Question: I received a “Time Sensitive” letter in the mail from a company making an offer to ask the county tax assessor’s office to reduce my property taxes. They state that if they are successful in reducing my property taxes, they get a percentage of what they get back as a commission. If they can’t lower my taxes, they don’t owe anything. Is it a scam? If I give them my signature and ownership information, will they steal my title?

Reply: It is probably not a scam, but since you did not disclose the name of the company, it would behoove you to do your due diligence if you are considering engaging with them. But let’s take a closer look at what they offer to decide if hiring their services is your best course of action.

In California, property taxes are assessed by the county assessor’s office at the time we purchase real estate and only increase slightly thereafter, year over year. If we sell real estate, the property is reassessed and the next buyer receives a new tax bill based on what they paid for the property.

Most likely, the company that contacted you already has a lot of information about your property. Remember that property, taxes, mortgages, and other registered real estate information are all available in county tax records and just about anyone can look up this information. Businesses like this typically target value properties with high taxes because they charge a percentage of the amount by which they can lower your tax bill as a commission. The higher the bill, the bigger their earnings if they are successful in lowering your taxes.

So here’s the bottom line, you can hire the company to contact the county assessor’s office to request a reassessment of your property tax, or you can do it yourself and not pay the company a commission. . This is a form that you fill out, not a “petition” as the company indicated in its letter of offer. It’s pretty straightforward, and you don’t need a law degree to do it. Although your lawyer would probably be happy to help. If the assessor determines that the previous assessment was too high, the assessor can reduce your property taxes this year and for all subsequent property tax years. They may even agree to be retroactive for a year or two. It could be a big win for you! But remember, you can do it yourself, you don’t need to pay this company to contact the appraiser for you.

Perhaps you are worried that in today’s appreciating real estate market, the appraiser will determine that your property is worth more than when you bought it and that your property taxes will go up? No! The county assessor will not adjust your taxes upwards, only downwards. This is how good the current property tax laws are! So you can either keep the company that contacted you (after verifying them) or contact the county assessor’s office to do it yourself. You never know, you could lower your property tax bill and that would make a nice holiday gift for yourself, indeed!

Liza Horvath has over 30 years of estate planning and trust experience and is a Chartered Professional Trustee. Liza is currently President of Monterey Trust Management. This is not legal or tax advice. If you have a question, call (831) 646-5262 or email [email protected]

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