Tag Archives: Austin tax appraisals

KXAN Forecasts Historic Wave Of Property Tax Protests

By Bill Oakey – April 16, 2021

Just as Austinites began enjoying the marvelous joys of spring weather, amid hopeful signs of finally escaping the pandemic, a thunderous roar could be heard reverberating across the city. On Thursday afternoon, the initial sounds were much quieter – little mouse clicks and computer keystrokes. And the nearly silent taps and swipes across phones and tablets. Then came the sweeping surge of audible gasps, quickly followed by various combinations of howls, shrieks and screams. Many people exclaimed out loud, “How could this even be possible!!??” The Travis Central Appraisal District’s website went live with this year’s stunning property tax appraisals.

On the evening local news, KXAN became the first to report on the story. Click here for the video, or read about it below:

Tax Experts Anticipate More Home Appraisal Protests Than Ever

By Kevin Clark, April 15, 2021

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the local housing market changes dramatically, hundreds of thousands in Travis County are getting their home appraisals from the Travis Central Appraisal District for this year. The numbers are important because they’re used to calculate property taxes. But tax experts tell KXAN they expect more homeowners than ever to fight back.Last year, TCAD says there were 127,000 protests. This year, even more are expected.

“We’ve already had folks calling us and asking us to help them, anticipating that ‘hard hit’ in those values,” said Debra Bawcom, CEO of Texas ProTax, which helps represent homeowners who want to protest the values set by the appraisal district. (Link provided by this blog).

As it does around this time every year, TCAD has begun sending out appraisal notices. But as housing demand continues to skyrocket, the appraisal district is reporting higher median home values. In 2020, Travis County’s median home value was $354,622. This year, TCAD says it has reached $413,403. The only year this number didn’t go up from the previous year was last year — that’s when the appraisal district froze appraisals because of a data dispute.

“I think it’s going to really shock the property owner how much that value is going to increase because the appraisal district is going to have to play catch up now for two years,” Bawcom said.

Bill Oakey is just one homeowner feeling the effect. He owns one-third of a triplex in West Austin. According to the appraisal notice Oakey received, its value went up 55% from last year.“The first thing that occurred to me was that the alarm was going to go off, I’m going to wake up and tell everyone about the bad dream I just had,” he told us.

Property owners have until May 17 to protest their appraisals. From there, homeowners can try and reach a settlement with TCAD informally or have a formal hearing in front of the Appraisal Review Board. More details on the process and timelines can be found here. Texas law caps increases of tax-assessed value to 10% per year for those with homestead exemptions. Anything above that is ripe for a protest, which is exactly what Oakey plans.

“I’m going to try to become an example of how you can win,” he said.


Get Ready For Something Nasty In Your Mailbox – Tax Appraisal Notices Are Coming!

By Bill Oakey – March 22, 2021

Birds are chirping. Spring is in the air. People are out frolicking, with hardly a care. High above that facade sits an unmerciful God. Reach into your mailbox…but only if you dare!

I offer both good news and bad news. You might qualify for a temporary property tax exemption if you sustained certain levels of damage during the February storm. The TCAD website lists all the details. The bad news is that the Chairman of the Appraisal Review Board has abruptly resigned, because of serious animosity towards him from other board members. That could throw a huge kink into this year’s rollicking tax protest season, which seems to set new records in numbers every single year. The appraisal review process has strained under heavy workloads in the recent past, leading to chaos and legal challenges.

Why Do Austin’s Tax Appraisals Keep Skyrocketing?

The simple answer is that the official mission of our once affordable city has morphed into something rather frightening for ordinary, hard-working, longtime residents. If you look in the City Budget, you will find an organization chart. The little box at the very top is labeled “Citizens of Austin.” The official wording in that box remains the same, as it has since Austin’s founding in 1839. But, unofficially, a single new word has been added.

You may recall a scene from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The first time the animals walked by the big sign on the barn, it said, “All Animals Are Equal.” But the next time they saw it, the message had been altered – “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” In the case of our City’s Organization Chart, just one single word has been added to describe the folks in the very top box – “Future Citizens of Austin.”

The powerful special interests who control the City have a mission for you and your neighbors as well – Make way for those wealthy newcomers, and the developers who want to bulldoze your house and turn it into multiple luxury units. For another analogy, think of the science fiction movie classic, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Seed pods were placed outside people’s bedroom windows. Once you fell asleep, the seed pod would burst open to reveal a blank, alien body that had arrived to take the place of yours. The assembled army of new, sinister creatures then tried to brainwash the rest of the town into falling asleep and joining their herd.

That same scenario is playing out here in Austin. This time it’s called “Invasion of the Property Snatchers.” No family is safe, not even from its own members. If your wife comes to the breakfast table looking a bit odd, and speaks in a dull, lifeless tone, get ready to run. Especially, if she says something like, “Oh darling, we were so wrong! High density is wonderful for our neighborhood. It’s too late to stop it anyway. Let them have our lot. We should sell it, or maybe just give it to them…” Jump up from the table and run! As fast and as far as you can. But whatever you do, don’t fall asleep!

How to Open Your Tax Appraisal Notice

By Bill Oakey – Originally published March 26, 2014

Within just a matter of days, something will happen all over Austin that must be approached with utmost caution.  That thump and rustling sound that you hear outside your front door could evoke a cold sweat and the starkest feeling of sheer dread and fear.  “Could it be out there today?” you might wonder.  “Was that really the mailman, or just a bird trying to make another nest?”  “Should I actually go out there and look?”  “Do I have to?”

All of those are perfectly legitimate questions.  But sooner or later, you are going to have to open that door.  You are going to have to stick your hand in the mailbox, and find out if this is the day that you were hoping  would never come.  But I have a few suggestions that might help you get through the process.  There may be a way to do it and remain in one piece.

1. With any luck, the “bad envelope” will be buried inside a bundle of junk mail.  Grab the bundle and squeeze it tightly, so that you can take everything inside without looking at the envelopes.

2. Once your are safely inside the house, it’s OK to look through the envelopes.  But make sure you are sitting down first.

3. If you even think you see an envelope from the Travis Central Appraisal District, don’t open it right away and don’t panic!  Take a few deep breaths and look at the envelope again.  Make absolutely sure that you saw what you think you saw.  Our brains can play tricks on us sometimes.

4. If you are positively certain that what you are holding really is your tax appraisal notice, then you will have to make another decision.  When and how are you going to open it?

5. My advice is definitely not to do it alone!  If your significant other is not home yet, wait until you can share the memorable experience together.

6. If you don’t have a significant other, or if he/she is out with another significant other, just call a good friend.

7. Depending on your situation, you might want to pour a glass of wine or have some medication handy if needed.  I’ve always heard that aspirin is good for a stroke.

8. If the battery is low on your phone, plug it in.  You might need to call 911.

9. When you and at least one other supportive person are sure you are prepared, go ahead and get ready to open the envelope.  Do not attempt it with a sharp object like a knife or a letter opener.

10. Open your tax appraisal notice.

Sorry, I can’t help you any further.  We will all miss you when you leave.  Take those fond memories of Austin with you, and come back and see us sometime!

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece

1. “Something’s Coming” – West Side Story, Original Broadway Cast
2. “Getting Ready for the Heartbreak” – Chuck Jackson
3. “Bad Moon Rising” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
4. “Taxman” – The Beatles
5. “Shutters and Boards” – Jerry Wallace
6. “In the Middle of the House” – Vaughn Monroe
7. “Make Way for a Better Man” – Willie Nelson
8. “Home of the Blues” – Johnny Cash
9. “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” – Ray Charles
10. “Little Boxes” – Pete Seeger

Tax Appraisal Spike Proves Need For Homeowner Retention Initiative

By Bill Oakey – April 12, 2016

The Travis Central Appraisal District has released the data on 2016 property tax appraisals. As you can see from the map below, some of the most worrisome geographic areas in terms of gentrification are being clobbered again. Look at the dark-colored areas marked W, E and F and note that these Northeast and East Austin neighborhoods are seeing 16%, 17% and 18% appraisal increases. Beyond that, the map is dotted with other assorted double-digit increases.




Click the map to enlarge it.

Austin Should Consider the Homeowner Retention Initiative

As mentioned in my previous blog posting, I have launched a comprehensive set of ideas for the City and the County to consider. The Homeowner Retention Initiative lays out a range of options to help make home ownership more affordable for both longterm residents and first-time homebuyers. The main focus however, is on our longterm residents who are consistently being priced out of their neighborhoods. The cost squeeze affects both low income and middle class homeowners and renters. So far in my discussions with City Council offices, the response has been very welcoming and encouraging. The issues are very complex and challenging. But I believe strongly that now is the time for a meeting of the minds, within both public and private civic quarters to attack and solve this critical affordability problem.

In the ongoing discussions of the initiative with City Council staff, some interesting perspectives have been raised. I would like to thank Ken Craig in Council Member Ann Kitchen’s office for suggesting that landlords could participate in some of the programs, and thereby be able to offer more affordable rents. When I met with Ashley Richardson in Council Member Renteria’s office, I was impressed with the stack of printed reports that she was prepared to study. And Michael Searle In Council Member Troxclair’s office, along with the other two policy aides, dug into the discussion with lots of detailed questions and insights. Because of some of the complexities, there will be tall mountains to climb. And we may not be able to surmount all of them. But if we can plow through some of the obstacles and achieve a measure of success, then it will have been worth the effort. On Wednesday of this week at 2:00, the initiative will be presented to the City’s Housing and Community Development Committee.

As for the Sting of the Tax Appraisals

We should not blame TCAD for the high appraisal increases. The year-after-year “clobbering” of the taxpayers is caused by the boom in Austin’s economy. Along with planning and zoning decisions. Even more importantly, the Texas Legislature maintains a steadfast insistence on relying more heavily on local property taxes to fund public services than any other large state in the country. I often hear people say, “Oh but this issue of skyrocketing property values is nothing new. California went through all that back in the 70’s and 80’s.” Well, here’s the big difference. Even back in those days, California paid its workers a living wage. And not only that, California voters passed Proposition 13, which froze taxable values at the purchase price of a home. Only after that home went back on the market did it gain a new taxable “market value.” It was an imperfect and controversial solution. But at least California had some kind of solution, along with much better salaries and wages.

We should also note that when the City of Austin, Travis County or any of the other taxing entities set their budgets, they would have to lower their tax rate in order to maintain an even level of spending from the previous year. If they actually did that, then the steep appraisal increases wouldn’t matter as much. But, unfortunately, we gaze at the Austin skyline every year and marvel at the sleek new highrises. Then we see all of the huge multifamily developments along every thoroughfare. And we ask and we wonder…

Where is all the new revenue from all of that new “tax base” going? How much new tax money is being generated each year? And why in the world are they spending it as fast as they can?

If anyone reading this can answer those questions, please drop a comment into this blog post! (And I haven’t given up on asking the City and the County for an itemized list of all of their “plans,” with a grand total of the costs and a public participation process to prioritize all of those plans).


Musical accompaniment for this blog posting:

  1. “Taxman,” – the Beatles, Revolver album, 1966
  2. “I Got Stung,” Elvis Presley, 1958

Come And Speak 4:00 PM Thursday At City Council On Tax Appraisal Challenge

By Bill Oakey – May 26, 2015

The Austin City Council must decide by June 1st whether to launch a landmark challenge to the Travis Central Appraisal District over the undervalued commercial properties in this year’s tax appraisals. You can help convince them make the right decision to go forward with the appeal. Come to the City Council Chambers at 301 West 2nd Street, this Thursday May 28th. Bring your neighbors and friends. Email, text, Tweet and Facebook the link to this blog posting. We have obtained a 4:00 time certain for speakers on this topic, which is Item #4 on the agenda. You can sign up to speak, using the kiosks in the lobby of the Council Chambers anytime between now and Thursday’s meeting.

Please keep in mind that this is not an adversarial action against the TCAD appraisal officials. They have been very cooperative with our City Council members and City staff. This is the legally required process to correct major flaws caused by the Texas appraisal system. The law does not require sales price disclosure on either residential or commercial real estate transactions.

Here are some new developments on the Council’s pending decision on the appraisal challenge. Two major stumbling blocks could cause Travis County, AISD, or any of the other taxing entities in our area to oppose Austin’s challenge to TCAD. Both involve a potential delay in TCAD’s new certification of the tax rolls after the revised commercial appraisals have been calculated.

For one thing, taxpayers who usually make their payments to the Travis County Tax Office at the end of the year might lose the opportunity to do that, and then lose their Federal income tax deduction for this year. But a solution to that problem was discussed at Tuesday’s City Council Work Session. A plan is underway to allow taxpayers to pay an estimated tax by the end of the year and still use that for their Federal tax deduction. Then they would simply make a final supplemental payment once the new tax rolls are certified and final tax bill amounts are determined. With these tax receipts coming in, the taxing entities would not face a delay in receiving the revenues needed to fund their operations.

Plans are also being considered that might allow TCAD to certify the new tax rolls faster and shorten the delay period. City Council members are looking into whether each taxing entity could make a small contribution to TCAD and the Travis County Tax Office, so they could hire temporary workers to help them through the clerical work required to finish the new certification and get new tax notices sent out

We’ll see you in the City Council Chambers on Thursday afternoon. We are one step closer to ending the egregious inequity of undervalued commercial properties that has plagued residential taxpayers for too many years. For more information on the flawed Texas appraisal system, please visit Real Values for Texas at this link. Read their report and watch their excellent video.

City Report On Tax Appraisal Inequities Draws Outrage

By Bill Oakey – May 21, 2015

On Tuesday May 19th, a blue ribbon panel of City and County officials and other top leaders addressed an emotional crowd at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin. The topic was property tax appraisals. The speaker lineup included:

Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner
Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin
Kathie Tovo, City of Austin Mayor Pro Tem
Bruce Elfant, Travis County Tax Assessor
Marya Crigler, Travis Central Appraisal District Chief Appraiser
Dick Lavine, Center for Public Policy Priorities
Leigh Murrin, Real Values for Texas

If you missed this event, please consider watching the full video here. It was highly informative, even if you thought you knew quite a bit about our tax appraisal system and how unjust it is. The combined factual and emotional impact is quite stunning. The City of Austin is considering filing a formal appeal of the undervalued commercial properties here in Austin. Estimates vary, but in many cases, large commercial buildings have been found to be undervalued by 40% or more.

On May 11th, the City released its detailed report on undervalued commercial properties. You can read the full report here. The panelists at the Tax Appraisal Forum discussed this blistering report, as well as details on the flawed tax appraisal system here in Texas. The cards are stacked so heavily against residential homeowners that the situation qualifies as a national disgrace. There are risks associated with the contemplated action by the City of filing a formal appeal to the Travis Central Appraisal District. The appeal could cause a delay in certifying this year’s tax rolls. Over 100 area taxing jurisdictions have been asked to weigh in on the appeal decision. But if the City indeed makes good on its formal challenge, the entire State of Texas would sit up and take notice. Fighting for justice can be a treacherous battle, just like any battle throughout history for a noble cause.

Affordability in Austin has reached an epic tipping point. You will see in the video of the panel discussion, that the citizens who spoke during the Q&A displayed emotions ranging from frustration to full-on anger. The appraisal inequities are only part of a bigger picture. Austin is growing at a breakneck speed, putting unprecedented pressure on home values and rents. Unlike businesses of all sizes, cities and counties do not carefully plan the pace of their growth. They do not add up the costs of all of their combined expansion plans that taxpayers go into debt and pay annual taxes to fund. It is more a matter of “build first and ask questions later.” That path, as everyone knows, can and often does result in spectacular boom and bust cycles. Perhaps we can convince our local officials to conduct a “Pre-Mortem” to determine how much we the citizens can realistically afford to pay for the cost of growth. And at what pace that growth can be deemed to be “affordable” for anyone but the most wealthy amongst us.

The State of Texas does not require sales price disclosure on either residential or commercial properties. We are one of only a few states that lacks this requirement. This sets up the flawed appraisal protest system, where the big boys can out-lawyer and out-spend not only the average homeowner, but the Appraisal Districts as well. Believe it or not, any cases that the Appraisal Districts lose in court require them to pay the commercial property owners’ legal fees. But if the case is decided in favor of us lowly taxpayers, we still have to pay the people’s side of the legal fees. The scales of justice are as titled as they can be. Attempts at reform during the current Legislative session went mostly nowhere, just as they have in every previous session going back for eons.

If you have a strong enough stomach, try to make yourself comfortable and watch this informative video on the inequity issues in our tax appraisal system. Thanks to the good folks at Real Values for Texas for their tireless efforts to push for reforms.

Austin To Consider Challenging Commercial Property Appraisals

By Bill Oakey – May 19, 2015

The City of Austin will decide within less than two weeks whether to formally challenge the tax appraisals of non-residential commercial properties. This would be a landmark event that comes as very welcome news. For far too long, commercial property owners have enjoyed the benefit of special loopholes under Texas law that allow them to gain property tax appraisals that often equate to only 60% of their true market value.

Texas is one of a tiny handful of states that do not require sales disclosure of properties after completed real estate transactions. This creates a tremendous burden on tax appraisal districts. It is much harder for them to determine actual market value of many commercial properties than it is for residential units. Residential units can be appraised in bulk, because of common characteristics in residential neighborhoods. But commercial properties vary widely in all sorts of respects, causing appraisals districts to face lots of challenges in trying to accurately estimate the market value of every building within their jurisdictions.

in Travis County, 90% of commercial property owners challenge their appraisals, and they often take their cases to court. The deep pockets of the big corporations dwarf the budget of the appraisal district, creating a very unlevel playing field. Many of the very same companies that receive tax subsidies to locate in Austin turn around and protest their tax appraisals, shifting the burden to residential taxpayers. The whole picture does not bode well for the beleaguered homeowners who have seen their tax appraisals shoot through the roof in the last few years.

A Great Big Thank You to Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Members Ann Kitchen, Ellen Troxclair Don Zimmerman!

These four City Council members have co-sponsored a resolution for Tuesday May 19th  to formally challenge this year’s tax appraisals for large commercial properties. A final decision on whether to file a challenge must be made before June 1st. The City has been studying and preparing for this potential action since last year. Of course there are risks that tax collections might be delayed. Bold actions always come with risks. But a fight for fairness is always a noble fight! One might ask, why doesn’t the Texas Legislature pass better laws to close the loopholes enjoyed by the rich and powerful? (silly question).

And one might say that commercial property owners might just raise their prices to their customers if they were suddenly required to pay their fair share of property taxes. But I have a much different outlook on the situation. Why should good, hard working average citizens be taxed out of their socks, year after year, while the big boys skate by without paying their fair share? I’m not the least bit concerned about how tough the fight is. The fact that we have new people on the City Council who are bold enough to stand up for the taxpayers is something to celebrate. I support the City Council resolution. Let the battle begin!

You Are Invited to a Property Tax Appraisal Forum

Dear Travis County Resident,

Commissioner Brigid Shea invites you to the Property Tax Appraisal Forum on Tuesday, May 19th from 6:00-8:00pm at the First Unitarian Universalist Church (4700 Grover Ave; 78757).

The forum will provide information on the current status of tax appraisals and the efforts underway to ease the burden on homeowners. The speakers will address concerns and provide information that you may need for appeals and exemptions, as well as an update on current legislation.

Speakers Include:

Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner

Kathie Tovo, City of Austin Mayor Pro Tem

Bruce Elfant, Travis County Tax Assessor

Marya Crigler, Travis Central Appraisal District Chief Appraiser

Dick Levine, Center for Public Policy Priorities

Leigh Murrin, Real Values for Texas


Brigid Shea
Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Address: 700 Lavaca, Ste.2.700, Austin, Texas
Phone: 512-854-1489
Email: Brigid.Shea@traviscountytx.gov
Twitter and Facebook: CommishShea

Who To Contact To Support Property Tax Relief At The Legislature

By Bill Oakey – April 30, 2015

The State Legislature has convened a joint House / Senate Budget Conference Committee. This committee will iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

We need to support the Senate version, which provides $2.4 billion in property tax relief. The House version contains no property tax relief, and would only give a tiny reduction in the sales tax. Here is a link that describes the Senate’s proposal for property tax reductions.

I urge everyone to email or call the House members of the Conference Committee listed below. Ask them to support the Senate’s recommended property tax reductions in their budget negotiations. Let them know that Austinites are struggling to keep up with sky high taxes and double digit appraisal increases. Please email, Tweet, and Facebook this blog posting to all of your friends and other contacts and ask them to do the same.

Texas House Members of the Budget Conference Committee:

Click each name to send an email. Phone numbers are listed on each page.

Appropriations Committee Chair John Otto

Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Sylvester Turner

Rep. Trent Ashby

Rep. Sarah Davis

Rep. Larry Gonzales

If you belong to a neighborhood organization or have access to any organization newsletter, please see that this appeal is posted. Try to get it circulated on as many blogs and forums as possible.

Property Tax Appraisals Require Quick Action By Local Leaders

By Bill Oakey – April 30, 2015

As the sun came up this morning, neighborhoods across the City were jolted awake by the continuing shockwaves of this year’s property tax appraisals. They are up by as much as 29% in some areas of town. For many taxpayers, this is on top of crippling double digit increases in last year’s appraisals.

This situation demands a call to action!

As a first step, I will be contacting City and County officials and asking them to make a public statement of support for the Texas Senate’s property tax reduction plan for the State budget. Unfortunately, the Texas House has offered a much weaker plan that reduces the sales tax by a very small percentage.

We need property tax relief now!

Look for another blog posting today, with links for you to contact the members of the House-Senate Conference Committee on the State budget. It is time for all taxpayers to unite in this effort. We will not get another chance for State legislative relief for two more years.

Here’s hoping that our City and County officials will make a strong public statement on our behalf as soon as possible. I will keep you posted.

The Biggest Tax Appraisal Shock Yet!

By Bill Oakey – April 29, 2015

They’re here!

That expression is somtimes used to announce that a flying saucer has landed. Emotions like horror and fear come to mind, especially when you get a peek at what lurks inside.

The same thing happens at this time every year in Austin.

The new TCAD property tax appraisals are now posted online. If you want to get scared out of your socks, just start picking out addresses from various neighborhoods and take a look, using TCAD’s property search page.

It’s not a pretty sight! Here is a map that shows some of the astonishing appraisal increases, as high as 29% in some neighborhoods. Click the graphic to enlarge it.


By reviewing the values across the City on TCAD’s website, you will see many $60,000 to $90,000+ increases for single family homes. Many of these same homeowners saw appraisal increases last year that were well above 10%. So, guess what that means. Even though there is a 10% cap on the home value used to calculate their tax bill, the assessment amount above the cap sits in the system to haunt the taxpayer in future years.

Even if the taxing entities lower their tax rates slightly to compensate for rising appraisals, tax bills continue to skyrocket.

Think about the longtime Austinites who have already seen their tax appraisals double and even triple in the last 10 or 15 years. Then think about the future. If taxes go up just 5% each year, it would only take 14 and a half years for today’s tax bills to double! That’s becuase the impact is compunded.

Ask yourself if the City of Austin can sustain that kind of tax spiral. Then you might want another cup of coffee.

Have a nice day!