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Property Tax Protest FAQs

About this time of year, we get a lot of questions from clients, friends and family about property taxes, property tax protests and exemptions. We’ve put together some of the most frequently asked questions to help, but you can always reach out to your best TJ Lewis Real Estate agent to help!

How do I protest my property taxes?

There are different steps and stages to protesting your property taxes, but most start with filling an appeal online on your county’s appraisal distract website.

What am I protesting?

You are protesting your homes valuation, not the amount of your taxes or your tax rate. You cannot argue the tax rate – that is set by the different taxing entities (state, county, ISD, MUD, etc.) and is usually between 2-3%. The amount of your taxes is Your VALUATION (minus any exemptions) x Your Tax RATE. So if your valuation is $400,000 and your rate is 2% than your taxes for the year are $8000. What you are protesting the your valuation – the amount the county is saying your home is worth.

What property tax exemptions might be available to me?

The most common property tax exemptions are the exemptions for homestead, disability, senior citizen, agriculture and disable veteran. Here is a link to a video explaining a lot of details about exemptions.

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How do I know if I should protest my property taxes?

This is best determined by comparing the valuation from the county with the current home market. Your valuation is based on the a single date – January 1st of that year – and it is compared against the values for similar properties for the previous year. If you are using sold comparable sales data, you can only use properties that sold in the previous calendar year. For example, for protesting your taxes this year, you would compare it to sales in 2019. To determine the fair market value for your current property, contact a top TJ Lewis agent.

Can I protest my property taxes on my own?

 

Yes, you can but sometimes it is worth it to hire a professional to help you with the process. There are a number of local companies that specialize helping homeowners with protesting their taxes. Their fee is usually a percentage of the tax savings that they earn for their customers and they can also tell you if it is actually worth it to protest your taxes.

Why do my taxes go up?

Your taxes go up for two reasons. First, your taxes increase because your tax rate goes up. From time to time, counties increase taxes to pay for bonds and similar programs. School districts adjust their tax rates to track with their budgets. Many of these rates require local votes and others have caps from the state government. The second reason your taxes go up is that your home’s valuation has increased. Your taxes are based on home much your home is worth – when your home is worth more, you pay more in taxes.

How does a Homestead Exemption protect me?

A homestead exemption protects you in two ways – it exempts you from paying taxes on a percentage of your homes value thereby reducing your property taxes. The exemption also places a 10% cap on the increase a county can make on the valuation of your home each year.

How can I protest my property taxes?

 

There are three main types of property tax appeals – a market appeal, an equity appeal and an appeal based on characteristic correction. A market appeal is based on the believe that your homes valuation is not in line with the current market value of your home if you sold it (remember, you have to use the previous years data for this). An equity appeal is based on the values the county has assigned to similar properties or yours. If they have valued other homes similar to yours at a lower level, you can appeal based on this inequity. An appeal based on characteristics is made when the county has incorrect measurements or structures added to your home. If the square footage they have recorded for your home is higher than the actual square footage, you can argue for a reduced property tax valuation based on the incorrect data. Another example would be if their notes list a pool, shed or other structure in your backyard and have increased your value based on this when you do not actually have that structure, you can get an adjustment based on the county having these characteristics incorrect.

What is the difference between a online/E-File protest and an informal/formal hearing?

 

The online/e-file protests are done completely online and are a lower risk/lower reward system. They take less time as they are done online but any reductions in your value are usually less than what you might be able to get with the in-person informal/formal reviews. However, the online protest cannot result in an increased valuation, something that could happen through the other way. The informal/formal reviews require you to meet with different people at the appraisal board but can usually net you a higher reduction. They can result in an increased valuation if the board feels your value is actually too low. The tax protest professionals are especially good in these reviews.

These are a few Frequently Asked Questions about property tax protest and we hope this has been helpful for you! If you have specific questions about your home, your homes value or protesting your property taxes, contact your top TJ Lewis Real Estate agent and we would be honored to help!

 

 

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Best Burger Restaurants in Austin

Burgers are a staple of any classic American cuisine and Austin’s food scene is no different. From local fast food joints to “hole in wall” Austin classics or gourmet creations, the Austin area has a little bit of everything. Here is our list of some of the top restaurants to enjoy a burger at in our hometown. Some we like because of the amazing tastes, meat or creations and others we like for the history, ambiance or overall meal. If you want our FAVORITE burger or restaurant, ask your local TJ Lewis agent – we’d love to help!

In alphabetical order…

3

Arlo’s

Arlo’s serves plant-based comfort food in a bistro style setting for the Austin nightlife scene. Their food is designed to satisfy omnivores and herbivores alike, offering a fantastic alternative to the usual late night trailer eateries.

Clark’s Oyster Bar

Don’t be confused by the name – the Pan Roasted Black Angus Hamburger at Clarke’s is one of the top burgers in the Austin area!

1

Dan’s Hamburgers

Dan’s has been an Austin tradition since 1973 and is still family owned and operated – one of the Austin “Classics” you should check out!

Hat Creek 

Another Austin trailer restaurant that grew into much more, now with locations all over Texas. Hat Creek is a great environment for kids and adults to enjoy amazing burgers, fries, and shakes (their lettuce wrap burger is delicious!). 

5

Hop Doddy’s

An Austin original that where it’s gormet burgers might actually be outdone by it’s shakes. And we didn’t mention the parmesan truffle fries with Truffle Aioli…Yum!

2

Jewboys

JewBoy Burgers is a food truck that mixes a US/Mexico Border Culture and a traditional Reform Jewish upbringing together to make burgers and latkes that honor both cultures. 

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Mighty Fine

Another Austin original with delicious burgers, fries and shakes but set apart with their fanatical focus on quality and service. So much so that they were the recipient of a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award: the nation’s highest presidential honor for performance excellence!

4

P.Terry’s

Austin’s fast food burger stand – a simple menu with an open kitchen, featuring premium quality ingredients, all served at affordable prices. To the burgers, add fresh-baked cookies, banana bread, house veggie burger and fresh-squeezed orange juice and lemonade!

Phil’s Icehouse

Started in 2003 by Steven and Amy of Amy’s Ice Cream (another Austin original servicing made to order ice cream creations), Phil’s Icehouse has burgers named after local Austin neighborhoods. It’s a popular spot with kids as each location has an enjoyable outdoor play area. 

Sandy’s

A favorite for true Austinintes, Sandy’s has been serving burgers, fries and ice cream on Barton Springs Rd for generations – since the 1940’s actually! Perhaps your most afforadalbe burger in Austin – taste the history of Austin!

Top Notch

If you are not from Austin, you might recognize Top Notch Burgers from the 1993 movie, Dazed and Confused. Austinintes have been coming here since 1971 for the charcoal-grilled burgers and fried chicken. 

 

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Should I Refinance?

One of the most common questions we are getting over the past few weeks is coming from homeowners who are wondering if now is the time for them to refinance their mortgage. Interest rates have been very low and in the new we have all seen the the Fed cut its benchmark to almost 0%! Does this mean that we can get a mortgage for 0%?! 

We would like to answer some of the most common questions about refinancing here, but if you have particular questions unique to your personal situation, reach out to your TJ Lewis Real Estate agent and he or she would be happy to help!

Does a 0% Fed rate mean I can get that interest rate for my mortgage?

Unfortunately, no, you cannot get a 0% mortgage interest rate. The Fed rate does have an impact on mortgage rates but there not directly related. A reduced Fed rate usually means you can get a lower interest rate but they will not be equal for a number of reasons we will not get into here – ask you real estate agent or lender.

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How do I know if I should try to refinance my mortgage?

There are a few situations that if you find yourself in right now, you should consider refinancing:

  • Your current mortgage interest rate is above 4%. You can likely get a new lower rate and it should be worth it for you to refinance. 
  • You have equity in your home and you are looking to “Cash Out.” A cash out refinance converts some of the equity you have in your home to cash in your bank account. Your mortgage balance will increase but the you might be able to keep the same payment because of the lower rates or by adjusting the length of your mortgage.
  • You have an adjustable rate mortgage. Adjustable rate mortgages can be great for short periods of time but are not ideal for the long term. Your rate could go up significantly and is unpredictable. Refinancing to a low, guaranteed rate could be a good idea. 
  • You need to consolidate debt. This is similar to the concept of a cash out refinance but you are using the cash to pay off other, higher interest debt. Maybe you have an car note or student loan that has a higher interest rate – you could refinance to consolidate that debt to a single, lower interest payment with your mortgage.

Ok, at least one of those answers describes my situation, what should I do next?

  • Contact your lender to get some basic questions answered. Do they have a program for me? How long does their refinance process work? What interest rate could be available to me?
  • Check your eligibility. Just because you own your home right now does not mean you automatically qualify to refinance right now. Contact your lender to check your eligibility. 
  • Get your document in ahead of time. The process to refinance can take 30-60 days so getting your documents in ahead of time could mean that your lender is ready to lock your rate as soon as it reaches the right rate. Rates fluctuate and your lender can be watching for the perfect time. If you wait until rates drop to the right level for you and then start the application process, you might miss out.

Are there any other benefits to refinancing?

When you close on your new mortgage, your next payment is not due until the second month. So if you close on June 15th, your first payment should not be due until August 1st – you’ve effectively skipped two payments!

If you have a question about refinance your home or need help finding the right lender, contact your TJ Lewis Real Estate agent and he or she will be happy to help!

 

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March 2020 Central Texas Housing Market Report

Austin area home sales hold steady in March

Central Texas REALTORS® remain cautiously optimistic during COVID-19 pandemic

AUSTIN, Texas – Local shelter-in-place orders that went into effect on March 24 had little impact on March home sales, according to the Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR) latest Central Texas Housing Market Report.

In March, residential sales in the five-county Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) increased 2.2% year over year to 3,042 sales and median price jumped 11.7% year over year to $335,200. Monthly housing inventory declined 0.7 months year over year to 1.6 months of inventory, and average days on market decreased from 65 days to 54 days.

“For most of March, it was still ‘business as usual,’ and REALTORS® adapted early to continue serving homebuyers and sellers safely,” Romeo Manzanilla, 2020 ABoR president, said. “Declines in listing activity and pending residential sales in March indicate that we won’t begin to see the true impact of COVID-19 on the housing market until our April report.”

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Last month, new listings decreased 12.7% to 3,770 listings; active listings dropped 26.6% to 4,908 listings; and pending sales decreased 19.2% to 2,852 pending sales.

Although COVID-19 has shifted the way real estate business is conducted, closings and home sales have not been negatively impacted thus far, Lea Holubec, senior vice president of education and training for Heritage Title of Austin, said.

“The approach to closing a home looks very different right now, but activity has not dipped,” Holubec said. “Homebuyers should be prepared for the closing process to take longer than usual due to COVID-19 safety precautions and be ready for additional employment verifications at closing, or even after closing, which many lenders are now requiring.”

“Like REALTORS®, sellers should remain cautiously optimistic during this time. Austin-area homebuyers are still looking to buy homes, and fewer homes on the market means stronger demand and increased visibility for your property,” Manzanilla said. “Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we’re still in a seller’s market and sellers should be encouraged to list their homes.”

City of Austin

In March, the median price for residential homes in the city of Austin rose 14% year over year to $415,000, an all-time high for any month on record. Residential home sales remained flat at 985 sales, while total sales dollar volume experienced a double-digit increase of 11.2% year over year to $503,132,316 last month. During the same period, new listings decreased 7.5% to 1,299 listings; active listings dropped 27.8% to 1,237 listings; and pending sales dipped 18.3% to 922 pending sales. Monthly housing inventory decreased 0.5 months year over year to 1.2 months of inventory.

Travis County

At the county level, residential home sales slightly increased 0.4% to 1,545 sales and sales dollar volume increased 11.8% to $783,614,704. The median price for residential homes jumped 15.1% year over year to $397,250. During the same period, new listings decreased 12.6% to 2,004 listings; active listings decreased 30.5% to 2,277 listings; and pending sales decreased 22.6% to 1,393 pending sales. Monthly housing inventory decreased 0.7 months year over year to 1.4 months of inventory.

Williamson County

In Williamson County, March residential home sales increased 0.4% to 1,007 sales and sales dollar volume increased 5.2% to $327,850,432. The median price for residential homes increased by 6.8% to $293,805. New listings declined 11% to 1,202 listings and active listings dropped 28.8% to 1,520 listings. Pending sales decreased 19.9% to 976 pending sales and housing inventory declined 0.8 months year over year to 1.5 months of inventory.

Hays County

In March, Hays County residential home sales increased 16.5% to 381 sales and sales dollar volume jumped 29% to $133,789,771. The median price for residential homes increased by 11.8% to $285,000. During the same period, new listings decreased 17.6% to 404 listings and active listings dropped 21.3% to 704 listings. Pending sales slightly decreased 6% to 359 pending sales. Housing inventory decreased 0.8 months to 2.1 months of inventory.

Bastrop County

In Bastrop County, residential home sales remained flat at 77 home sales, while sales dollar volume increased 13.7% to $20,306,295. The median price for residential homes slightly increased 3.7% to $239,950. During the same period, new listings spiked 27.8% to 124 listings; active listings rose 16.1% to 324 listings; and pending sales jumped 20.7% to 105 pending sales. Housing inventory decreased 0.1 months to 3.3 months of inventory.

Caldwell County

In Caldwell County, March residential home sales remained flat at 29 sales, while sales dollar volume spiked 33.8% to $8,153,889. The median home price increased 18.7% year over year to $237,450. During the same period, new listings decreased 23.3% to 33 listings, while active listings increased 15.6% to 89 listings. Pending sales dropped 21.9% to 25 pending sales. Housing inventory rose 0.1 months to 3.4 months of inventory.

For more information, and to download the March 2020 Central Texas Housing Market Report, visit https://www.abor.com/statsmar20/. All information taken from the Austin Board of Realtors March 2020 Central Texas Housing Market Report,

 

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Protecting Your Family | COVID-19

Protecting yourself and those you care about is very important during this pandemic. You can plan and make decisions now that will protect you and your family during a COVID-19 outbreak. Directly from the CDC, here are the best practices and direction to stay safe. 

Stay informed and in touch

  • Get up-to-date information about local COVID-19 activity from public health officials
  • Ask your neighbors what their plan includes.
  • Create a list of local organizations you and your household can contact in case you need access to information, healthcare services, support, and resources.
  • Create an emergency contact list including family, friends, neighbors, carpool drivers, healthcare providers, teachers, employers, the local public health department, and other community resources.

Prepare for possible illness

Take everyday preventive steps

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • Be prepared if your child’s school or childcare facility is temporarily dismissed or for potential changes at your workplace.

Watch for symptoms

  • Stay home and speak to your healthcare provider if you develop any of these symptoms:
    • Fever or
    • Cough or
    • Shortness of breath
  • If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately
  • Emergency warning signs include*:
    • Trouble breathing
    • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
    • New confusion or inability to arouse
    • Bluish lips or face

*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

  • Keep away from others who are sick
  • Limit close contact with others as much as possible (about 6 feet)

If someone in your home is sick

  • Continue to practice everyday preventive actions
  • Keep the ill person in a separate room from others in the household
  • If caring for a sick household member, follow recommended precautions and monitor your own health
  • Keep surfaces disinfected
  • Avoid sharing personal items
  • If you become sick, stay in contact with others by phone or email
  • Stay informed about the local outbreak situation
  • Notify your work if your schedule needs to change
  • Take care of the emotional health of your household members, including yourself

Those at higher risk of severe illness

Take additional precautions for those at higher risk, particularly older adults and those who have severe underlying health conditions.

  • Consider staying at home and away from crowds
  • Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home
  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick and limit close contact with others
  • Practice good hand hygiene
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April Things to Do – Social Distancing Edition!

This month’s “Activity and Events” post is unlike anything we’ve ever done before. It’s likely that none of us have ever lived through a period of bans and quarantining like we are now. For a social people, this is a huge challenge! With schools closing and kids quarantined with us, it complicates things even further. In this April Activities post, we are sharing our “Social Distancing Edition” – ideas, lists and inspiration for making the most of your time inside or separated from the crowds we normally interact with.

March - Kids Activities

125 Things to Do with Kids During the Quarantine

Perhaps the most comprehensive and interesting list we’ve seen put together presented by Stephanie Osmanksi with Parade. Avoid cabin fever with this (seemingly) exhaustive list of ideas! CLICK HERE for all 125…

April - Workout

FREE Online Workouts

Your daily workout routine is what keeps your straight. Add the social component of working out with and around familiar faces and the gym has immense value for many. The ban has stripped this from our daily lives but that doesn’t mean you can still sweat, tone and work out, sometimes still together! For the most comprehensive and helpful list we’ve found of FREE online workouts while your stuck inside, CLICK HERE…

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Harry Potter Digital Escape Room

This online experience puts your and your kids wizardly knowledge and memory to the ultimate Harry Potter test, using lessons, photos and clips from the Potter movies on your quest. The room was created by staff at the Peters Township Public Library in Pennsylvania and is free during the COVID-19 ban. To enter the experience, CLICK HERE…

April - Reading

Let a Celebrity Read Your Kid a Story

Storyline Online has partnered with many celebrities to have them record kids book readings for your family to enjoy! Stories are read by Oprah, Kevin Costner, Al Gore and Chris Pine to name a few. To watch and listed to these free videos, CLICK HERE…

April - Animals

Zoo and Wildlife Web Cams

While all of our zoos, aquariums and wildlife exhibits are closed, we can still see and enjoy watching these animals! The Houston Zoo, San Diego Zoo and National Zoo have great webcams to name a few. You can also see all of Explore.org’s wildlife webcams on their YouTube channel. For a list of even more webcams, CLICK HERE…

April - Weather

Learn about the Weather from a Local Meteorologist

Austin’s own Albert Ramon from KVUE has taken this down time as an opportunity to teach your kids about the weather! He has a number of lesson – with new ones added daily – on his Facebook page. To have your kids learn about the weather from Albert Ramon, CLICK HERE…

 

 

 

 

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Austin Counts – 2020 Census

Why the Census Matters

The census is a population count required by the U.S. Constitution once every 10 years, to count every resident – regardless of origin or legal status – in the United States. The census counts everyone living in the country in order to provide an accurate population count that is used as the basis for reapportioning congressional seats, redistricting at all governmental levels, and determining how to distribute more than $675 billion in federal funding annually among the states and communities for the next 10 years. These federal dollars support our local schools, healthcare services, transportation infrastructure and systems, and much more.

Data from the 2020 census will set the foundation for important federal, state, and local changes that will impact REALTORS® for the next decade.

What’s at Risk?

Being undercounted by even one percent in 2020 is estimated to cost Texas at least $300 million a year in lost federal funding. The United Way of Greater Austin estimates that in Central Texas, a one percent undercount of the population could translate to $25 million in lost revenue per year. That means Central Texas could lose at least $250 million in federal funding over the next 10 years.

“If you’re marketing your town as a great place to live with plenty of reliable services and amenities, the 2020 census should matter to you.” – National Association of REALTORS®

Here’s What You Need to Know

Three Ways to Respond

By April 1, 2020, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. You will have three options for responding:

  • Online.
  • By phone.
  • By mail.

In mid-March, households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census. Taking the Census is easy, learn more about completing the 2020 Census.

What to Expect

🗓️ March 12–20: Invitations Mailed. An invitation to complete the 2020 Census online will be mailed to every household.

🗓️ March 16–24: Reminder Letters. A reminder letter will be mailed to complete the 2020 Census.

If you haven’t responded yet:

🗓️ March 26–April 3: Reminder Postcards. A reminder postcard will be mailed.

🗓️ April 8–16: Hard Copy Census Mailed. Another reminder letter and paper questionnaire will be mailed.

🗓️ April 20–27: Final Postcards Mailed. A final reminder postcard will be mailed before an in-person follow-up.

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Be the Source of the Source

Learn more about the 2020 U.S. Census by visiting 2020Census.gov. Get the facts, learn how to respond, understand why your response matters, take the pledge, and learn how you can help get a complete and accurate count.

Get involved locally through the Austin-Travis County Census 2020 efforts to achieve a full and complete count for Central Texas. Learn how the 2020 Census could impact your community and how you can get involved in your neighborhood to help get a complete count.

All information taken from the Austin Board of Realtors 2020 Census Guide for the Austin area.