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The 2013 Protest Battle Begins – First Round: iSettle (or should be called iSwindle)

May 17, 2013

This post is the work of the editor of this blog.

Well, my year-long cold war with HCAD is getting hot just in time for summer. This time, I have some very knowledgeable new allies on my side. I am not ready to say more just yet, but keep monitoring this blog…and other sources. It is going to get interesting really fast. This is going to be more than just be getting my appraisal value down, it is going to be about some comeuppance for HCAD, that has abused the public trust in Harris County for far too long. But you’ll have to wait to hear more on that for now, so on to my own HCAD battle so far this year.

In 2009, 2010, and 2011, the HCAD market value for my home remained at $285,000 due to my protesting it every year. Last year,  it was raised to $323,491. I protested again, unsuccessfully in what was the most disheartening and jading experience with local government I have ever endured, and remains the inspiration for this blog.So this year, like last year, I never got my notice, even though the website showed I had been noticed March 29. Like last year, I called the first week of May and requested it be sent again. The time had come and gone when this second copy should have arrived, and here I am without an iFile number to allow me to file my protest online. Fortunately, I was finally able to get a copy with the assistance of one of those new allies, by going up to the 7th floor of HCAD and getting it in person.Remember, from 2009-2011, my market value was $285,000. Last year it jumped up to $323,491. This year, HCAD has jacked it up to $365,346. Okay, maybe someone at HCAD last year could rationalize to themselves that I had somehow been “too good” at the protest game and kept the value of my home artificially low (even though I followed their rules, and I presented only truthful and accurate information), and so the value on my 2,200 square foot home needed to go up $38,000 in one year. But once that “market-based adjustment” was done last year, you’d think my market value would return to going up in small increments, wouldn’t you? Would you expect it to go up another $42,000 the very next year.

Up until this point, perhaps you thought I was just another whiner complaining because my taxes went up, so I am going to repeat myself for emphasis: My 2,200 square foot, 1 story house from 1965 went up in value $38,000 in one year, and then went up in value another $42,000 the very next year (according to HCAD), without me putting a single cent of renovations into it. If houses I bought actually appreciated as much as HCAD claims mine did in such a short time without me doing any work on them, I could be making a FORTUNE in the real estate market right now flipping houses.

So, with my appraisal notice in hand, I girded my loins for battle. Now normally I wouldn’t waste my time with iSettle, thus forfeiting my opportunity for an informal meeting, but this year’s fight isn’t just about me lowering my taxes, it is about exposing all of HCAD’s crooked procedures, and so my new ally and I decided to paint a target on iSettle.

The first thing I did was get a professional opinion of the true market value of my house, and for that my ally directed me to Jubally Solutions. If you have not tried out this company’s website, I urge you to do so right now, it is fantastic. What you do is type either your street address or your HCAD account number, plus your email address onto their website. They will come back with the amount HCAD has valued your house at, AND what they believe your house’s actual value should be. It is completely free, and they use the same kind of data and considerations HCAD does, they just do it fairly. (Note: I did not receive any monetary or nonmonetary consideration from Jubally, not even a free report. I am recommending them only because I personally think they are a great service)

Jubally is targeted toward people who want to protest by themselves, but I also recommend looking at them before you call a tax agent, because it can help you decide whether or not you have a good enough difference to make hiring a tax agent worthwhile.There is no obligation, they will give you their determination of your market value absolutely free. To see the evidence they used to determine that value, you buy the report, and at $69, it is a really good value. The great thing about it is because they tell you what your value should be, you can tell whether or not it will be worth your while to buy the report. If HCAD appraised your home at $200,000, and Jubally says your home is worth $198,000, you know that their report isn’t going to help you.

However, in my case, Jubally estimated my actual value to be $299,119, over $66,000 less than what HCAD is claiming. I’m a skeptical person by nature, so I wanted to make sure Jubally wasn’t just giving out overly optimistic estimates of value differences between HCAD and actual value in order to get people to buy their reports. So, I used a different email address and went on jubally.com again pretending to be several of my neighbors on my street, and got what Jubally thought their values should be. No one had nearly as high a difference between their HCAD value and their Jubally value, and some of them came back saying the HCAD value and Jubally value agreed. This is a very honest, accurate service that is not going to blow sunshine up your tailpipe. I have my report from them, and I can tell you, it is extremely well done. Anyone would be very well-armed going to battle with one of their reports in his arsenal.

So, I entered my Jubally number into the iSettle system. Here is the pathetic settlement offer I got back:

Dear Property Owner:
You filed a 2013 protest with the Harris County Appraisal Review Board using the Electronic Filing and Noticing protest system on Account xxxxxxxxxxxxx. You selected the iSettle™ option, which allows your protest to be considered for an online settlement. After reviewing the protest and hearing evidence, the Harris County Appraisal District staff proposes that the 2013 market value of your property be changed as follows:
    Market     Appraised
Old Value    $365,346    $344,850
New Value    $361,443    $344,850

A measley $3,900 reduction on a house that I have on good authority is overvalued by $66,000?!?!?! You bet your ass I declined that offer. Stay tuned, because this fight has just started, we are going to war, and it is going public, beyond the confines of my little blog here. This is going to be fun.

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