New book tells homeowners what they can do to try to lower their real estate taxes


"Digging for Gold in Your Own Back Yard" is the intriguing title of a new book about how homeowners can try to lower their real estate taxes. According to promotional material accompanying the book, owners who present a "well-documented" case have an 80 percent chance of winning a tax reduction.

"Digging for Gold," by Gary Whalen ($19.95 paperback, R.E.I. Press), takes a step-by-step approach to appealing a tax assessment.

It starts with sections on understanding how tax bills are determined, and outlining a procedure for determining whether an assessment should be challenged. Other sections tell how to prepare and present an appeal to a local board and how to carry the appeal higher if necessary. There also is a long section -- more than half the book -- giving a state-by-state summary of laws governing tax assessments.

Mr. Whalen, an Illinois tax consultant who has handled many successful assessment appeals, thinks most homeowners are capable of handling their own cases.

"By doing the legwork and follow-through yourself, you won't have to pay a professional any fee," Mr. Whalen writes in an introduction. "What savings you realize will most likely repeat every year you remain in that home."

Mr. Whalen takes the unusual step of supplying a telephone number and address to let readers of the book get in touch with him, and offers $50 for publishable stories about successful tax appeals.

As for tax assessors, Mr. Whalen is not greatly impressed.

"Many assessors are in over their heads or otherwise ill-equipped to keep up with the assessment responsibilities," he writes. "As a result, the assessment process can be replete with error."

"Digging for Gold" can be ordered by sending $23 to R.E.I. Press, 36 S. Washington St., Hinsdale, Ill. 60521.

Other recent books about homes and real estate:

* "How to Sell Your House in Tough Times," by Peter Davidson ($9.95 paperback, Perigee Books/Putnam). Although the title doesn't make it clear, this book is a guide to selling without a real estate agent.

"Attacking an important project like selling your own home will add some spice and excitement to your life -- you will find it to be great fun," writes Mr. Davidson, who is described as "an active real estate broker" and teacher of real estate courses in Iowa.

While I'm not sure that selling a home without an agent is a barrel of fun, the discussions of the steps to take are clear and thorough. Mr. Davidson tells how to get the home ready for sale, how to appraise it and set a price, how to promote and advertise it, and how to deal with buyers and covers other points, including the tax consequences. A final chapter is titled, "If All Else Fails (Selecting a Real Estate Agent)."

* "Inside the Real Estate Deal," by Peter G. Miller ($21.95 hard-cover, HarperCollins). Homeowners who wonder what makes real estate agencies tick will find many of the answers in this book, written by a Washington broker and consultant. Mr. Miller describes the inner workings of agencies and speculates on how the business will evolve in the future.

Mr. Miller writes well, and readers of his book will emerge with a much better understanding of the men and women they deal with in real estate transactions. The book also has much to offer for brokers, agents and those who are considering entering the field. The book is available in bookstores, or can be ordered by book dealers.

* "The Complete Guide to Equity Sharing," by Marilyn D. Sullivan ($19.95 paperback, Venture 2000 Publishers). Equity sharing is buying property in partnership with others. One of its most promising uses, which never quite got off the ground in many areas, enables a first-time homebuyer to team with one or more others in buying a home; the first-timer gets to live in the home, the others share the growing equity and tax breaks.

This book tells how to put together equity-sharing transactions, and, according to the author, a California lawyer and broker, is the first book of its kind. The book includes a sample agreement and transactions, and discusses the impact of unexpected events -- such as divorces or co-owner defaults.

The guide appears to be a must for those who want to study or try this complex form of financing. It can be ordered by calling (800) 843-6700.

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