Do-It-Yourself Stimulus? The Rise of the Property Tax Protests

Image of a row of houses backlit by the sun with fluffy clouds in a mostly blue sky. Captioned: The Rise of the Property Tax Protests

For years running, Texans have been protesting their property taxes. This year (2021), Texas homeowners had until May to object to their county assessors’ valuations of their homes. When they win their cases, their homes’ market prices don’t change. But their tax bills do.

County procedures enable Texas homeowners to contest their property tax assessments. Some Texans now regard the process as a necessary savings strategy in a challenging economy.

Why Texans Notice Their Property Taxes

Texas has no income tax. For a lot of its revenue, the state relies on property taxes. Texans are, therefore, especially sensitive to their property tax assessments. And they pay above-average rates.

The average Texas household pays in the area of 1.69% or $6,000 a year. Homeowners can shave a decent amount off by protesting their assessments. In Dallas County, about half of the households that protest their taxes do receive a break. On average, they win a tax reduction of $600.

This year, hundreds of homeowners in Bexar and Wilson Counties are looking to cut their bills, too. They’ve received government notices that their property appraisals went up — enough to hike up their taxes. Owners in San Antonio, Lubbock and other cities are now in the process of contesting the assessments. Some say the small bands of appraisers employed by their counties can’t possibly issue careful, individualized assessments for all of their homes.

Real Estate Agents Join the Movement

Real estate agents support the protests by sharing comparable property values with residents. For an example, see Wilson County’s Taxpayers Association Facebook page. This support can be much more helpful than just sending people to Redfin, Zillow, and to look up comparable properties’ prices. Local and active agents offer local knowledge, precision, their professional reputations, and their in-person guidance.

In fact, specific information — whether by mail, social media, or seminars — plays a vital role in a successful tax protest surge. Research done at the University of Texas found that a big reason people don’t object to their tax assessments involves the “hassle cost” — the expected time and effort it will take to understand the process.

Outside of the hassle cost, there’s no protest fee. Yet learning how to effectively submit objections does take time. Research shows that homeowners need such resources as (a) step-by-step guidance through the submission process; and (b) example arguments that demonstrate to the government why the tax assessment should be reduced.

How Local Property Assessments Work

When searching for homes, buyers know to check the property taxes — which could go up when a home is sold and reassessed. What is the formula? County assessors multiply their local tax rate by the property’s value. The result is usually significantly lower than the full market value. Yet tax rates vary widely by city or county across the nation. On average, property tax revenue amounts to slightly more than one percent of home values across the United States.  

Most of us never question, let alone protest, our property taxes. The bills are easily ignored, at least as long as a mortgage lasts. Owners simply make their mortgage payments every month by rote — often by setting up an automatic bank debit on the mortgage servicer’s website. The mortgage servicer typically pays the taxes out of the reserves in escrow. Of course, it’s the owner who’s continually topping off the escrow account. But with the servicer sending the taxes to the county, an owner need not keep track of local taxes. Lenders prefer this arrangement, because it ensures that these taxes are promptly and fully paid.

The mortgage servicer is just one player on the stage of a mortgage loan. Learn more: On Stage and Behind the Scenes in a Mortgage.

If an owner who’s supposed to pays taxes directly forgets to pay, the government records a lien on the home. Ultimately, the home could even wind up in a city or county auction, enabling the government to collect the overdue debt, interest and penalties.

How to Protest Your Own Property Taxes

Homes should be assessed individually. A county appraiser should take into account any visible home improvements — additions, pools, accessory dwelling units, etc. Yet the upgrades done on individual homes aren’t the only triggers for new tax assessments. Sometimes, the county has a pressing need for revenue and meets it by upping property taxes.

But has the county gone too far, with respect to your own property value? It could be worthwhile to examine your home’s assessment, particularly if:

  • Property values go down in your area. Do you have evidence that your local assessor’s office isn’t accounting for lower valuations of your property or the surrounding area? You might need to pay for an appraiser to obtain convincing evidence of your own home’s change in value. (Some counties accept independent appraisers’ reports. Others may not.)
  • Your home’s assessment is incorrectly based. Maybe the county is mistaking your three-bedroom home for a four-bedroom home. Maybe the exterior of your home was incorrectly measured. To benefit from corrections, contact the county as early as possible in the tax cycle.
  • Comparable homes in your area are taxed less. Ask the assessor’s office to reassess your home if it’s unfairly burdened compared to others. If you do not succeed, certified property tax arbitrators or property tax consultants can take your case to the appeals level. Note that there are costs to the homeowner at the appeals stage. 

Each property’s assessment impacts the valuation of the surrounding area. In other words, each lowered tax bill helps everyone in the area keep their bills down.

The Silver Lining of Property Taxes?

Image of a young person likely at school.

Counties reassess homes annually, or every few years. But those assessment tend to go up only as property values do. Property value appreciation is, of course, a good thing. It means the homeowner is building equity. In uncertain economic times, the rise of home equity is financially reassuring.

Plus, property taxes are beneficial to homeowners to the extent that they make the area around a home safer and more appealing. Tax revenue supports property values by funding amenities, services, and infrastructure.

So, property taxes keep the streets cleaned and cleared. They keep the lights on at the local library. And let’s not forget the school districts! Funding them pays off big-time in real estate values. Redfin says home buyers will pay $50 extra per square foot for a house in a top-tier rather than an average school zone. Redfins adds:

This means that the price differences for similar homes located near each other but served by different schools can range from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When property taxation is well-planned, you get what you pay for. In addition, as we see in the case of Texas, local governments are directly accountable to the people they tax. People have a say in how the taxes are calculated in the first place, and they have ways to protest if reassessments are too burdensome.

States and counties also allow varied ways of offsetting these taxes. Exemptions exist for veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities. Then there are homestead exemptions. In Texas, for example, owners with homestead exemptions for their primary residences benefit from a cap on the increase of assessments at 10% yearly. These exemptions stay on the homes as long as the owners live in them.

Want a deeper dive into how to offset your bills? Get more tips on How Not to Overpay Your Property Taxes from

In Short…

Property tax is a predictable way of funding projects and systems wherever people live. Of all the forms of taxation in the United States, only one form exists in all states and the District of Columbia: property tax. Then again, that doesn’t mean everyone agrees with the bill.

Supporting References

Liz Hardaway for the San Antonio Express-News: Don’t Like the Latest Appraisal of Your Property? Monday Is the Last Day to File an Appeal (May 15, 2021).

Camelia Juarez for Gray Television’s KCBD NewsChannel 11 (Lubbock, TX): How to Protest Your Property Appraisals (Apr. 20, 2021).

Morgan Foy for the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley: Those Darn Property Taxes! Insights From Texas Tax Protests (Nov. 20, 2020).

Photo credits: Paul Kapischka, via Unsplash; and Julia M. Cameron, via Pexels.