If you bought your home in the last few years, chances are it has fallen in value. If so, you're entitled to a partial property tax refund of your current taxes—but only if you file an appeal with the Los Angeles Assessment Appeals Board by this Friday, Nov. 30.
The property taxes you pay are primarily based on your home's assessed value as determined by the County Assessor. This value was mailed to residents around the middle of the year. If you disagree with the County Assessor, you can easily file an appeal using information from your property tax bill.
To file your appeal online, log on here before midnight on Friday. You will need your property's parcel number and the pin number listed on your tax bill. Or you can fill out an application and mail it to the Assessment Appeals Office, 500 W. Temple St., Room B4, Los Angeles, CA 90012.
Filing an appeal is relatively easy and there is no need to hire an outside firm or lawyer to do so. I have filed appeals three times, and each time the assessor agreed to lower my home's assessed value by a significant amount. I received the appropriate refund a few months later.
Remember, the Nov. 30 filing deadline is for the 2012-13 tax year. That means you should consider the value of your home as of Jan. 1, 2012 when answering question four of the appeal, which asks for your opinion of your home's value. A common error, according to the assessor's office, is for an applicant to write down an estimate of the current value of his or her home.
How can you accurately estimate your home's value as of 11 months ago? If you have a friend who is a realtor, ask him or her to run a search of comparable home sales from around Jan. 1 on the Multiple Listing Service, which is an industry database of home sales. Make sure the home sales chosen are truly comparable to yours in size, location and condition.
You can also look at Zillow, a free website that estimates property values and tracks home sales. Property sale information on Zillow is reliable because it is taken from public records. It may take a bit of searching to find homes comparable to yours that were sold around Jan. 1, but it can be done. I used this site to find the information I needed for my appeal.
Question nine of the appeal form asks if you are willing to have your hearing conducted by an Assessment Hearing Officer rather than the formal Assessment Appeals Board. If you check "yes," your appeal will be heard faster. My appeals have always gone before an Assessment Hearing Officer and I felt that I was treated fairly.
Whether you file online or mail your application, make sure you keep a copy so you can bring it with you to your hearing. If you agree to have a hearing before an assessment officer, be prepared to sit next to a representative from the assessor's office who will present a case that your home is more valuable than you believe it to be.
Because so many property tax appeals are being filed, it can take six months or more to hear back from the assessor's office with a date for your appeal. If you win your case, expect it to take about three months for your refund to arrive.
In the meantime, avoid penalties by making sure you pay the entirety of your current property tax. The payment for the first half of the 2012-13 tax is due Dec. 10, 2012.