Are You Paying too Much in Property Taxes? Here’s How to Tell

Errors in your home’s assessment could be costing you a bundle

Jul 6, 2014 at 10:00AM

Flickr / Mark Moz.

After nearly 20 years as a property tax assessor in a small town in Massachusetts, I have fielded a lot of questions and heard many complaints concerning property taxes. As you might expect, the two most common gripes are, "I'm paying too much in property tax" and "My house is overvalued".

Of course, there is nothing that tax assessors can do about the first issue – generally, town government establishes the tax rate via the municipal budget – but, sometimes, there can be a remedy to the second problem.

If you feel that you are paying more than your fair share in taxes because your property's valuation is incorrect, there are steps that you can take to rectify the matter. While I can only speak about how property valuation works in Massachusetts, most states now use 100% fair market value for valuation purposes, meaning that sales of comparable homes are used to assess properties that have not changed hands. However, check with your own assessing department just to be sure.

Obtain a copy of your property record card from your assessors' office. Getting a hard copy is important, since online records are often incomplete. Even if you have to pay copying costs, they will be minimal – and well worth it.

Check square footage
This is an essential first step, because this field record should mirror the type and current state of your property. If it doesn't, and the error is in your favor, chances are good that you will be able to win your case.

One of the most common mistakes people see on their card is an error in measurement. More than anything else, homeowners are taxed on the square footage of their buildings, so this point is crucial. The actual house is the most important metric, since homes are more valuable than other buildings, such as garages.

Measure all of your buildings at the foundation level, and compare your results with the information on your property card. Sometimes, even small mistakes can add up to large savings.

Number of rooms: running water counts
Though property owners often think that the number of bedrooms makes a difference in their assessment, this is often not the case. There are two types of rooms that generally do matter, though: bathrooms, and kitchens.


Flickr / Jeremy Levine Design.

Often, cities and towns will value bathrooms according to how many fixtures they contain: full, three-quarters, or half. Each will have a different assessment, so double check this item.

Kitchens are usually straightforward, except in the case of an apartment, such as an in-law unit. Also, think creatively when scrutinizing the card. Make sure, for example, that your finished basement's wet bar hasn't been assessed as a kitchen!

Type and condition of house
The style of your home can make a large difference in your square-foot assessment. More popular types of houses, such as colonials, are often valued more highly than one-story ranches – both by home buyers, and assessors. If you think your home should be categorized differently, speak with your assessor. Sometimes changing a home's classification from, say, cape style to contemporary, can yield great savings. You will need to prove that there is a valid reason for doing so, however.

Your home's condition can also affect the dollar-per-square-foot assessment. This is somewhat of a judgment call, so you may be able to knock your home's condition or grade down a notch or two, if you are persuasive. Sometimes, the difference between "excellent" and "very good" is minimal in perception, but may have a sizable effect on your property's valuation.

Make sure you have all your arguments ready, and any documentation you may need, before you set up an appointment with your assessor. If there are glaring errors on your field card, the assessor may fix it without a formal procedure. Otherwise, you might have to file an abatement during the proper time frame, information on which is commonly sent along with your tax bill. If this is not the case, simply ask.

Keep in mind that your assessing department will need to inspect your home to ascertain whether or not there is a problem – which means that your valuation could conceivably rise if there have been improvements to the home of which the assessors were unaware.

If you do your research and present your case with substantial documentation, chances are you will prevail. It will take a bit of legwork, but the money you can save over the long term will very likely be worth the effort.

Want to save even more? Take advantage of this little-known tax "loophole"
Recent tax increases have affected nearly every American taxpayer. But with the right planning, you can take steps to take control of your taxes and potentially even lower your tax bill. In our brand-new special report "The IRS Is Daring You to Make This Investment Now!," you'll learn about the simple strategy to take advantage of a little-known IRS rule. Don't miss out on advice that could help you cut taxes for decades to come. Click here to learn more.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers