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Protesting your Property Taxes in Harris County (HCAD): Breaking Down the Process

The deadline for filing your property tax protest in Harris County is May 31st. That’s right around the corner! If you’ve been procrastinating filing your protest, because you’re not sure how to best approach it, not to fear! You still have some time!

Of course, you could always employ a property tax representive, to handle the matter for you. There are many property tax companies and law firms that provide this service, and produce great results. But, for those who would like to DIY, or are just curious as to how the system works, we’re here to help break things down!

Harris County Appraisal District gives property owners two options for filing.

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Option A.
iFile

Or

Option B.
Submit a ‘Notice of Protest Form’ via snail mail.

So what’s the difference?

iFile
Pros:

  • Convenience of filing your protest online.
  • Property owners using the iFileTM system can request to be considered for HCAD’s iSettleTM program, which is not available when filing your protest through the mail, using the ‘Notice of Protest’ form.

Cons:

  • You only have 700 characters to make your case, and you can’t upload documents to support your opinion of value.

‘Notice of Protest’ form (snail mail).
Pros:

  • you can submit any and all evidence to support your opinion of value, along with your form.
  • Option to appear at an Informal Hearing.

Cons:

  • You won’t have the iSettleTM option when you go this route

What’s iSettle and why should I care?

iSettleTM ‘s main advantage to property owners is it’s simplicity and convenience. HCAD often settles with property owners without having to appear at either an informal or formal hearing.

Do I have to use iSettle if I use iFile?
Using iFile doesn’t mean you’ll be automatically enrolled in iSettle, you have to manually select the option when filing your protest in the iFile system.

Is iSettle right for me?
It’s great for property owners who have a straightforward case. However, it comes with some disadvantages.

  • When choosing to participate in iSettle, you must submit your opinion of value, even though HCAD won’t submit it’s evidence to you until after you receive your settlement offer. However, if you opt not to participate in iSettleTM, you can withhold your opinion of value, until your informal hearing. Buying you time to gather your evidence and take a look at HCAD’s evidence before presenting your case.
  • iFileTM doesn’t allow you to upload documents, such as photos, closing statements, appraisals etc., as evidence. You will have a maximum of 700 characters to make your case.
  • If you choose to decline your settlement offer from HCAD, you must then go straight to a formal hearing with the Appraisal Review Board (ARB), bypassing the informal hearing with an appraiser.

What happens if I choose iSettle and I don’t like the settlement offer?
If you wish to decline HCAD’s settlement offer, you’ll be scheduled for a formal hearing with the ARB. Or, if you can’t attend the hearing, you can mail your evidence and Notarized Affidavit and the ARB will review your evidence and mail you their decision.

HCAD Says my Neighborhood is not Eligible for iSettle
Some neighborhoods are not eligible for iSettle , as some areas are too complex and may require additional evidence, and review. If this is you, HCAD will notify you, and you’ll need to file your protest in the mail via the ‘Notice of Protest’ form.

Ok, I get it. How do I use iFile and iSettle?

  • Go to http://hcad.org/hcad-online-services/ifile-protest/ and select HCAD Electronic Filing and Notice System
  • Create an account if you don’t already have one set up. Info on how to do that here. If you already have an account, simply log in.
  • Complete the online form
  • Enter what you think the value of your home should be
  • Check the reasons for your protest
  • If you are basing your analysis on the recent sales comps and unequal appraisal comps, then you will check the boxes, “Value is over market value” and “Value is unequal compared with other properties”
  • Check any other applicable boxes
  • Provide facts that may aid your case. (HCAD only allows 700 characters, so get to the punch. Include addresses of recent comparable sales, issues affecting the value/condition of your property, etc.)
  • Click continue, then “Submit My Protest”.

I don’t want to participate in iSettle. I want an Informal Hearing.
If you don’t want to participate in iSettle because you want to appear for an informal hearing, You can still file your protest using iFile , and opt out of the iSettle option when prompted, or mail the “Notice of Protest” form by May 31st.

HCAD will send notice of your scheduled informal hearing date. You’ll meet with an appraiser and go over your evidence. If they offer you a reduction and you accept, then your protest process ends here.

What happens if I don’t get an acceptable reduction offer at my informal hearing?
If you decline their reduction offer, or they choose not to offer a reduction, you can move forward to a Formal Hearing with the ARB or submit an Affidavit.

Formal Hearing with the ARB
If you’re unable to come to an agreement either through the informal hearing or iSettleTM, then you’ll be scheduled for an ARB hearing. At the hearing, you’ll make your case to a panel of 3 citizens not employed by HCAD for their independent review. An HCAD appraiser will also be present argue their case. You’ll need to bring 5 copies of your evidence, 1 for you, 3 for the ARB members, and another for the HCAD Appraiser.

I can’t attend the ARB Hearing
In this case, you will need to submit your evidence and notarized affidavit in the mail to HCAD. The ARB will review your evidence, then send notice in the mail with their decision.

Still not satisfied?
If you aren’t happy with the ARB’s decision, you have the right to appeal to the District Court of Appeals within 60 days of receiving the ARB’s ruling. More info on that process here, at the state comptroller website.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal advice.

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