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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tips for lowering your tax bill

Here is a guide to lowering your property tax bill:

Q. I believe my property value is too high. What can I do?

A. You can appeal at the assessor’s office in your city or town hall. You’re asking for what’s called an abatement, or reduction in value. It’s free to appeal.

Q. What’s the deadline?

A. The last day to appeal is March 1 in any community in the state.

Q. Where is Nashua’s assessor?

A. Before you go to City Hall, look for information online. Several types of property tax information are available on the city’s site, Click on “assessing” on the right side of the home page and go from there.

To speak with an assessor in person, go to the basement of City Hall, 229 Main St. You can see property cards for any property or use the computers at the counter, and speak with a member of the staff. The phone number is 589-3040. The hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Q. How can all that help me appeal?

A. Start with the easy part. Is the house properly described on its property card? Does the card use correct measurements of all the rooms? Is your basement unfinished, but the property card states it’s finished? Have there been additions or changes that would raise or lower the assessment? How about the condition of the building or its age?

If you find wrong information on the card, that’s the easiest appeal to win.

Q. What if the information is correct?

A. Now, see how your assessed value compares with others in similar neighborhoods. Let’s say you own a three-bedroom raised ranch. Use the “Property Sales Lookup” on the city’s Web site to see for how much similar properties have sold.

Then comes the hard part: Check the details of those target properties to see if they are indeed comparable.

Q. Do I need to spend money on a professional appraisal to file an appeal?

A. No. Owners of commercial properties, which are more complex to value, may benefit from paying for an appraisal. It isn’t necessary for a single-family home. But it might help. It isn’t unusual for an owner to back up an appeal with a professional appraisal. If you bought your home recently, you or your mortgage lender would already have a recent appraisal.

Q. How is an appeal handled?

A. Once an application is completed, a member of the assessing staff speaks with the applicant. If necessary, the assessor schedules a home visit to review the property. After the review, the assessing staff makes a recommendation to the appointed Board of Assessors. The board often follows the staff’s recommendations. Applicants do have the opportunity to make their case to the board.

Q. When do I find out if the appeal is successful?

A. The assessing office has to complete applications by July 1 or the application is considered “deemed denied” by state law. So, the possible results are: You win, you lose or you lose because the city didn’t rule on your appeal in time.

Q. What’s the next level?

A. If not satisfied, a property owner can appeal the decision to either Superior Court or the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals. But only one. There is a filing fee either way.

Q. How about tax credits and exemptions?

A. Each year, you can seek a credit or exemption under several programs.

If the home is heated with solar energy or wood, there is a tax break. Veterans, and veterans’ widows, can also apply for tax credits. Senior citizens 65 and older, the disabled and blind property owners can also lower their property value for tax purposes.

Q. My assessor said he doesn’t determine my tax. Is that true?

A. Yes and no. The assessor doesn’t determine the tax rate. That’s set by the Board of Aldermen and the mayor. But the assessor does determine how one person’s tax bill differs from another’s by setting the property value.

– Telegraph staff