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As Travis County Home Values Rise, Tax Firms Report Increase In Homeowner Challenges

Audrey McGlinchy
Stephanie Culver and Jonathan Brou bought a house in December for $207,000. It was recently valued at $225,070.

It’s been a year of firsts for Stephanie Culver and Jonathan Brou.

In December, the couple bought their first home in Manor, 15 miles from downtown Austin.

“We couldn’t afford Austin to be honest with you,” said Culver, who bought the home with her boyfriend for about $207,000. “This was in our price range.”

Now they're planning to challenge their first county appraisal.

Culver and Brou were surprised when they got a letter in the mail from the Travis County Appraisal District saying their home was now valued at $225,070.

“It was just more than I was expecting,” Brou said.

The higher value means higher property taxes. So now, the couple plans to protest their appraisal for the first time.

Culver and Brou will likely have lots of company. Two property tax firms told KUT they’ve seen a record number of people sign up to protest new home valuations.

“I will tell you, my phones are ringing off the hook,” said George Bixler, a property tax manager with Five Stone Tax Advisers.

The Travis County Appraisal District received roughly 127,000 appeals last year. The majority of single-family homeowners who protested got their assessed home values reduced by a median of $9,141.

Bixler said his firm received the most requests for help in one day in the company’s history. While he wouldn’t share that number, he said it was in the hundreds.

The record number of protests could be a response to consistently rising home values. According to the Travis County Appraisal District, 2018 median home values rose by roughly 9 percent over the past year. That’s typical.

“It is in line with what we’ve seen in the last five to seven years,” said Marya Crigler, the district's chief appraiser. “We’ve been in a very thriving Austin market. We’ve got a real imbalance between the amount of available homes and the demand [for] homes that we’ve got.”

Homeowners must present evidence in either a formal or informal hearing, proving why the assessed value of their home is off. Brou said they removed a deck from their home that was warped and nearly falling apart. He plans to show the county photos of the deck, which he believes should be subtracted from the assessed value of the house.

“As far as I know, it’s pretty easy,” said Brou, who plans to protest without the help of a firm. “But I’ve never tried this. I’m excited to find out.”

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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