Tips to avoid overpaying in property taxes

LOS ANGELES Daniel Leitman loves his home but knows it's not worth what it once was. So he challenged his /*property taxes*/ and got a big reward.

"We received a very healthy reduction in taxes, which is a little bit over 20 to 25 percent," said Leitman.

Consumer Reports' Tobie Stanger said in order to dispute your property taxes, you have to establish that the town's assessment of your home is too high.

"So there's a couple of ways you can make your case. You can either show that your home isn't as big or as nice as what the assessment states, or you can show that your home's value isn't in line with comparable properties," advised Stanger.

Your tax office is your first stop to see how homes are assessed. Then, you will know what to focus on. In Leitman's case, he hired an appraiser who based his report on recent sales of similar homes.

"You could pay an appraiser several hundred dollars to do it, or you could try it on your own. You can go to your town hall and look at public records of comparable properties or you can ask a real estate agent to help you," said Stanger.

Also, check that the records on your house - like the number of baths and bedrooms - is correct. If not, the assessor may have your property valued too high.

"A good way to tell if it's worth challenging your property taxes is if your home's value has gone down recently by at least 10 percent," said Stanger.

Leitman picked an appraiser familiar with the real estate market who helped him make a good case.

"A savings is a savings. If you can save any amount of money on your taxes, why not go for it?" Leitman said.

If you're considering a tax challenge, Consumer Reports said it's important to continue to pay your taxes in full until your case is decided.

If you're considering hiring an attorney to take the matter to court, you'll want to balance that cost against any possible savings.

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