On May 12, 2021, The Williamson Central Appraisal District and the Williamson County Tax Office recorded a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the Texas property tax system, and what property owners can do to affect their tax bills.
Start video with Alvin Lankford, Williamson Central Appraisal District Chief Appraiser’s presentation.
Hello, and welcome to the Williamson Central Appraisal District and Williamson County Tax Office annual Property Tax Town Hall. Thank you for joining us in this virtual town hall. We look forward to doing these in person in the coming years. You have taken a great step of getting involved in the property tax system, and I hope you find today’s presentation informative. My name is Alvin Lankford, Chief Appraiser with the Williamson Central Appraisal District. You will also hear from Larry Gaddes, the Williamson County Tax Assessor Collector later in the presentation. I have been with WCAD for over 21 years, and was appointed Chief Appraiser in 2009. WCAD values over 253,000 properties each year, covering over 1,123 square miles, with a total market value this year of over 108 billion dollars. I would like to start off the presentation with a simple property tax equation. It is taxable value, times tax rate, equals property taxes. Each of these components play an important role in our property tax system.
Who is responsible for each part of this equation? Values are the responsibility of the Appraisal District. Tax rates are the responsibility of your taxing units, such as schools, cities, and the county. Property taxes are the responsibility of you, as the property owner, to help fund local government operations. When do these components occur? Values are determined in the March time frame of each year, with an appraisal date of January 1st. Tax rates are determined starting in September by each taxing unit. Property taxes are due on January 31st of the following year. I like to illustrate this equation with a simple mathematical question. If I were to choose a member of our audience today, we will call that person member A, to pick a number between 1 and 10, and let us say they chose 5, and then I choose another audience member, we will call them audience member B, to pick a number between 1 and 10, to multiply that 5, chosen by audience member A, and let us say they choose number 4. Who has determined the 20? In other words, the outcome of that equation, 5 x 4. Who has determined the outcome of this equation? The answer is simple. The audience member A did not know what number audience member B would choose, so audience member B determined the outcome of 20. This is the same with property taxes. The Appraisal District chooses a value early in the year, and does not know what the tax units will choose as their tax rate, and therefore are not choosing the property taxes due. Property tax amounts are chosen by the taxing units to fund their operations. In a growing real estate market, for taxes not to increase each year, the only way to make that happen is for tax rates to decrease the same percentage that values increased. Your local taxing jurisdictions must make that decision in light of the demand for services and their budgetary needs.
Let us go through a few important key terms. The first key term is Market Value. Market value is what the property would have sold for on January 1st. This value reflects what is indicated by the sales of similar properties in your market area. There is no limit on the increase or decrease in market value each year. Who ensures market value? We are required by the tax code to be at 100% of market value each year. These values are audited by the State Comptroller’s office through their property value study every other year. If values fall below market value, we can lose state funding for our local schools. Appraisal methodology and tax code compliance are also audited by the Comptroller’s office, in their methods and assistance program review, in the opposite year of the property value study. A home’s market value is determined using sales in your neighborhood or market area. Comparable properties are selected from this area to determine the value of the home. On the right, adjustments are made to these comparable properties for any differences between them and the subject property. A final value determination is made after those adjustments.
Another key term is Assessed Value. The limited property value. Only properties with a homestead in place the prior January 1st are eligible for value limitations. An assessed value equals last year’s value, plus 10%, or the current market value, whichever is lower.
Another key term is Taxable Value. This is the value you pay taxes on. Taxable value is the assessed value, minus any qualifying exemptions. Examples of these exemptions include the homestead exemption, over 65, disabled veteran, and disabled person exemptions, just to name a few.
Here I will introduce you to the Property Tax Calendar and the Appraisal District functions that occur throughout the year. July through January, appraisers at the Appraisal District are performing field work which includes measuring the over 10,000 new homes and businesses in your county, as well as checking other properties for changes. December through March we are analyzing the data collected in the field season and all available sales data to form the values for properties as of January 1st. April 1st or around that date, the current year appraisal notices are mailed to property owners. This begins the protest season, where property owners who disagree with the value may protest their account to the Appraisal District. 95% of value must be unprotested or completed by July 20th, when the appraisal records are approved and certified to the taxing units by July 25th, to help them begin their tax rate calculation season. Larry Gaddes, our Tax Assessor Collector, will pick up on this point in the calendar, in his portion of the presentation, to follow mine.
This year’s appraisal notice went in the mail on March 31st. There are some noted changes to the appraisal notice that I will go through with you today. Due to large increases in market value, many homestead properties have exceeded the 10% on their market value, but are capped at their 10% on their assessed value, as discussed on the prior slide. This is indicated here on the slide, on the notice, the assessed value will be indicated in the bottom of the valuation grid. This is the value before exemptions are applied, that is the capped value on the property. On your slide here, the capped value for this property is $355,595. That is 10% over the prior year’s assessed value, but the market value is at $367,000. Remember this, it has a value limit of 10%, and that is where it has been applied.
Next, realtors and local media have produced many news articles since November of last year discussing how hot the real estate market in the Austin area is. We have included quotes from these articles on the notice of appraised value, that is outlined in the red box here. Many of these quotes will explain how hot the residential real estate market is in comparison with the prior year, despite the pandemic that we were incurring with COVID 19.
To further address the assessed value cap of 10%, we have included an explanation of the cap, and where to find it on your notice. This explanation can be found in the banners on our website at the top of our homepage at wcad.org, that is wcad.org. If you will click on the banner that looks like this, the market value in the homestead cap, it will actually take you to a full explanation of that homestead cap and the assessed value, and it is illustrated with excerpts from an actual appraisal notice.
Other noted changes to the appraisal notice include the removal of the inaccurate tax estimate using last year’s tax rates and this year’s preliminary value before protest. This tax estimate was removed as a part of Senate Bill 2, in the 2019 legislative session, in favor of a much more accurate estimate to be displayed starting in August at williamsonpropertytaxes.org, that is williamsonpropertytaxes.org. This website will enable you to see what each of your taxing units are proposing to do with their tax rate, considering the increases in value seen throughout the county this year. Remember, an increase in value must be met with a similar decrease in the tax rate for taxes to remain the same as they were in prior years. I encourage you to visit williamsonpropertytaxes.org to review the information in August. A postcard reminder will be sent out in August about this website. Williamson Central Appraisal District does not set your tax rates, nor the amount of taxes paid. That is the responsibility of your taxing units, such as schools, cities, and counties, and as illustrated in the mathematical equation I gave you earlier in the presentation.
Also included in the notice, for the first time ever by any Appraisal District in our state, WCAD has included the properties used in the valuation of the home for most residential properties in our county. This is a huge step toward transparency, and one we have been working on for a number of years. We no longer are going to ask you to just trust us about the value that we send on our appraisal notice. We are going to show you how that value was determined. This included sales comparison grid, as illustrated on the screen right now, will include the three to five best comparable sales in your market area. They are adjusted for differences in the property, and yours. The final value determined from those sales is located in the lower left-hand corner of the sales grid, and is in a red box as indicated on your screen right now. This is the same value seen on the notice of appraised value on the front page. Our hope is that people will see how the value was determined, and make a decision based on this evidence, on whether to protest or not. On the back of that sales comparison grid is an explanation of all of the adjustments used using the grid to assist in your understanding.
Also included on our website, once you search for your property, you click on the red house icon, and once you click on that house icon, it takes you to the following page. This page will take you to market and neighborhood statistics. On the left and right are statistics about the market for residential sales from Texas realtors, as well as the Texas A&M real estate research center. In the center you will find subject property data at the top, neighborhood statistics, including the number of homes, year built, square footage, and the range in square footage within your neighborhood. Market statistics for your neighborhood, number of sales, median sale price, square footage of sales can also be located on this page. At the bottom and maybe the most interesting portion is the red view market map button, here on the screen. Once you click that, it will take you to a map of the area WCAD pooled sales from for the valuation of your property. Here is an example of that map. This map will highlight the area that sales were chosen from in blue. Each sale will be indicated by a dollar sign that occurred in the past year. Those used on the valuation of your property will be highlighted in yellow, and your property will be highlighted in red. No other Appraisal District in this state is this transparent on how your value was determined.
With all the information we have provided you, it is a time to make the decision to protest or not. In the next few slides, I will cover some of the considerations before deciding to protest. First, ask the question, is the market value higher than what I could have sold it for on January 1st. Review the sales comparison grid provided. If sales show the value is correct, there is no need to protest. Realtors can play a role here. If you contact them, please ensure they are providing you good comparable sales, and not just the lowest in the neighborhood. Our appraisers will review the sales provided by your realtor to us for comparability, considering quality, size, age, attributes, location, and that it was a good market transaction. If the answer to the question is yes, my market value is higher than what I could have sold it for on January 1st, next you must look at the assessed value. Remember that is the one that is capped at 10%.
When you are looking at the assessed value, you have to ask, is your opinion of market value more or less than the assessed value. Remember the assessed value is capped at 10% increase on homestead properties. If the market value went up 20% and your opinion is the market value should have been 12% more than last year, when your property was capped at a 10% increase, there is no tax savings to be gained by a protest. A lowered market value this year does not influence next year’s homestead cap value unless it goes below the assessed value in current year. The homestead cap value is determined from the prior year’s assessed value, not the market value, so the answer to this question is, if your opinion of value is higher than the assessed value, again, there is no need to protest.
Another consideration when deciding to protest is, has my home been equally and uniformly appraised with other properties like mine in the area. WCAD used the same methodology on all homes in the same area for valuation purposes. The comparable sales report on each home is on our website, under that property, for comparison purposes. Review the attributes and the adjustments on the sales comparison reports. Because the same methodology was used in comparable selection, and adjustments to comparable properties, there will be little to no adjustments made for equal and uniform protests. If the answer to the question is yes, my home was not equally and uniformly appraised, after reviewing these items, then consider filing a protest.
Also included on our website are webcast videos describing property inspections, protesting your property, how to file a protest, homestead exemption filing, and many more. These are to assist you as the property owner in answering some of the more commonly asked questions during this time of the year.
Next, I am going to turn the presentation over to the Williamson County Tax Office and Larry Gaddes, our Williamson County Tax Assessor Collector.
Hi everybody. As Alvin mentioned, my name is Larry Gaddes, and if you live or own property in Williamson County, I am your County Tax Assessor Collector. Let me tell you a little bit about what my office does.
In addition to collecting property taxes here in Williamson County, my office also renews the registration for over 450,000 vehicles registered here. We issue handicapped placards and license plates, and you visit my office if you are a new resident. Your dealership will also send paperwork to my office when you purchase a vehicle so that the state can issue a Texas title in your name. We also collect motor vehicle sales tax on behalf of the state of Texas. Some of the things we do concerning property taxes is collecting taxes for over 117 local taxing units, dispersing over 1.5 billion dollars last year to local taxing units like cities, schools, emergency services districts, and municipal utility districts. The tax office also determines tax ceilings for the disabled persons and 65 or over exemptions. We issue tax certificates, collect dealership’s vehicle inventory taxes, and TABC license renewal fees for the county.
Many people think that the tax office determines how much your property tax bill is going to be. While my office does calculate the amount of property taxes you owe, the numbers that we use to do that calculation come from the Appraisal District and the tax units that tax your property. As mentioned earlier, the calculation of value, times tax rate, equals top property taxes owed. Here I will walk you through the steps and time frames of that process. As Alvin mentioned, the Appraisal District works through the beginning of the year to determine the value of your property as of January 1st. In April, property owners are mailed a notice of appraised value, and are given the opportunity to protest the value with the Appraisal District. After the protest phase is complete and the majority of property values have been finalized, the Appraisal District delivers those finalized values to the taxing units and to my office. This typically happens near the end of July. My office will use those values and other data from the taxing units to calculate the no new revenue, and voter approval tax rates for taxing entities. The no new revenue rate is the tax rate a taxing unit would need to adopt in order to generate the same revenue that they received last year on the same properties that were taxed last year. Generally speaking, if a taxing unit and its property values are increasing, their no new revenue rate should decrease, meaning they can lower their tax rate and receive the same amount of property tax revenue that they received last year. Because their taxable value increased this year, the voter approval rate is the tax rate that allows the taxing unit to increase their maintenance and operations revenue by 3.5%. If a tax unit adopts a tax rate higher than their calculated voter approval rate, the voters in that taxing unit must approve the tax rate by vote in that year’s November general election. With the exception of several school districts that adopt their budget in June, most governing bodies of most taxing units in Texas are conducting meetings and having public hearings to adopt their budgets in August. Taxing units will then have meetings and public hearings to determine and adopt the tax rate they will levy to fund their budgets.
Once my office receives the adopted tax rates from all of the taxing units in Williamson County, we will calculate and mail the tax bills. My office typically mails bills in the middle of October. My office then disburses the tax dollars collected back to the taxing units that levied a tax on your property. There are some details I would like to expand upon concerning the tax bills that we mail to property owners. As mentioned before, we generally mail our tax bills around the third week of October. Technically, taxes are due upon receipt of the bill and are considered delinquent if not paid in full by January 31st. Any remaining balance due will incur 7% penalty and interest, or P. and I. on February 1st. On the first of each month, the P. and I. percentage increases on any unpaid balance. Property owners with a 65 or over or disabled person exemption are allowed to pay their property taxes in four equal installments without incurring penalty and interest, if paid by the end of each month in January, March, May, and July. Mortgage companies tell our office which properties they are paying property taxes on. Our office will send an electronic file to those mortgage companies so they can pay the property taxes for the accounts that they escrow. If you escrow your property taxes with your mortgage company, you will not receive a tax bill. Your mortgage company will receive that bill and pay your taxes on your behalf. Typically, mortgage companies pay the taxes the second or third week of December. You can visit our website at www.wilco.org/taxoffice to watch a video on how to print a receipt.
The question that always gets asked is: what can I do to lower my tax bill? As discussed previously by Alvin, you should protest your value if you have evidence that shows that your value should be lower. The second thing you can do, is to make sure that you apply for all of the appropriate exemptions for which you may qualify. I want to make note that you do apply for exemptions at the Appraisal District, not at the tax office. The Appraisal District will review your application and approve any exemptions. They will then provide that information to my office so that we can calculate your tax bill with the appropriate exemptions. We will go into more detail on exemptions on the next slide. The last thing available to taxpayers, and that is the one thing that most people do not do, is attend the budget and tax rate hearings for the taxing units that tax your property. On any given year 50,000 to 60,000 people will protest the value of their property, and almost no one attends or speaks at the budget and tax rate hearings held by their taxing units.
As I mentioned, one of the things that you can do to have an impact on your tax bill is to ensure that you have all of the appropriate exemptions for which you qualify. The three main exemptions that are available to homeowners are the homestead exemption, the 65 and over exemption, and the disabled person exemption. The impact to your tax bill for each of these exemptions varies, depending on the taxing units that tax your property, the exemptions, and exemption amounts that they offer. It varies because the taxing units generally have the authority to adopt an exemption and decide how much that exemption will reduce your taxable value. For example, several cities in Williamson County choose to provide a homestead exemption, but not the 65 or over exemption, several others offer all three exemptions, and still others offer none of the exemptions. In general, the homestead exemption could save you anywhere between $300 and $400. Again, depending on where you live in the county. If you qualify for the 65 or over exemption, that could save you an additional $200 to $550 on your tax bill depending on where you live, and the disabled person exemption can save you anywhere between $150 and $500. Again, depending on where you live in the county. I do want to reiterate that the reason the savings for each exemption varies so widely, is because some taxing units offer the exemptions, and some do not. Additionally, you can have the 65 or over or disabled person’s exemption applied to your property, but you cannot have both of those exemptions. If the taxing unit offers both, you will be provided the exemption that provides you the greatest benefit if you qualify for both.
The last process that property owners can participate in, and quite frankly one of the vast one that the vast majority of people do not participate in, is the budget and tax rate meetings that are conducted by your taxing units. Typically, tax units begin crafting their annual budget in May or June, sometimes a little bit earlier, as well. They will have public hearings and adopt their budgets in August. It is important to note that the budgets adopted by your tax units will determine the tax rate needed to fund their budgets. The budget process for a taxing unit is as important as the tax rate adoption process in determining how much your tax bill will be each year. The tax units will adopt their tax rates in the months of August or September. Some school districts in our county are on an early fiscal calendar and adopt their budgets in June and then adopt their tax rates in August or September. There is a website where this information will be made available for property owners. You will receive a postcard in the mail on or around August 7th with the name of the website where you can go to find out about property tax related information specific to your property that website, williamsonpropertytaxes.org, is going to provide you a significant amount of information, including your property’s taxing units, their no new revenue, voter approval, their proposed tax rate for this tax year, your property’s value, and how those various tax rates would impact your taxes compared to last year. Also, on that website you are going to find the tax rate hearing times and locations for the tax units that tax your property.
Let us look at an example to show you what you are going to see on the website. If you go to williamsonpropertytaxes.org you can search for your property using the owner’s name, or address of your property. In this example we see this is a property that has taxing units that include the City of Georgetown, Georgetown ISD, Williamson County, and Williamson County Farm to Market Road as taxing units. We see last year’s taxes, this year’s no new revenue rate, this year’s voter approval rate, and the taxing units proposed tax rate. On the far right we see the difference your taxes would be between each taxing unit, its proposed tax rate, and the no new revenue rate. Remember the no new revenue rate is the rate that the taxing unit would need to adopt.
To take that would technically not raise taxes for that taxing unit. You will see your estimated total tax bill for each of these rates. For each unit you can choose to see a graphic of what your taxes would be at the various rates. You can choose a specific taxing unit, or all of them, to see what your total taxes would be for each of the various rates. Also on this website you will find the taxing and its physical and website addresses, as well as a contact email for the taxing unit. The times, dates, and locations of the meetings required to be held by the taxing unit when adopting their tax rates will be posted on this website as well.
Near the bottom of your property’s detail page will be a place where you can provide feedback to each of your tax units. This is your opportunity to participate in the tax rate adoption process. Here you will be able to share your opinion and any comments you may have about the proposed tax rates for each of your taxing units. The information will be shared directly with each of the governing bodies for each of your taxing units. To reiterate what I have said previously, this is one part of the process that ultimately determines how much your tax bill will be each year. One important item to note, is that data about proposed tax rates, public hearings dates, and times can only be posted as it is determined by the taxing units. Most taxing units will not have this information determined until after August 7th, or after you receive the postcard, so please refer back to this website often to look for new information being posted about your specific taxing unit.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the information provided in this presentation. Next, we will have some coffee talk with the Chief Appraiser and the Tax Assessor Collector.
Hi, I am Alvin Lankford. I am the Chief Appraiser of Williamson Central Appraisal District. I am Larry Gaddes, and I am the Tax Assessor Collector for Williamson County. We are going to answer some frequently asked questions from both of our offices today as a part of our town hall meeting this year.
First one that I have Alvin, that I know my, probably both of our offices get is, and I referred to it in one of my slides, about how much a homestead exemption can save a homestead owner. Somebody that lives in their house, and that is their homestead, they have got the exemption on the property, it will save them some money on their tax bill. What other benefits are there to having your homestead exemption on a property. In an increasing year when market values are increasing, there is a homestead cap applied to all homestead properties. That is 10% on the assessed value, so the assessed value last year plus 10% this year. I also mentioned that in a few of my slides, where we have been asked that question quite a bit this year. With the large increase in market value of homes, keep in mind the market value is determined based on the sales in your area, and can go up to whatever percentage is necessary to meet those sales. However, the assessed value can only go up 10% from last year’s assessed value. Keep in mind, if you protest your value this year, you are protesting the market value of your property. A change to the market value does not necessarily indicate a change in your taxes for this year either, unless it drops below the assessed value that is located on your notice as well. So, let us just say, my value goes up 17% this year on my homestead property. If I come to the Appraisal District and protest my value, and I get my value lowered 5%, is that going to have an impact on my tax bill? It will not unfortunately. A lowering of a market value that is still above the assessed value has no impact on the taxes for this year. I mentioned that in my slides that it really does not help to protest a value if you do not believe it is going to drop below the assessed value unless you just want to experience the protest process. You do have some fantastic videos of how you protest your property, and exactly what that protest process looks like from the time you walk into your building to the to the time you sit down with an appraiser, and if you go before the ARB. I really do recommend as a property owner that you go to wcad.org and watch those videos so you know exactly what to expect when you do protest your property.
Larry, we have a question that often occurs on at our office as well, on the over 65 and the disabled persons exemption. What other benefits are associated with those two exemptions? If you have an over 65 or disabled person’s exemption on your property, not only may you also get an additional exemption amount reducing your taxable value, so when we calculate your taxes, it will reduce the taxable value and thus reduce your taxes as well. I covered that on a previous slide, as well how much an over 65 or disabled persons exemption can save a person on their tax bill. One of the other benefits of those two exemptions, specifically for the school district, is that it will freeze your taxes that you pay to the school district in the year that you qualify for that exemption. What that means, many people think that it freezes your value or something else concerning your tax bill. It does not freeze the value if you have an over 65 or disabled person’s exemption on your property. What it will do, is freeze the taxes that you paid specifically to the school district in the year that you qualified for that exemption. There are other taxing entities that have the ability, or the option to freeze your taxes as well. The three types of entities that have the option to freeze are cities, counties, and junior colleges. In Williamson County of course we know the cities that we have in the county, but ACC is a junior college. The Williamson County Commissioner’s Court had the option to choose to freeze your taxes, they have chosen to freeze your taxes. The Williamson County Commissioner’s Court back in 2004 opted to freeze taxes for over 65 and disabled persons exemptions. If you live in the county, your county taxes will freeze your county road and bridge taxes will freeze, and your school district taxes will freeze depending on which city you live in. That city’s taxes may freeze as well, so that is one of the other benefits that you get from an over 65 or disabled person’s exemption is the freezing of taxes. I know that there are certain circumstances where freezes will change over time. You know it is a freeze would indicate to me that it will never change in the future however, if you want to explain when they will change. Yes, your freeze could change if you add an improvement to your property, such as if you build a pool. If you establish your freeze, let us say in 2019, you decide to build a pool in 2020, then the Appraisal District adds that value to the property, we are going to calculate the amount of taxes just for the pool in the year that it was built, and using that value for that year and the tax rates for that year and add that to your freeze amount to recalculate and reset your freeze. You can also play pay less than your freeze and quite honestly then your freeze is more of a ceiling, because that is the most you can pay you can pay, less if the math works out to where your taxable value and your tax rate calculate to be less than your freeze amount, or your ceiling. In that year you will pay less. You do not get your freeze reset at that lower amount, you just pay that lower amount that year, and then if the math works out, the following year that you pay more. You will come up to your ceiling, or your freeze amount, and pay that amount then.
There has been a lot of questions, people are calling my office asking about what the estimated taxes are for their property now that they have got their appraised value, and that estimate of taxes is no longer on the appraisal notice. What happened to it? We are getting that question a lot at our office as well. There was a requirement in years past to have the estimated taxes located on the appraisal notice. However, Senate Bill 2 in the last legislative session, actually removed that requirement in favor of a more accurate estimate to be available later in the year. When values are increasing dramatically and rates are decreasing at different amounts, it is important to have an accurate estimate to look at when those things are being figured. Then Larry, you have some requirements as far as a postcard going out as well that you may want to address. Yes, the estimated taxes are no longer on the appraisal notice. What the legislature has done is, every county is required to have a website to have estimated taxes on it, and by August 7th of each year we are required to mail a postcard to all property owners in the county that gives you the name of the website. For Williamson County it is williamsonpropertytaxes.org. You will get a postcard in the mail sometime around August 7th that says go to williamsonpropertytaxes.org to see an estimate of your taxes. That website will have your 2021 value or this year’s appraised value populated for your specific property. It will also have information concerning all of your taxing units that tax your property. It is important to note that that website only has information on it as it is provided to us by the taxing unit. On August 7th most taxing units in the county will not have proposed their tax rate, so they do not have a proposed tax rate. They will not have determined the date, time, and location of when they are going to have the public hearing to adopt their tax rates, so you need to go to that website, I would say at least once a week, to check back every week, because as we get that information from the taxing units, and there are 117 taxing units in Williamson County, as we get their proposed tax rates, and as we get the meeting dates for their public hearings, and the times and locations of those hearings, we are going to add those to the website. You will want to go to that website probably weekly throughout the month of August to get all of that updated information so you know what those taxing units are doing that will affect the tax bill that you get in October from my office. In the meantime, if you are curious about the estimated taxes, I will give kudos to Larry’s office. You provide a tax estimator on your website as well, however, keep in mind that that will be using your pre-certified value. In other words, the preliminary value, and it will be using last year’s tax rates, which was the same inaccurate estimate that was provided on appraisal notices in the past. I know many of you are curious about what the new value may do to your property, so that is available. It is a link that is on your website. If you search your property on my website, that is at tax.wilco.org/Tax-Estimator, you can search for your specific property, then click on an icon at the top that says Estimated Taxes. It will bring up all the information of all the tax units that tax your property. What you will need to do is put in your custom amount because we have last year’s taxable value, we do not have that information from your office, yet we do not know what 2021 values are from your office yet, so we still have all the information on our tax estimators from 2020. You will click on custom amount, put in your 2021 value from the Appraisal District. It will still have the 2020 tax rates from the taxing entities so right now in May, June, and July, that will be the closest estimate that you could get to what your tax bill might be for 2021 is using our tax estimator, and then as the taxing units are proposing their tax rates in the month of August and September, go to williamsonpropertytaxes.org to get a much more accurate tax rate. A proposed taxes or tax estimate of what your tax bill might be with the proposed tax rates, and your new value for your property. Keep in mind we are emphasizing the accuracy of the estimate in August. There are some reasons for that. This year, as you know, values increased dramatically. I think the average value was up 19% on a homestead and last legislative session the legislation came out to limit the revenue on the taxing units. Specifically, the ISDs are limited to 2.5%, cities, counties, and other taxing units are limited to 3.5%. That would mean with a 19% increase on average, that all of our taxing units are going to need to lower their rate to get below the no new revenue rate as required by the tax code. Those estimates that are coming out in August will reflect a much more accurate estimate based on this year’s value and those lower grades that will occur this year. Please check back. There is one additional point I know Larry I like to make when we are talking to the public, and that is there is a high participation level at the at the protest value portion of this tax equation. People come into our office here at the Appraisal District anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 people a year to protest their value, but miss out on the tax rate side of that equation. When the taxing units are having their tax rate hearings, and now Larry you and I talk about that yearly, how many people typically show up at a tax rate hearing. I have seen two people speak at the Williamson County Commissioner’s public hearing when they adopt their tax rate. Two people out of 600,000 residents in the county speak when the county is adopting its tax rate, and for school districts and cities, it is rare that anybody speaks at those public hearings. I agree that is the one part of the tax the process that determines your taxes. That is the one part that almost no one ever participates in. You are right Alvin; we do encourage folks to participate in that process. That website that we spoke of williamsonpropertytaxes.org, it has a section in it that gives you the ability to let the governing bodies of your tax units. That is the city councils, the board of trustees for the school districts, your ESD board of directors, your MUD board of directors, your Williamson County Commissioners. You can fill out a survey that says you approve or do not approve of the tax rate that they are adopting and then it gives you a section where you can leave a comment. Those survey responses and those comments will be delivered to your governing bodies of the taxing units that tax your property. Be sure to either attend those meetings or fill out the section in that property and that website where you can provide your opinion to those governing bodies. That is an important piece of this. This process that very few people take part in, and we encourage that that they do, because they need every taxpayer should have their voices heard, and if your calendar is as busy as ours, I am sure you are going to want to know exactly when those occur. As Larry mentioned, they will be filled in over time. Starting in August there is a unique function on this website, that once they have announced when their tax rate hearing will be, you can actually click on that and add it directly to your calendar to remind you when to attend those hearings. I highly encourage participation on both sides of the equation for property taxes as I mentioned earlier in the slides of my part of the presentation today.
Alvin, I bought my house, it was a new construction when I purchased it, and I noticed that the square footage on my home is different what the Appraisal District has compared to what the builder told me my square footage is. Can you explain a little bit about that? Sure can. Very common misconception that those two square footages should match. The builder is selling the home based on the interior measurements. In other words, what is heated and cooled in that particular home. When we are measuring properties, we do not have interior access to most properties, so we are measuring from brick ledge to brick ledge on the outside of the home, and so every measurement we take is going to include your exterior wall, which can be six to eight inches in depth all the way around your home, twice if you have two story. Typically, the Appraisal District measurements will be higher than your builder’s measurements, but unless there is a significant difference our measurements, again are based on the outside and are likely accurate, we also verify them utilizing aero photography, so we will actually overlay our sketch on top of the aero photograph of your home to verify the accuracy of our exterior measurements. Does not that larger square footage mean that I am paying, or that you are valuing my home higher than everybody else because of the square footage? There is a price per square foot, but if my home is larger than what the builder says, does that mean that I am getting valued at a higher amount than everybody else? Great question. No. To answer that very shortly, since we are using the same measurement standard for all homes in every scenario, every neighborhood, we are valuing your home based on the square footages we have, not what your builder has, so it is not like others are paying on the builder square footage and you are paying on our square footage. You are all paying on the square footage that we have measured from the outside, and if I remember correctly, you also have a fantastic video about how appraisers measure properties, and that video is on your website as well. Right, it is. In fact, all of our videos are located on our website. The easiest way to obtain them is on our home page. If you will scroll down, on the right-hand side of the home page, will be webcast videos link. Just click there and we have a list of eight to ten videos explaining how we do what we do here at the Appraisal District. I highly encourage you go out and watch those. Awesome. We are going to segue the time adjustment conversation and hopefully kind of marry it up to the square footage conversation.
I have noticed, if you protest your value, your appraisers will have a conversation with property owners about a time adjustment. Can you explain exactly what that is and how you implement a time adjustment when you are valuing property? There is two ways to look at the time adjustment. If you have a recent purchase of your home, when I say recent, from January 1st of the prior year, in this case January 1st of 2020 through about February or March of current year 2021, we are going to look at the sales price of that home and adjust it to a January 1st value valuation date, which is when we are required to value your home, and as you know, or if you do not. Yeah, I am sure you can read any local paper, the real estate market is booming right now for residential properties, so you can imagine a sales price that happened on a home back in June of last year, that particular home would sell for more than that sale price come January 1st. What we do is, we study the difference in the market value over time of all of those sales. If you had a sale in June, we are going to adjust that value up to what it was on January 1st. The same thing goes for any of the comparable properties that we are using to value your home. If you are not a recent sale, if you did not buy your home in the past year, we are going to look at the sales that did occur in that same time frame from January 1st of 2020 through about February of 2021, and we are going to adjust those sale prices to that same January 1st appraisal date. The reason we do that is because we are required by law to be 100% of market value on January 1st. If we use sales from earlier in the year and did not adjust them to the current value as of January 1st, our valuation would be actually lower than required by law.
I noticed something different this year. Not only does my notice of appraised value for my property not have the estimated taxes on it, but there was another sheet of paper in there that had a grid on it that looked a whole lot like the fee appraiser comp grid when I financed my home, and it had my property and a bunch of comparables, and told me how the bank valued my property. Why is that new piece of paper in my appraisal notice? One simple answer is transparency. For years people have protested their value that we send them, not knowing why the value increased to what it was. We have been working on this for a number of years to include as much information in the appraisal notice as to how we valued your home, so when you are making that decision on whether to protest or not, you have the information in front of you to make that decision. What Larry is referring to I also refer to in my slide presentation, is a sales comparison grid which is basically a fancy name for the sales that occurred in your neighborhood that we found are the most comparable to your property. We are looking at those sales we adjust them for any differences between their property and yours, and we come to a value conclusion on the bottom of that sales comparison grid. That is the exact same number that you were going to see on the front page of the appraisal notice, so you know exactly how that number was determined, whereas in prior years you had to just trust us, as your local government, that we were doing it correctly. We are giving you that information now to show how we got there. I guess one of the reasons in my mind that I may want to protest my values if I see those comps, and I have a realtor that is a friend of mine, and I asked him to take a look at my neighborhood, and there is a comp a comparable home that is sold within the appropriate time frame that is not on the comp grid, could I come in and provide that information? Can I protest my value and provide that information to your office? Absolutely. I would encourage you to look at those comparable sales provided to your realtor. I talk to realtors all the time about this particular part of the equation, is do not give your clients sales that only represent the lowest end of the market we are going to see those and immediately discount them if one, they are not an arm’s length, or a typical market transaction, but also if they are not comparable to the subject property. Many times, what we find out is, they will do a price comparison just on the price per square foot, and they will grab larger homes in the subject property and give them to their client. We are going to look at those properties as less comparable to your property because they are not the same square footage, or similar, so keep in mind the homes that you want are ones that are similar quality, similar square footage, and similar age. These are ones that if they sold, you would think you know what my home could probably sell for. That is well what you are looking for. Let us say I have talked to my realtor, and they have given me homes in my neighborhood that have sold that are 300 square feet larger than my home, but the comparables that you have, that you will actually use to value my property, are 50 to 100 square foot smaller or larger. They are a better comparable to my home. I sit down with an appraiser, he identifies the facts there, and says I am sorry, but we are not able to use these comps because our comps are better and closer comps to my property, and we and we decide, okay, you are not going to change the value of my property because of the better comps, and I am not agreeing to that. What is the next step in that process? What you just described is, when you first come in and meet with the appraisal staff, we are going to send you a letter typically, unless you signed up for a date and time to come see us. We will send you a letter of when to come into our office. The first thing you will do is, you will get checked in at our front counter and you will then go back to see an appraiser. We call that your informal meeting with an appraiser. They are going to do exactly what Larry just described. We are going to look at the evidence that you provide. We will review our evidence with you. We may even co-mingle the two pieces of evidence into a value determination. If we then cannot come to an agreement on the value of your home, then you can proceed directly to the Appraisal Review Board hearing. Keep in mind that the date and time that you received on your appraisal notice is not necessarily a date and time to meet with the informal appraiser. That is a date and time to meet with the Appraisal Review Board. I refer to this in my slide presentation, but the Appraiser Review Board is a group of citizens that are appointed by the administrative law judge here in Williamson County to do just that. They are here to listen to property owner’s evidence versus the Appraisal District’s evidence and make a value determination. Once they have done that, there are even further options. If you still disagree, going through a binding arbitration process, District Court, or through the State Office of Administrative Hearings. There are many options available to you if you disagree with the actions taken.
Alvin, I have received my notice of appraisal value for my property. I see on that notice that the deadline to protest is May 17th this year. Typically, it is May 15th, but that falls on a weekend, so you get property owners until May 17th to protest. That is a an extremely important date. Make sure if you feel you have evidence to show, that your value should be lower, you have to file that protest by May 17th. It has to be postmarked by May 17th, or you can go online. That is something that I do, and I do encourage folks. Most properties, especially if you live in a neighborhood where you have one or two builders in that neighborhood, and they all build homes, they kind of look the same. You might have the ability to protest online, and that will be noted on your notice of appraised value that you have the ability to file your protest online. In some instances, you even have a system set up to where the computer will generate the comps and provide that, but that comp grid is what is, so you can file your protest online. If I decide that I want to come in and speak with an appraiser and go through and experience that process, what do I need to do. There is two ways to go about it. You have now filed your protest with our office, so we will inevitably send you a date and time to come in and see us. However, if you want to choose that date and time, there is actually an online schedule function that is available on our website as well you can actually go through. When you went in and did the online protest, you logged in so you will go through that same login process, and then you can choose an available date and time that you want your hearing. However, I will say there are limited spots available for that. We have until July 20th for the Appraisal District to be completed with the role. Most of the protests have to be completed by that time, so with that limited amount of time, we have to schedule everything throughout the next few months. That means we cannot open them all up to online scheduling, so if there are not any spots available when you go into our website and want to schedule a time, keep checking back because there are time slots that open up. As we see the calendar fill up or not, we will open up slots to help the calendar fill up better so we can better maximize our time, and get through as many protests as possible in the coming months.I noticed something different this year. Not only does my notice of appraised value for my property not have the estimated taxes on it, but there was another sheet of paper in there that had a grid on it that looked a whole lot like the fee appraiser comp grid when I financed my home, and it had my property and a bunch of comparables, and told me how the bank valued my property. Why is that new piece of paper in my appraisal notice? One simple answer is transparency. For years people have protested their value that we send them, not knowing why the value increased to what it was. We have been working on this for a number of years to include as much information in the appraisal notice as to how we valued your home, so when you are making that decision on whether to protest or not, you have the information in front of you to make that decision. What Larry is referring to I also refer to in my slide presentation, is a sales comparison grid which is basically a fancy name for the sales that occurred in your neighborhood that we found are the most comparable to your property. We are looking at those sales we adjust them for any differences between their property and yours, and we come to a value conclusion on the bottom of that sales comparison grid. That is the exact same number that you were going to see on the front page of the appraisal notice, so you know exactly how that number was determined, whereas in prior years you had to just trust us, as your local government, that we were doing it correctly. We are giving you that information now to show how we got there. I guess one of the reasons in my mind that I may want to protest my values if I see those comps, and I have a realtor that is a friend of mine, and I asked him to take a look at my neighborhood, and there is a comp a comparable home that is sold within the appropriate time frame that is not on the comp grid, could I come in and provide that information? Can I protest my value and provide that information to your office? Absolutely. I would encourage you to look at those comparable sales provided to your realtor. I talk to realtors all the time about this particular part of the equation, is do not give your clients sales that only represent the lowest end of the market we are going to see those and immediately discount them if one, they are not an arm’s length, or a typical market transaction, but also if they are not comparable to the subject property. Many times, what we find out is, they will do a price comparison just on the price per square foot, and they will grab larger homes in the subject property and give them to their client. We are going to look at those properties as less comparable to your property because they are not the same square footage, or similar, so keep in mind the homes that you want are ones that are similar quality, similar square footage, and similar age. These are ones that if they sold, you would think you know what my home could probably sell for. That is well what you are looking for. Let us say I have talked to my realtor, and they have given me homes in my neighborhood that have sold that are 300 square feet larger than my home, but the comparables that you have, that you will actually use to value my property, are 50 to 100 square foot smaller or larger. They are a better comparable to my home. I sit down with an appraiser, he identifies the facts there, and says I am sorry, but we are not able to use these comps because our comps are better and closer comps to my property, and we and we decide, okay, you are not going to change the value of my property because of the better comps, and I am not agreeing to that. What is the next step in that process? What you just described is, when you first come in and meet with the appraisal staff, we are going to send you a letter typically, unless you signed up for a date and time to come see us. We will send you a letter of when to come into our office. The first thing you will do is, you will get checked in at our front and you will then go back to see an appraiser. We call that your informal meeting with an appraiser. They are going to do exactly what Larry just described. We are going to look at the evidence that you provide. We will review our evidence with you. We may even co-mingle the two pieces of evidence into a value determination. If we then cannot come to an agreement on the value of your home, then you can proceed directly to the Appraisal Review Board hearing. Keep in mind that the date and time that you received on your appraisal notice is not necessarily a date and time to meet with the informal appraiser. That is a date and time to meet with the Appraisal Review Board. I refer to this in my slide presentation, but the Appraiser Review Board is a group of citizens that are appointed by the administrative law judge here in Williamson County to do just that. They are here to listen to property owner’s evidence versus the Appraisal District’s evidence and make a value determination. Once they have done that, there are even further options. If you still disagree, going through a binding arbitration process, district court, or through the State Office of Administrative Hearings. There are many options available to you if you disagree with the actions taken.
Larry, a question that occurs probably more often than I would like, it to is how do I protest my taxes. I we get that question all year long. Although it usually gets asked after people get their tax bills, and you know the answer, that we have to give, that my office gives, is that there is no such thing in the Texas property tax code as protesting your taxes. You have, and we have discussed this thoroughly. You have the ability to protest your value if you feel that you have evidence that shows that your value should be lower, and you can go through that process with the Appraisal District at your office. Then we have talked about also the opportunity for property owners, taxpayers, to engage in the process of talking to their taxing units, the governing bodies of their taxing units, and letting them know how they feel about the tax rates that are being adopted. I think more importantly, the budgets that are being adopted, because at the end of the day, a budget gets adopted by a tax unit, let us say a city or your school district. That budget gets adopted. They get the values from your office of how much value they can tax, and then they get to determine a tax rate that they implement to generate revenue to fund their budget. That is growth, so they adopt a budget, and then they adopt a tax rate to fund that budget. There is really two pieces, and we have talked a little bit about the tax rate hearing, or the public hearing to adopt the tax rate. There is also a very big piece of this that is not included in our slides here, but I have touched on in my discussion, is when they are adopting budgets, typically taxing units are talking about and discussing budgets literally starting now in May, June, July. They adopt their budgets in August, then they adopt their tax rates in August or September. Those are the pieces of the equation where people do not participate or very few people participate. Again, I am encouraging taxpayers, please let your governing bodies or your taxing units know what you are okay with, what they are putting into their budgets, and how they are spending your tax dollars, but also with what you are willing to do without so that they can reduce their budget and reduce their tax rates, which ultimately, hopefully reduces your tax bill. Let them know that information specifically, but once you receive your tax bill in October, you have exhausted your remedies. Your remedies are exhausted. The deadlines for you to take action on doing anything to lower your tax bill have been have passed. They have exhausted. May 17th is the deadline to file your protest for your value, and typically in August and September the taxing units are having their public hearings when they are adopting their budgets, and their tax rates, and if you do not voice your opinion there, you have now missed the two opportunities to participate in the process of those two determinations. Value, times tax rate, equals your tax bill, so in October you no longer have the ability there. That ability does not exist, so therefore that is why we say you cannot protest your taxes. Larry touches on a great point here as well. I know no one wants to pay more taxes, including Larry and I. However, when you are deciding on that, you got to keep in mind what are you willing to do without. There are services provided by our taxing units, the school system for our children, the roads that we drive on daily, the police services, and fire services that we take advantage of. All of those are important parts of the budgets that are out there for our taxing units. I encourage you to take part in that side of the equation, but come armed with the facts. Actually, look at the budget, determine which parts of those as a citizen you are willing to do without, or at least not have an increase in those parts of the budget, and talk about those when you are talking with the city council. Just coming up there and saying I do not want increases in taxes, that is one point, but being very specific on where the cuts could be made, I think we will have a much greater impact on the city councilmen, the school board members, the county commissioners on exactly where they could cut. Absolutely great point.
All right, thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate the time you spent with us, and hopefully you enjoyed, and found our video informative, and we look forward to seeing you at the tax rate hearings as well as throughout the protest season here at the Appraisal District. Thank you very much, and again, if you have any questions about anything we have discussed, please feel free to contact our offices.