It’s happening all over Texas. Homeowners are glancing nervously toward their mailboxes. Very soon, those mailboxes will hold the most dreaded envelope of the year. It will contain your property tax bill. That bill will probably be higher than it was last year, and it will be a great deal higher than it was just three years ago. But why is that? Aren’t we being told that taxes aren’t being raised? So why are homeowners getting bigger and bigger bills?
Let me explain. In Texas, property taxes are based in proportion to the value of the property. The more your house is worth, the bigger the bill. It’s in our constitution. But how much you pay is up to local authorities. Counties, cities, and school districts are common examples of taxing authorities in Texas. Each one sets a rate at which properties will be taxed. That’s why when you’re shopping for a house you might see a different tax rate from one neighborhood to another. If those two neighborhoods are in different school districts, for example, they very well could have different property tax rates. Property owners might pay a different amount of taxes even if the houses are worth about the same.
Over the past few years, the property tax rates all over North Texas haven’t changed much. But appraisal values have. We’ve seen large increases in appraised values of properties for several years running. Because of this, property tax bills keep getting bigger and bigger. This is sometimes called a Hidden Property Tax. And those rapid increases are making it hard for a lot of property owners to stay in their homes. After all, not many people are increasing their incomes at the same rate that property values are increasing. Do you know anyone who gets an annual 8 or 9 percent raise? Let me know if you do. I might consider a career change.
Here’s what most homeowners don’t understand: property tax rates don’t have to stay the same. They can increase or decrease annually, based on the needs of the taxing. Under the current system, rates have stayed pretty much the same from year to year, but counties are being given an automatic raise. And homeowners are feeling squeezed.
A different way to look at rates is to adopt an effective tax rate. Under that scenario, the property tax rate is determined after appraisal values come in, with the goal of maintaining a stable tax bill for property owners. The county would raise and lower the rate in order to collect the same amount of revenue from year to year. Increased revenues would come only from newly built homes and businesses. It’s a way of providing a predictable budget for counties and homeowners alike. Dallas County will vote on an effective tax rate in late September. If it’s adopted, it could mean meaningful tax relief for homeowners.
The Texas legislature is watching the Dallas vote very carefully. Both because they want to know that local leaders are taking note of this increasingly serious issue, and because they want to see authorities on the local level are able to handle the problem. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that if counties don't take action, the state will want to intervene.
You can take action even if you don't live in Dallas County. Visit thehiddenpropertytax.com to learn more, and contact your local and state representatives to let them know how you feel about property tax rates.
The MetroTex Association of Realtors is comprised of more than 17,000 area real estate professionals. For information about buying, selling, or leasing a home, visit dfwrealestate.com.