AUSTIN (KXAN) — There are just 12 days left to protest your property appraisal values this year. The Travis Central Appraisal District is encouraging people to get them in as soon as possible, and it’s expecting a record number this year.

In 2018, TCAD received about 142,000 protests. That jumped to around 147,000 in 2019. That number then number dropped in 2020 to 123,000, when TCAD froze values on residential properties during the pandemic.

Protests picked back up last year to 140,000. Spokesperson Cynthia Martinez said they expect to see around 150,000, which would be a record.

Jesse Mamuhewa is one of those protesters.

“This year was pretty astonishing,” he said.

Mamuhewa owns Resolute Properties, which converts apartment buildings to condos.

“The biggest way to wealth in this country is to own your own house … I’d like to think I’m creating more of that stock,” he said.

He has eight properties across Austin and said he saw an 850% increase in appraisal value for one of them.

“I figured it was gonna go up by, you know, 50%, give or take,” Mamuhewa explained. “I know the condos are worth more in that area, which is why we turn them into condos. But when you’re talking $17 million from $2 million, that’s without major improvements… there’s no basis for that.”

He’s working with attorney Sean Bukowski to protest with TCAD.

Bukowski said it’s becoming harder for property owners to get the number they want; he’s finding himself having to go through the entire protest process more frequently.

“Even if you come to them with lots of data and lots of good information, I find that they’re more hesitant to settle in an informal hearing when they have their estimates of what they think the sale price was,” he said.

That means more lawsuits and arbitrations, the two forms of appeals that are your final options as part of the protest process after an informal and formal hearing.

According to TCAD data, in 2018, TCAD saw 1,271 lawsuits over appraisal value protest. In 2019, that jumped to 1,514 lawsuits. The number dipped in 2020, when home values froze and picked back up to 1,541 in 2021.

This chart from TCAD shows the increasing number of lawsuits since 2017 to appeal property appraisals.
This chart from TCAD shows the increasing number of lawsuits since 2017 to appeal property appraisals.

Martinez said population growth is one reason why they’re seeing an increase in people going through the protest process.

She also said people are asking for larger reductions in their appraisal values, as the housing market sees historic increases.

“I think the market and what people want to get out of [informal hearings] has made it all difficult,” Martinez said.

Bukowski said more of those hearings are also being done online.

“Well, there’s no sort of negotiation, there’s no talking in that process,” he said. “And I think it’s just been harder and harder to get reasonable offers from TCAD at that stage.”

TCAD chief appraiser Marya Crigler said going online keeps meetings equitable.

“We want to ensure that we’re getting fair treatment to all property owners, and that appraisers are not feeling undue pressure to be threatened or give reductions to one taxpayer that they wouldn’t necessarily give to another taxpayer,” she said. “Our supervisors can drop in on a call and monitor and view what’s going on at the drop of a dime.”

Mamuhewa is hopeful he can get his appraisal down, so the cost increase isn’t eventually passed on to people trying to buy the condos.

“I think it just compounds the Austin affordability crisis,” he said.

Martinez said TCAD is short-staffed by about 20 to 30 people this year, which is another reason you should get your protest in early. It will also give you more time to schedule your own informal hearing time and date.

Martinez said at some point, they’ll get bogged down and will have to assign people informal hearing dates and times.

Attorney’s protest advice

Bukowski said there are two big things to remember when filing your protest.

First, he said you want to check both the box that indicates you’re challenging the market value of the property, as well as the box that indicates you’re challenging the equal and uniform analysis of the property.

“Under Texas law, similarly situated properties have to be taxed at a similar rate,” he explained. “What that allows you to do as a property owner is to look at other people and how they’re appraised and compare it to your property. And so you want to make sure you check both of those boxes, and you’re protesting on both of those areas.”

Second, Bukowski said when you go to your TCAD hearing, make sure you have data that shows why your home may not be worth as much as your neighbor’s.

“So, if your fence is not as nice as your neighbor’s, value it: How much would it cost to get your fence into that same rate?” Bukowski said. “That’s what’s going to move the, either the panel or TCAD, is an actual number. You need to be able to say, ‘yes, my house isn’t as nice as theirs. And it’s $100,000 or $50,000 less than theirs. And here’s why. Here’s the exact numbers of why that is.'”