Pat Day, an HCAD employee (a residential field supervisor as of 2012), wrote in to demonstrate the level of scorn and contempt that HCAD employees have for the average taxpayer. At the HCAD Wall of Shame, we want every taxpayer to feel heard, so we don’t discriminate on posting complaints, and yes, some suffer from a misunderstanding of the byzantine workings of our state’s tax code, and we do our best to correct those misunderstandings when we can (with the help of our readers, many of whom are property tax professionals), but there are still a large number who have a legitimate complaint against HCAD and the ARB. Note that Day explicitly states he/she is basing his/her opinion that “most taxpayers are full of shit” on the comments of one property owner, he/she doesn’t even consider the legitimate complaints, only cherry-picks to insult the less-informed. This isn’t surprising, HCAD employees are well-practiced in cherry-picking information to serve HCAD’s best interests, whether it is picking only the highest-dollar comparables, or ignoring significant maintenance issues that should reduce the value of a property while considering superficial cosmetic improvements to be evidence that the property is “fully renovated.” And look at the language Day uses while representing him/herself as an employee of HCAD – the biased lack of professionalism is emblematic of the way the taxpayer is treated at HCAD.
After reading the property owner comments above, it is apparent that most taxpayers are full of shit. They are clueless regarding what market value represents and have no idea the difference between market and appraised values ( appraised value is your tax value). They write this bullshit due to the fact that their value wasn’t lowered in a hearing. They feel if they show up for their hearing they are entitled to a cut in value. THAT IS CRAP. I held hearings for 29 years at HCAD and believe me I know the property owner mindset after a hearing. If they get the value they are asking for then HCAD is the best govt. office on the planet. If they don’t get what they want then HCAD is the devils work. HCAD has seen this type of sour grapes for years and will continue to see it until they abolish appraisal districts.
Douglas House writes:
Does the Harris County Appraisal personal have the power to override the ARB decisions? If not can you explain this:
2013 Market Value: $108,409 2013: Appraised Value: $108,409
2014 Market Value: $113,000 2014: Appraised Value: $113,656
2015 Market Value: $132,565 2015: Appraised Value: $125,021
After ARB Hearing on November 16, 2015
2015 Market Value: $113,565 2015: Appraised Value: $113,656
2016 Market Value: $143,315 2016: Appraised Value: $125,021
After ARB Hearing on October 10, 2016:
2016 Market Value: $143,315 2016: Appraised Value: $125,021
On November16,2015 the Appraisal Board panel made a final decision on my 2015 protest setting a market value of $113,656 and appraisal value of $113,656 on my home.
less than two months later the Harris County Appraisal District changed it to $143,315 with a final appraisal of $125,021.
I filed another protest and had a hearing with the ARB and at this hearing the ARB panel said they were going by the new 2016 of market value of $143,315 and final appraisal of $125,021.
This time I submitted pictures of home repairs showing water damage and foundation problems needed and copies of houses in my area selling for as little as $105,000. This evidence was only glanced at by them and not considered by them with their decision. They listened and followed the appraiser’s charts showing houses in my areas that sold for more that the market value and agreed with every word he said not allowing me to ask him any questions, even the one that I asked him about houses selling for less in my area not being on his charts. I lost this hearing before I walked in the door the way it was run. My compliant is against all three ARB members. The ARB members present are as follows:
Elizabeth Fuisilier-Hynes (544) who was the chairman, Monika, M Weiss (303) and Richard Osborne (551)
I asked them about why the ARB decision in 2015 was changed. The ARB chairman stated that it would be considered at the end of the meeting. Each time I brought it up they would say the same thing. Before the meeting ended I asked about it again and they said that the meeting is over.
Talking about a cover up which I am still trying to understand why. It sure looks like the ARB panel had already made up their minds before the hearing started and trying to cover up the previous ARB decision of an appraisal of $113, 656 on November 16, 2015.
Can they do this legally? Is this how the government is run now?
My response to Douglas:
I want to first clarify and make sure I understand your situation clearly. You protested your 2015 appraisal, and the ARB lowered the market value to $113,656, and the appraised value accordingly. This final decision was made in November 2015.
Then two months later, you got your 2016 appraisal, with a 2016 Market Value of $143,315 and Appraised Value of $125,021.
There are a few things happening there.
1. Your 2015 appraisal is based on the value of your house as of January 1, 2015, regardless of whether you finally settled your appeal in November of 2015 or not. Your 2016 appraisal is based on the value of your house on January 1, 2016. So, there is a full year between your final 2015 market value of $113,656 and your 2016 market value of $143,315.
2. Every single appraisal year is a completely new year, taking place in a “vacuum”, so to speak, and so neither HCAD nor the ARB is bound by the decisions of the previous year. It sucks and it isn’t the way things should be, but it’s technically perfectly legal of them to have that attitude.
Now, disregarding evidence and being biased towards the appraisal district, ARB shouldn’t be doing that, but unfortunately over the last 5 years, that’s been the culture. The idea of the ARB being independent of the appraisal district like it is supposed to be is a total sham, but burden is on us, the taxpayers, to prove it. The way to do that is to file a suit in district court, which I had to do a few years ago. I was able to get them to settle out of court before we went to trial, and it still cost me about $1,000.
I do have some good news, though, something that you can do which will be cheaper and won’t have you reinventing the wheel and trying to convince an ARB panel every year about the condition of your house. I looked up your property’s physical condition and it is listed as “average”, but with the water damage and foundation issues you talk about, it’s very possible your house should be downgraded to “fair”, or maybe even “poor”, and your current grade adjustment of C be reduced to C- or D, which would be automatically taken into account in HCAD’s calculations of your home’s value every year, without you having to go in and argue the condition of your house every year.
Now, an authorized HCAD representative has heard your evidence on the condition of your house, and so HCAD was made aware of it, and an ARB panel had accepted your evidence, so HCAD should have updated your file to reflect this, but they never do (I know from experience). You have to take positive action to force them to amend your file. Here is how to do it:
1. Get a thorough home inspection from a reputable, licensed home inspector
2. Send a certified letter to HCAD stating that you are making a Texas Open Records Act request, asking to know who at HCAD determined the condition of your house, when that determination was made, and how. In the same letter, tell them that you are informing them that their condition rating of your house is in error and that you have a home inspection documenting the condition. Include the name of the inspection company, date of the inspection, and an overview of the findings, but don’t include a copy of the report just yet, you don’t want them picking it apart. Tell them you demand an HCAD appraiser come and inspect your house.
At this point, HCAD should contact you to schedule an appointment to come out and inspect your house. You’ll want someone there to keep them honest and point out to them all the problems with your house so they can’t say they didn’t notice them. Either get your home inspector to come out on the day of the appointment, or call someone like John Osenbaugh [(281) 531-4400] and hire him to do it.
Once the HCAD appraisers have seen the evidence for your home’s condition themselves, then they will change your home’s condition in your file, and this will be automatically taken into account in the appraisal every year.
Marcela Beltran writes:
First, why I can see only comments from 2012-2013 cases? Does this means no one is complaining no more? I doubt. I saw people very angry coming out from the offices, both at informal and formal hearings.
Anyways, my story is this:
My informal was yesterday 6/29/2016. I considered the worst service I ever experienced with a government employee. I wonder what type of qualification the HCAD requires to give employment. The training overall seems very obvious: don’t worry about the protests, evidence or the law, we have your back, just deny, deny. Use anything. This person was unable to understand a letter I show him saying that if applied on time I will be granted the residence exemption which I haven’t been granted yet of course.
I was always very skeptical that the HCAD is the only government institution that urges the tax payer not to use a profesional company, instead they prefer to deal with the owners as if they “really take more seriously the owners”. In the rest of government institutions all agree they rather deal with professionals since the ignorance of the average citizen is unbearable for them. Take the courts for example. Their openess to deal with the tax payer directly is the biggest lie posted on the Internet and in their government notifications. Of course! It is easier for them. Even with all the tools and understanding they know they can get away easier with a “regular” person than one that has any license on the field! But this big lie is not only backed up by them, but all the civilians than post somewhere their experiencences and their due diligence on this matters. I believe that are chosen to show the public the system is real.
It always happens to me. Median age woman, sometime socially pretty, how in the world she could know better? That is the judgement I always percieve. Besides my personal traumas, I have to say I work hard and I understand legislation by reading it. No need interpreters. So, when an Institution tells me they will work with me better that if I hire a professional I want to believe. But is false.
I also had my formal hearing with the ARB yesterday only because my appraisal officer “felt pity” for me since I have prepared my self beyond their imagination and have an extensive file, copied 4 times as their instructions required with my IRS returns, financial statements and all. It is important to mention that the officer at the informal even made jokes about my market value since I did buy the property higher than I should, but his comment about how he could raise the appraised value because of the amount I pay, is besides not having any supported acknowledgement in their own laws, insulting to my very little intelligence if you want to say, because that is precisely why there is a Tax Code! It cannot be done! But who thinks he really have red the tax code? I would presume right? Open eyes to reality: they don’t have to. They are employees only trained and instructed on the interpretation of that Tax code only.
All my preparation, understanding of their arbitrary formulas and all my evidence based on theirs did not make any change because they are trained to do so. It is quiet evident. Before I presented all, he made clear he couldn’t make any change. So, why the institution have this show for? Well, otherwise it wouldn’t be an open government, we wouldn’t have any rights! They cover themselves giving the public access, but it is all a lie. We do not have any rights and if we do they don’t listen to them by training.
I have read a lot of info regarding where and how to complain. I really appreciate the idealism of people. I think that is what carry us all. Idealism. Although unreal and very painful. Why we don’t get back to the realism? Painful, but certain. We live in Texas and indeed we need better legislation not only in this field but in all. Our Constitution is at least 100 years older than the one followed in the rest of the States. Paradise for big money, precisely the one that makes it and doesn’t want to update. All the complaining info pertinent shows an unclear path. If Gregg Abbot as General District Attorney didn’t answer, as governor I am certain of his office response. I have reached with other type of concerns. They don’t listened. If they do, they go up to certain points and then disappear. All further complaints won’t go on. Unless you are powerful adversary or friend. Regular citizens don’t stand a chance. That is why we need to unite. But we don’t. Why? I want.
On the formal, the three ladies that conformed the ARB sounded as burocratic and partial as any other HCAD employees. I had always thought, it is great for the county that gives jobs to the elderly and minorities but this is part of their lie. The elderly and minorities also believe in. There is no way for this ARB to have an opinion on anything of these unless they are instructed. I liked all four of them, including the younger appraiser. They were professional and respectfull people but I cannot stop thinking that they didn’t give me a fair opportunity to estate my case. Five minutes I had to explain the bases of my evidence. I tried my best. My file was large but all was summarized, well defined and I had 15 points to go through. From the obvious to the none so. They tried to catch up with me, but they just listened with faces of appreciation of what they were looking at, I am certain they haven’t seen a file like it. Before my presentation, the main ARB official asked me to state if I was a profesional appraiser. I don’t lie, nevertheless under oath. I said no. But thinking about it afterwards it is pretty clear they need to know that to see how fast they can move on and if they have to listen with more attention. When the appraiser took her turn she just repeat, reading what was in their evidence file with out pointing at mine which had none sense. Why they use and give all this information if they are instructed to not even look at what the owner has to say. Ridiculous show. They lower my appraised value by $12.00. Based on what? They didn’t say. They asked if I had further questions but I didn’t realize the reduction until I was able to read the resolution in writing and by then the questions and answers time was already passed! So, based on what? I want to believe they felt pity for me as well and they appreciated my work. But at the same time I feel insulted because even with all I show them they were instructed not to pay attention. The lady that gave me their resolution felt ashamed. She pointed at the reduction trying to say, we feel you girl! But I don’t appreciate at all because that is why they have three different persons. If she believed I was right, why she didn’t point it out lowering the value if not down to the point their own information and systems shows, at least a little bit more tha $12.00. This is managed from higher above all of us, including their “independent” advisors.
This means only that no matter what, the price you pay (the infamous market value) will determine you appraised value and this is the opposite of the law. Law infringed by the ones that determines it. Pretty clear and simple. I urge the Institution to simply clarify reality. Imagine how much money they would save if they don’t have to put up with this show? All of what they spend in hiring “professionals” for the “tax season”. The resources that they could use even raising their salaries. No problem on that. Somebody needs to do the work and should be well payed. I am happy to pay taxes because I understand that if we live in a community everyone has to put their share to make it work. I just want to pay what is reasonable and paying 43% more is not. It doesn’t matter if I made a wrong decision or not buying the house. All the Property Tax code defines it. Why they don’t care to even read their own statues? Why the need of the formulas then? All should read: MA=AV that’s it! Why the need of the CAMA system and all the resources expent on that. Why the different approaches in determine values? Cost approach is only one. They would have less complaints, less work but all it seems made All on purpose. The HCAD is not the responsible one. The people who work there are as victims as we all are. I do feel for them because they are hired to do a dirty job. I certainly am for raising their salaries. Try to apparent knowledge is quite difficult. All is part of a system that we all are conformed with. It is easier to deal with people when confirmed. That is why they put up the show. What a waste of my time, theirs and all. What a waste of existence.
The Appraisal Review Board is now accepting applications. If you have the time to commit to serving, please consider doing so. This might just be one of the best ways those tired of the tyranny and corruption of HCAD can affect change, by taking over the ARB and overturning unfair HCAD property tax assessments.
The HCAD Wall of Shame began in the summer of 2012, as an outlet for my frustration with my ARB hearing that year. The saga of my fight with HCAD has finally come to an end. A recap of the saga is as follows:
After several years of successfully convincing ARB panels that HCAD’s “extensive remodel” label on my home was in error, I came across three biased and stupid people who refused to listen to or look at the evidence I provided, and even went so far as defend the CAD representative when he made a bald-faced lie and claimed that a comparable property I presented was not in my neighborhood (not only had the owner and I served on the same HOA board, the neighborhood number on his and my properties is the same in HCAD’s records).
I continued to fight the next year, this time aided by George Scott and John Osenbaugh, failing spectacularly as yet another ARB upheld the “extensive remodel” label, violating Texas Tax Code Section 41.43(a) and refusing to acknowledge John Osenbaugh’s expert testimony. And again, of course, another HCAD representative, Joel Fischer, lied under oath, claiming that an HCAD employee visited my property to determine the remodel condition. In fact, a later Texas Open Records Act demand revealed that no HCAD representative had visited my property, HCAD had made the “extensive remodel” determination SOLELY on overblown glossy verbiage the seller’s agent had included in the listing for the house back in 2006. Kelly Sherbert, an employee of HCAD who answers to HCAD Chief Appraiser Sands Steifer even though she does the work of Taxpayer Liaison Officer Teresa Terry, who rarely actually comes to work, provided me this information, as she was legally required to do, but then refused to discuss it with me further.
Ultimately, this lead to HCAD sending two employees out to inspect my property, who, under the watchful eyes of John Osenbaugh and my lawyer Fred Cull, conceded that my house was NOT extensively remodeled. In the meantime, I had filed a lawsuit against HCAD, and in light of this new evidence, HCAD offered a fairly reasonable settlement offer, which I took, and at the same time John Osenbaugh was able to use this new information to fight my 2014 assessment and get it down to a reasonable number too. So, I have prevailed, but not without a lot of work on my part and the excellent work of John Osenbaugh and Fred Cull, and the invaluable guidance and moral support of George Scott. My thanks to all three of these fine gentlemen.
So I hope this will provide some encouragement to the rest of you out there who have similarly been trampled on by HCAD and are either in the process of fighting or wonder if it is worth it to fight. It is. Though my saga is over, The HCAD Wall of Shame will continue on. I will always be vigilant of my assessment every year, and will do the homework and see if it is fair and equal and reasonable, and if not, will fight it. I will also continue to post your stories as well as news stories that relate to property taxes in Harris County, so please keep your stories coming.
Usually I restrict this blog to complaints about HCAD and its sleazy tactics, but occasionally, as I did for the Astrodome referendum last year, I will weigh in on issues that affect the property owner-taxpayers of Harris County. Since at least part of Katy ISD is in Harris County, the issue of the Katy Bond vote yesterday does affect some taxpayers in western Harris County. I don’t live in the Katy ISD boundaries, so I am not personally affected by this, but still I find it despicable what Katy ISD did.
Last year taxpayers spoke their minds and Katy’s stadium bond ballot initiative failed on its own merits, so what do they do this year? They wrapped a somewhat reduced $58 million dollar stadium plan into a larger $748 million bond package that would also pay for much needed new school construction. Katy ignored the wishes of many in the district that put up two bonds to vote, one for the stadium and one for everything else; of course they did, because they knew the stadium would fail again if they did. So instead they gave voters a Sophie’s Choice – “if you want new schools, you will pay for a new stadium, whether you want it or not.”
I am a big fan of public schools, a product of them myself, my wife works in the public schools, and my children go to them. I know the financial bind that many districts are put in by the terrible school finance situation in this state. My property taxes have gone up $1,000 a year for the past three years, and supposedly some of that extra money goes to the schools, who are always talking about how needy they are, struggling to pay for academic costs. But every time I see a school district spend millions of dollars on a non-academic, non-essential item like a sports stadium, my sympathy for schools’ plight erodes a little more. It erodes when I hear that on average a school district spends four times more on a football player or a cheerleader than it does on a math student. And make no mistake about it, even when a district uses bonds to pay for a stadium, ultimately it is taxpayers’ money that pays for that stadium, because a bond is debt, loaned to the district by the people who buy that bond, and who expect to be paid back – with interest, and taxpayer dollars are what is used to pay them back.
In an era where cold, hard facts have debunked the lie that sports stadiums are big money makers for cities, the NCAA itself has found that D-1 sports programs are not the money makers coaches and boosters claim they are, and high school football programs are very rarely profitable, when you take into account the salaries of the coaches for sports that play in those stadiums, equipment for the student athletes who play in those stadiums, annual maintenance, utilities, etc, and the lost opportunity to sell the land the stadium is on to people or businesses who would pay property taxes on that land, it makes no sense whatsoever for districts to be paying more for bigger and better stadiums.
It’s a simple as this: the purpose of public education is academics. Schools should NEVER go into debt to pay for non-academic activities like sports, and as we learn more about concussions from contact sports and their long-term effects, and the particular vulnerability of young people, it is becoming more and more clear that sponsoring sports which scramble the brains of young people is incompatible with schools’ stated mission to improve the minds of young people. Extorting money from taxpayers to pay for bread and circuses, huge stadiums where parents can watch their children slam their heads into each other, it is unconscionable.
Maria wished to share her feelings on HCAD in general:
I am not posting a specific complaint comment at this time. My list of complaints and associated document file are too voluminous to describe. Complaining make us feel somewhat better but nothing will change unless we develop a broad movement of Harris County homeowners with the specific objective of scrapping the current system of market value appraisal altogether in order to institute a logical and fair property appraising program. The current method for HCAD’s estimation of market value is not logical (no rational system would evaluate market value of existing homes de novo every year resulting on yearly increases of 20 % or more and well beyond what the properties could sell for so HCAD can appraise and tax a home at the maximum 10% cap), not fair (riddle with unequal treatment), overflowing with conflict of interest (on the part of the taxing authority and the presumably independent Appraisal Board) and inconsiderate of the taxpayers’ time and money (as attested by full rooms during tax-contesting season year after year with homeowners attempting to demonstrate unreasonable market value appraisals of their properties). We homeowners have to realize that this is so not by accident but by design and that, therefore, it is impossible to repair. When I describe HCAD rules and procedures and my experiences to friends who own homes in other states they don’t want to believe me and think I am joking. Incidentally, Harris County is not alone (please see: http://aaronlayman.com/2014/09/license-to-loot-how-texas-central-appraisal-districts-can-railroad-homeowners-with-near-impunity/), so this is wider problem. Again, without a broad-based homeowners organization and action to change market value appraising methods and procedures this will continue. It has been so for many years despite any changes the legislature has made in their attempts to address Texas tax appraisals.
I prefer to withhold my last name at this time but would gladly join a citizens organization with the objectives I formulated above.