Save on Property Taxes
5 ways to make sure you don’t overpay
New Jersey property taxes help fund numerous worthwhile ventures—public schools, safety and sanitation services, and county government functions. But they’re also notorious for being among the country’s highest, having risen an average of 7 percent each year in the past 10 years. In 2012 they increased by 1.4 percent, the smallest spike in more than two decades—and a hard-won reprieve for levy-weary residents of the Garden State.
Before the assessor comes calling, follow these five tips to help minimize your burden:
1. Educate yourself. “Request a copy of your property tax card, which is available in the local tax assessor’s office of every town hall,” says Michael Schneck, managing member of Schneck Law Group in Livingston (schnecklaw.com). This provides precise information regarding lot size, room dimensions and features in and around your home. Be sure the listed square footage calculations are correct, and note any discrepancies. “Your backyard may not actually contain a pool, so it’s worth paying close attention to the accuracy of those tax card details,” advises John Brusniack, president of the National Association of Property Tax Attorneys (napta.com). A real estate agent can help determine your property’s value, providing a figure with which to compare an assessor’s appraisal.
2. Think before you renovate. Any additions or improvements you make will increase the value of your home—and ergo your tax bill, says Schneck. So if you choose to finish that basement, up grade the half-bath to a full bathroom or build a new deck, anticipate a likely property tax increase and plan accordingly.
3. Be vocal. Point out cracks in the foundation, a leaking roof and other legitimate problems when the assessor is on site, says Brusniack. Many homeowners let the expert walk around unguided, which is a mistake. He or she may notice only the gleaming new kitchen appliances and fail to take note of issues that could lower your property value.
4. Be polite. “A modicum of courtesy and professionalism goes a long way,” Brusniack reminds us. “It’s never wise to get ugly with a public official.” Keep the mood friendly, and try to reach an understanding before the assessor leaves. Your goal is to avoid conflict—then file for a reassessment if necessary.
5. Make friends with your neighbors. Most states allow for equal treatment of properties, says Brusniack. So if a neighbor has a comparable yet undervalued home, you have the right to be valued at the same rate. “You’re basically arguing against tax discrimination, so it pays to lend that cup of sugar and gather information from your neighbor,” adds the attorney. —Francesca Moisin