hours to be seen, and when I left, waiting room and hallways were even more packed. That day was not even a historically busy day...just a normal day at the Appraisal District. I thought about starting a new business where I would go to the Appraisal District and take a bunch of numbers every few minutes and sell them to people for one million dollars each.

Why do they use all these tricks?
Because they have a monopoly on stealing money from you. You have no choice other than dealing with the Appraisal District. If they can somehow discourage you from ever showing up at their offices and taking up their time, then it will be much more convenient for them to steal money from you, and they'll save money in labor costs...they won't have to hire as many thieves.

Remember: The burden of proof is on YOU to prove they can't steal as much money as they claim they can steal.

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