If you have a house, you have a property tax bill.
The state Department of Assessments and Taxation sent the 728,185 letters out last Friday covering a third of Maryland properties. If you got one, you might be wondering why your new assessment doesn't reflect the fact that prices are generally stagnant.
That's because your last assessment was three years ago. Individual cases will vary, but average area sales prices are up 20 percent since November 2004.
Still, take a close look at your home's reported value. The state has 215 field assessors for the entire state, each responsible for tons of properties. If you think you've been overassessed, you can appeal.
The key is to show why your house is worth less than the state says it is, not to argue that the taxes are ridiculous. You'll want to arm yourself with information about sales prices and/or assessed values of similar homes. You can get your assessment worksheet for free or pick up worksheets of comparable homes for $1 each.
Go to www.dat.state.md.us and click on "Real Property Data Search" to look at recent sales or pull up records on individual properties. You can also find a link to appeal information. Appeals must be postmarked by Feb. 11.
Keep in mind that you could win an appeal but see no difference in your bill. If you've been in your home a while, you're not paying taxes on the full assessed value. For owner-occupiers, tax increases are capped by the homestead credit, which ranges from 2 percent to 10 percent. Remember that this is the first time you'll have to apply for that credit. The application comes with the assessment notice, so you'll get it whenever it's your turn in the three-year cycle. The deadline to apply is 2012.
Find Jamie's blog at baltimoresun.com/ realestatewonk.