TaxTrim - Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is TaxTrim?
We are a company that helps homeowners determine if they are over-assessed, and if so, quickly and easily prepare a comprehensive case that proves that to their town officials, so they can get a significant reduction in their property taxes (often thousands of dollars per year).
Q: Why should I use this service?
Many people are over-assessed without even knowing it, and as a result, they are often wasting thousands of dollars every year on taxes that are too high for their home. Just like you carefully check your income tax statements to make sure you are not over-paying the government, you should do the same with your property taxes, which are often a significant part of your monthly budget.
Q: Why wouldn't my property taxes be fair?
Each town creates a list of all the properties in that town, and decides how much each one is worth. This number (the assessment) is supposed to be its market value (how much someone would pay for it), or else a set fraction of the market value. If your assessment accurately reflects the market value of your home, and everyone else' is accurate as well, then everyone will pay their fair share of the taxes that fund their town and school system.
But, as you can imagine, these numbers are highly subjective, and very similar houses often have very different assessments. Mass re-assessments are often performed by a hired company doing nothing but quick drive-bys. Our report lets you compare your house to the most similar houses in your neighborhood.
Q: What are my chances of success?
We estimate that between one-third and one-half of all homeowners have a decent chance of getting a tax reduction if they try. Since there is an element of random-ness about property assessments, we find that they fall on a Bell Curve, and people whose numbers are higher than average can make a case for a reduction. Even someone with average numbers might have a property that is not as nice as their neighbors, and can argue that they should be assessed lower. Of course, some people are also under-assessed, and they won't have a good argument to make. In any case, it's nice to know where you stand, and to know that you are not losing money needlessly. But if you find you are considerably "above average", our service could help you save a lot of money!
Q: How do I tell if I am over-assessed?
Honestly, being "over-assessed" is an opinion. But, we help translate that into real quantifiable numbers by comparing your home to dozens of similar homes nearby. If your numbers are consistently higher than average, that is a good sign that you could stand to be reduced (unless there is an obvious reason why your home is nicer than all the neighbors, like, you are on the ocean and they are inland a few blocks).
Q: What is the difference between the "Reality Check" and the "TaxTrim Toolkit"?
The "Reality Check" give you an analysis of your home's assessment compared to dozens of other similar homes near you, as well as recent sales of similar homes. You get charts detailing how you rank in each comparison, and an overall summary of your chances of success, if you decide to grieve your taxes.
The "TaxTrim Toolkit" gives you complete access to all the data on each home used in the analysis, plus tools that make it a snap to build a case that proves you are over-assessed. It also generates all the documentation you need to bring to your town officials.
Q: If I buy the "Reality Check" first, and then want to upgrade to the full "TaxTrim Toolkit", do I have to pay full price?
No, you will only pay the difference between the price of the two products. You will get full credit for your initial purchase.
Q: Will you represent me before my town or city?
No, we do not provide representation. You need to print out all of the documents, sign them, and then take them (or mail them) to your local assessor.
Q: Can I get someone else to represent me?
Yes, you can generally have someone else do this for you, using our documentation. There is usually a form to sign giving them that authority. This could be your lawyer, realtor, friend, etc. However, it is our belief that most homeowners are better off doing this themselves, since town officials are more apt to be charitable to the actual homeowner than to a third party.
Q: What is different if I live outside New York?
Our product is identical throughout the United States, with 2 exceptions:
Q: Can you explain the 4 types of data you provide?
- If you live in upstate New York (north of Westchester county), we can provide your data instantly. Otherwise, we need to acquire it, which normally takes us 1-3 business days (we will email you as soon as it is ready). We hope to have instant access nationwide in the near future.
- If you live outside New York State, we do not yet provide state grievance forms, so you will need to obtain them online or from your assessor and fill them out as well. But you will already have the main thing you need, which is detailed proof that you are over-assessed.
There are 2 ways to challenge your assessment: based on other assessments, or based on recent sales. Other sites will only tell you recent sales. We give you both. Clearly, when you compare your house to all of your neighbors (whether or not they have sold lately) you have much more data to work with, since only 2% of homes have sold recently. That makes it much easier to build a good case.
We provide 4 sets of data for you to use. You can think of them as being in concentric (but overlapping) circles:
- Sales – recent sales of similar homes – the 50 closest to your home. These are the best evidence to use in making your case, since their market value is clear based on the sale price. We typically recommend using 12 of these in your case.
- Very Similar – *assessments* of homes that are very similar to your own – again the 50 closest. This is the second best evidence to use. We recommend using 12 of these in your case also.
- Similar – assessments of less similar homes. These are not as ideal, but, if they are substantially closer to your home, you may want to use some of these also, because distance counts for a lot.
- Closest – assessments of the closest homes to yours of any kind (i.e. your closest neighbors). These may not be very similar to yours, though, and so should be used cautiously when building your case. But sometimes, you really want to include your next-door neighbor anyway…
Note that we focus on Value Per Square Foot – either the sale price per square foot, or the assessed value per square foot. This accounts well for small differences in size, and is commonly used by appraisers and assessors.
Q: How do I build my case?
You have two options: let our algorithms do it automatically, or do it yourself by choosing homes from the lists or the maps. You can also use the automatic approach, and then make adjustments. Our algorithm is pretty good (and we keep improving on it), but it can’t take into account things that you can, like neighborhood boundaries or lakes. So make sure you either build your case by hand, or carefully review what the algorithm presents for reasonable-ness.
Q: What do I do with the documents?
Our system will automatically generate the key documents you need to bring to your assessor – the case spreadsheet and the letter to the assessor. Click on “Edit Document Fields” on the “My Documents” tab to review or edit certain key pieces of information that will be used to produce these documents. In New York State, we also generate your Grievance Form and Small Claims Petition (other states to be added soon). And don’t forget pictures!
Q: What about pictures?
We strongly encourage you to add pictures to your case. First, take a picture of your own house, but don’t go out of your way to make it look especially nice. Then, drive by the properties used as comparables in your case. Take pictures of as many of them as you can, as long as they look at least as nice as your house. You’ll want to include all of these pictures as part of your case (nicely labeled).
Nothing makes an impression like pictures of a bunch of homes all similar to yours and all having lower assessments and sale prices (at least per-square-foot). Of course, some houses are down private driveways, so you may not be able to see all of them, but you are free to take any pictures you like from public roads.
Q: What are detracting features?
Anything that would make your house less valuable – e.g. flooding issues, noise problems, a bad roof. Be sure to point these out. You can easily add them to your Letter to the Assessor by using the “Edit Document Fields” button (there is a special section to add these, and they show up on your letter). At the end of this FAQ, we list some examples of things that might detract from the value of your home, but be creative – you may think of others too! When possible, document them with pictures or video.
Q: Are there specific dates I need to be aware of?
Yes! Definitely! There are specific deadlines for when you can grieve your taxes each year, and they vary state by state, town by town. If you miss the deadline, you will not have another chance for an entire year, so, be sure to either research these dates online, or simply call your local assessor’s office and ask.
There are other important deadlines for secondary appeals (e.g. small claims court), and applications for exemptions (reductions you may receive based on using your home as a primary residence, being a senior citizen or veteran, etc.)
However, the first step in all of this is usually having an informal meeting with your assessor, and that can be done any time of year. So, there is no need to wait until it is close to your deadline – better to do it in the quiet season.
Q: What if my assessment does not seem high compared to my neighbors?
Of course, anyone can build a case by simply pointing out homes with lower values than their own, and our tool certainly makes that easy. Or, you may point out things that detract from the value of your home, and make it less valuable than those neighbors (see a list of ideas below). Remember, being “over-assessed” is an opinion, and reasonable opinions can differ, even among professionals. Any homeowner is entitled to make a case for a reduction using the best evidence they can compile.
On the other hand, you may realize that you are in fact either fairly assessed, or under-assessed, and decide not to grieve your taxes. That is also valuable information, knowing that you have carefully checked your property taxes and they are indeed fair. It’s also why we have split our product into two parts, so you can pay less for the analysis than for the grievance tools (which not everyone needs).
Q: I have detailed questions about my specific case. Can you help research it?
We do not provide unlimited support, but we will attempt to answer your questions as best we can. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will try to respond in a timely fashion. In some cases, we may have to refer you to a local real estate professional for further assistance.
We also welcome comments and suggestions on how to improve our service. Please send your ideas to us also, at email@example.com, and thank you for using our service!
Things that may Detract from the Value of Your Home
Things near your house
- Road too close
- Neighbor too close
- Heavy or noisy traffic
- Unkempt homes
- Foreclosed homes
- Rental properties
- Bad neighbors
- Bad neighborhood
- Funeral Home
- Power plant
- Commercial buildings
- Farms (pesticides, odors)
- Fire station
- Police station
- Noise – dogs, sirens, parties, etc.
Features of your property
- Inground pool – high liability, expensive to maintain
- No garage or 1-car-only garage
- Flooding issues
- Shared driveway
- Lack of landscaping
- Bad homeowners association
- Unusual house for the neighborhood
- Major repairs needed
- Bad driveway or sidewalks
- Bad view
- Inability to subdivide
- Lack of sunlight
- Lack of trees
- Old trees close to house
- Inconvenient floor plan
- Small rooms
- Low ceilings
- Outdated kitchen or appliances
- Outdated bathrooms
- Bad roof
- Water damage
- Wet basement
- Lack of storage
- Lead, mold, asbestos, radon
- Old heating system
- Old electrical system
- Poor insulation
- Structural damage
- House bought at height of market but assessment never reduced
- House bought recently for less than the assessment