Experiences Protesting Taxes

People often wonder what the process of protesting your taxes is really like.  Below are a couple of experiences shared by our friends and past clients.  If you protested your taxes whether successfully or unsuccessfully, we’d love to include your story.  Just email me at jill@mysolis.com.

“Filing a protest on our property tax was really easy once I got started. The e-file system with Travis county sent me a nice settlement before I even uploaded evidence. Within 24 hours I received a reduced appraisal of $224,742 down from $240,000. Thank you so much for your assistance! You guys are the best!!!”(homestead located in Travis County)

“We filed a successful protest on our Property Tax Assessment this year. They had our square footage off by about 600 sq. ft. We didn’t pay too much attention last year because the homestead exemption, but we got hit with the bulk of the increase this year. My husband said it was a super easy process, he just went to the office with a copy of our mortgage appraisal with the drawing and measurements. The appraiser then did a new comp and brought us down to ~$326K from $358K. We had always heard that it was such a nightmare to protest, and one of our neighbors with the same plan tried to last year. He didn’t bring supporting docs with him and basically just dropped it when they pushed back. After seeing our success, 3 more neighbors, including the one from last year, successfully protested their Assessments. That was a pretty cool feeling, felt like we won the lottery!” (homestead located in Williamson County)

“Filing property tax assessment protest is quite easy when working with a realtor that can help you research comparable sales in the prior tax year. I was hoping to protest online and have them offer me on the spot a reduction as I have seen it done with other neighbors homes. In my case, they required an informal hearing as there wasn’t enough historical data online for their automated system to use. Unfortunately, there were no comparable sales in my condo’s neighborhood within the past month, but I was armed with similar sized condo sales from the past six months and normalized their price per square feet to show what my condo unit’s valuation would be. My unit was appraised at $197k for 2014, a 20.8% increase from 2013. The adjuster had shown me which properties they had used to make their valuation, as they were all from the first half of 2014. three were larger units from my neighborhood who’s price per square foot was much lower than my current valuation and three were similar size and sold for much higher than my appraised valuation.  They like to use data from the same neighborhood, so he didn’t use the comparable properties that I had brought, but he did use data from one of the larger home sales from my neighborhood that had a lower price per square footage. It brought my appraisal down to $191k which was within $2k of my goal.  I was happy with the outcome.” (investment property located in Williamson County)

Austin Ranked #1 Place to Live

Austin is ranked the #1 place to live in yet another study.  This one was conducted by WalletHub and considered 31 different factors ranging from economic growth to health and education to livability.  The top ten results were as follows:

1. Austin

2. Raleigh, N.C.

3. Colorado Springs, Colorado

4. San Jose, California

5. Seattle

6. San Diego

7. Denver

8/9. San Francisco & Lexington, Kentucky (tie)

10. Virginia Beach, Virginia

… as was reported in the Austin Business Journal:  complete article here

10 Hottest Neighborhoods in Austin

 

Did you see the cover story in the latest issue of Austin Monthly about the 10 Hottest Neighborhoods in Austin?  They crunched data from the Austin Board of Realtors and based their ranking on “inventory sold and percentage change in days on market and median price.”  It’s a really interest article which you can read here.

1.  Northwest Hills/Far West

2.  Pemberton Heights

3.  Mueller

4.  Bryker Woods

5.  Hancock

6.  Hyde Park

7.  East Riverside

8.  Great Hills

9.  Gracy Woods

10.  West Oak Hill

Bell Boulevard – Cedar Park’s Downtown

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Two bond options were presented to the Cedar Park City Council which will likely be on our ballot come November.  One of which is for $89.9 million and would include $15.3 million for the Destination Bell Boulevard project as well as $42.6 million for transportation projects, 10.8 million in park improvements, and $15.3 million for phase one of a new library.  The second option is for $83.9 million and does not include the Bell Boulevard project but does have $20.2 million for a new library, $11.9 million in park improvements, and $44.4 million for transportation projects.

So what is Destination Bell Boulevard?  Though no one is officially saying this, I think of it as what will be Cedar Park’s downtown since we don’t really have one.  The current plan includes moving Bell Blvd (old 183) eastward around the Buttercup Creek area to allow for 40 acres of retail, residential, and office space plus 12 acres for a park.  In a nutshell, the goals of the project are to work with the natural and historical assets of the area to create an economically vibrant corridor while maintaining traffic mobility.  Aspects of Destination Bell Boulevard are still in refinement but there are many details on the project’s website including renders and maps.  From all descriptions, I’m picturing something that looks a lot like the Domain which is very exciting since I think it will bring Cedar Park some real charm and character, not to mention money.  I, for one, will definitely be voting in favor of the bond for the Destination Bell Boulevard.  How about you?

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There seemed no better way to usher in summertime than watching a field of children chasing bubbles.  So on Saturday we met our friends Bill and Jessa and their baby-o Fox downtown at the Long Events Center for our first Bubblepalooza.  There wasn’t much more to it than a bunch of kids and an abundance of bubbles but it was really a lot of fun.  Bubbles float everywhere, and it made for a lot of mingling with other families.  Little Guy seems to thrive in these types of environments and was smiles all day.  Such a great sunshiny Saturday for us all!

The Good: It was free and just plain fun.

The Not-So-Good: Parking was a zoo.

Website:  Bubblepalooza

A Few Things to Know Before Buying a Condo

People buy and sell condos all the time. It is not rocket-science. But it is also not as simple as buying a house. Unless you are purchasing with cash, there are additional considerations to check to ensure there won’t be any surprises with financing, such as larger down payment requirements.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that whether you are getting conventional, FHA, or VA financing, most loans are sold on the secondary market shortly after you close. For the majority of buyers this is of little consequence since the terms of the loan remain the same and sometimes even the place where you send your payments stays the same too. Being able to sell your loan on the secondary market is critical to your lender, however, and to do so, your loan must meet certain requirements established by Fannie Mae.

The term used to indicate that a condo meets the requirements to be sold on the secondary market is “warrantable”. These requirements can change so it is best to contact your lender for a current list, but just to give you a feel the current list most likely includes:

*Complex must be at least 51% owner occupied.

*No one entity can own more that 10% of the units.

*Less than 15% of the units can be behind more than 30 days on association fees.

*HOA must carry specific insurance on the complex.

In addition, if you are getting an FHA or VA loan, the condo must be on the FHA or VA-Approved condo list. If the condo you are trying to buy is not on this list but does meet the requirements, your lender along with the condo’s HOA can work to get the complex approved and on the list. This all takes time, of course.

Believe it or not, most of the difficulty lies in ascertaining the answers to these warrantability questions. In a perfect world, we agents can call the HOA and have our answers. But it is not uncommon for HOA management to be unable or unwilling to provide some or all of this information without you first submitting a formal request based on a contract to buy a unit within the complex as well as paying a fee.

Before you throw your hands up and decide condos are too complicated, a good agent (ahem, Solis Realty) can take much of this research off your hands. And in cases where the HOA is less than helpful, we can pursue alternative sources of information such agents and lenders who have recently sold other units in the complex and presumably went through the same questions to do so. Really as long as your agent understands the process, and is resourceful and proactive in finding the answers, you can have a smooth condo buying experience.

We find the best thing for buyers is to be informed about what is involved (which is why we are writing this post) so you can pick a knowledgeable agent, refrain from falling in love with a condo until you know if it meets your lender’s requirements, and be realistic about the timeline involved in processing such loans. Please note, if the complex is non-warrantable, all is not lost either. There are a few select lenders who make these loans provided your down payment is at least 20%.

Questions?  Call us at 512-771-9129

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The Cedar Rock Train in Leander

Like most little boys, our son loves trains. We have books about trains, toy trains, and his grandma even got him his own rideable motorized train. The ultimate experience though is riding a “real” train where there are other people involved and a station of some sort. So far the “real” trains we have ridden include the MetroRail train, the train at Lakeline Mall, the Zilker Park train, the Austin Zoo train, and now we are happy to add to the list the Cedar Rock train.

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The train operator wore overalls and a conductor’s hat and called “all aboard” before punching our tickets. Then the train chugged us out of the “town”, through a forest, across open plains, past playing fields and a pond, and into a tunnel full of spiders (fake ones!). The round trip was about 15 minutes and was followed by play time in the town and with a stationery train, as well as optional individual train rides (which received mixed review from the other kids in the group who got tired of peddling with their hands).

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Perhaps the biggest discovery of the afternoon, however, was driving through nearly 800 acres of the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park to get to the Cedar Rock Railroad.  We saw playing fields, picnic pavilions, hike and bike trails, a splash pad, and I’m sure there’s even more we didn’t see.  Definitely a place we will be exploring further!

The Good:  If your kid likes trains, and Leander is close by, this is a no-brainer.  Tickets were only $2.50 per person.

The Not-So-Good:  I’m drawing a blank.

Website:  http://www.cedarrockrailroad.com/

Lone Star Grille in Cedar Park

When the weather is sunny and you and your spouse want to enjoy a meal while the kids play near by, head to Lone Star Grille in Cedar Park.  Jared and I ate there for the first time last week, and we returned again just a couple days later because it is one of the few restaurants that keeps Little Guy entertained while we eat.  There is a fountain and two playsets and when we went over the weekend there was a bouncy house and live music too.  On our first visit, Jared and I had queso with fajita beef as an appetizer, and then we both ordered burgers – very tasty!  On our second visit the full-order of the Mucho Nachos did me in.  Somehow Jared managed to also fit in some Crispy Chicken Tacos which he said he would order again.  All in all a good dining experience!

Website:  http://lonestargrilletx.com/

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Creative Playscape in Georgetown

We recently visited our friends, Jessa and her little toddler Fox, who live in Georgetown and introduced us to Creative Playscape. To say it is a playground would be a vast understatement. As you can see from the photos there is a train station, a bank, and a store as fronts to a series of bridges, ladders, stairs, and slides. There are also swings for all ages and obstacle course type structures. If you are ever near downtown Georgetown with a kid, then you should definitely pay a visit.

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The Good: Free fun for children of all ages.

The Not-So-Good: None, unless you live far from San Gabriel Park.

Overall: Hours of good times.

Website:  Creative Playscape

Austin Aquarium

The Austin Aquarium is located in a North Austin strip mall in what I believe used to be one of those huge furniture stores and is a very interactive experience for kids.  I’d estimate that maybe half of their tanks are ones you can stick your hands in, the best of which is the stingray exhibit.  Apparently stingrays are very friendly as they surface often and let you pet their slimy skin.  You can also feed them if you purchase food at the door.

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There is also a bird enclosure that you can enter and hold a bird on your finger (while the rest plot to poop on your head).  Other hands-on areas include a hurricane simulator and a playground and, of course, a gift shop.

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All in all it is always a memorable outing.  What kid can forget touching their first starfish or making friends with a stingray?

The Good:  The place is relatively small so the worry about losing track of your kid is minimal.  And with the focus on interactive exhibits your little one is likely to be engaged the whole time.

The Not-So-Good:  Tickets are $14.95 per adult and $9.95 per child ages 2-11, which seems rather expensive to me.  They are less expensive if you buy online.

Overall:  Because of the cost, we don’t go as often to the Aquarium as we do to places like the Thinkery but when we do, it is always a fun afternoon

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The Austin Zoo

Actually it is called the Austin Zoo and Sanctuary, with a heavy emphasis on the sanctuary.  If you are used to a big elaborate zoo, as I am having grown up near the one in Detroit, then you need to adjust your expectations.  Many of the animals are on in their years.  Picture blind tigers, balding monkeys, lots of farm animals and birds, a train, small enclosures, and dirt pathways.  All that said, you may be surprised to hear I LOVE the Austin Zoo and here’s why . . .

The Good:  Unlike other zoos where it can be sad to see animals in their prime confined within their exhibits, at the Austin Zoo you see old, sometimes ailing, animals enjoying a cushy retirement.  You see tigers that would probably have died if still in the wild but instead are served daily buckets of raw meat which they can digest as they laze beneath the shade of a tree.  And, of course, the whole zoo isn’t a senior citizen home, last year they welcomed rescued baby bears!  In short, the zoo is small and charming … and young kids don’t notice the difference anyway.  Plus instead of being a whole day excursion like the big zoos, you can see the Austin Zoo in a couple hours.

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The Not-So-Good:  If your expectations are for a big flashy zoo, you will be out of luck.  Also if you have a specific animal you want to see, the Austin Zoo, being as small as it is, may not have it.

Overall:  The Austin Zoo is very Austin-y – quaint, quirky, and has lots of personality.

Website:  http://austinzoo.org/

The Thinkery: Austin’s Children’s Museum

I never went to the original Austin Children’s Museum downtown.  That was before our days as parents.  With all the time we spend at the Austonian, we were initially disappointed when I was pregnant, and we heard the new museum would no longer be located around the corner.  However after listening to anyone who has been to both, it seems the new Thinkery blows the old one out of the water.  It has play spaces for babies on up to kids 8+ years old.  Our son currently loves the water room which is exactly as it sounds, an elaborate water table with stations for pouring and splashing and making music.  Though smocks and crocs are provided, most kids leave this room rather wet.  I recommend bringing a change of clothes over spending lots of time in front of the dryers.

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Another favorite is the food market and chicken coop which has tons of plastic produce for collecting, sorting, weighing, and serving.

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Also top on the list is the light room (tables with interactive colored light displays), the outdoor playground with waterfall, and baby space (a soft room with mirrors, a tunnel, and displays in the floor).

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There’s so much to experience I can’t possibly describe it all here but suffice to say we enjoyed our time there so much we purchased a membership.

The Good: Everything I just talked about.

The Not-So-Good:  I’ve heard you don’t want to visit at the same time as large groups or field trips.

Overall:  We expect the Thinkery to remain a family favorite for many years to come!