Unlike most states, in Texas it’s not mandatory to disclose sales prices on real estate, which makes appraisals on some properties difficult.
Gradually many real estate websites have begun posting home sales prices, which the appraisal district now utilizes, but sales on large commercial real estate is difficult to obtain. This lack of sales information creates a problem in accurately valuing commercial properties.
Isolated houses in rural areas or those in unique places like downtown Round Rock are more difficult to appraise, so the WCAD broadens the comparison area to several miles to determine their value.
When large commercial properties don’t pay their fair share of property taxes, our schools that currently rely largely on these taxes suffer, and homeowners pay a larger portion of the tax burden. It would take legislative changes to correct this issue.
Another challenge is that Wilco is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Over 7,500 homes were built in this county in 2018, and 223,000 properties were appraised.
This growth means more and more properties will require appraisals. Out of 67 employees, 14 appraise residential properties.
Alvin Lankford, who has served as the county’s chief appraiser since 2009, said, “We continually work on efficiencies with a similar amount of money, time and staff to accommodate the increase in work.”
While Lankford runs the day-to-day operations, a Board of Directors governs the WCAD.
The appraisal district’s operating budget is $8.7 million. Per statute, each taxing unit pays a portion of their budget based on the percentage of overall property tax levy in the county that they represent. (If a taxing unit has 20 percent of the levy, it pays 20 percent of the WCAD’s budget.)
Last year the appraisal district processed 57,000 protests. Appraisal notices mailed each April give the property owner an opportunity to protest their valuation. However, before filing a protest the property owner should look at sales of similar homes to determine accuracy.
Property owners can walk into the WCAD office without making an appointment during a specified time stated on their appraisal notices.
Many who choose to protest their appraisals — 40 percent — are represented by tax agents who charge an annual fee for protesting someone’s property.
“These tax agents protest the property valuation without regard to the accuracy of the appraisal” says Lankford. “It’s become a cottage industry to protest properties every year for these agents. Many property owners don’t realize they have signed an agreement for representation without an end date and regardless of the value.”
The first step in the protest process requires staff to discuss the sales used in the valuation. If the protestor and staff reach an agreement, the process ends. If there’s an impasse, the protest is submitted to the Appraisal Review Board.
The Wilco Administrative Law Judge appoints residents of the appraisal district to the ARB. This review board hears protests about appraised values, exemption denials and other related matters.
After WCAD staff and the property owner(s) make their presentations at these hearings, the ARB issues a decision. For more information about the ARB or to apply to serve, visit wcad.org/about-the-arb.
Property owners have the right to receive all tax exemptions or other tax relief they qualify for.
New homeowners, those 65 and above, disabled residents, including disabled veterans or their survivors, may be eligible for these exemptions. The exemption and amount applied may vary depending on the decisions of the local taxing jurisdiction.
To obtain more information on these exemptions, log onto wcad.org.
Lankford is humble in attributing the smooth processing of protests, appraisals and all other business to “an incredible staff of dedicated public servants who perform an underappreciated job with professionalism and respect.”
Every year, approximately 3,000 people return a customer satisfaction survey they are handed when they enter the WCAD office, revealing a 97 percent customer satisfaction rating.
Other “bragging rights” for the WCAD include passing the Comptroller’s Property Values Study every time since Lankford’s been chief appraiser and scoring 100 percent on the Comptroller’s Audits of Methods and Assistance Program review since its inception.
Also, the WCAD is one of only 44 appraisal districts nationwide and one of eleven in Texas to achieve the Certificate of Excellence in Assessment Administration in 2013, a rigorous audit of methodologies and procedures conducted since 1995 by the International Association of Assessing Officers.
The recognitions and customer approvals of the county’s chief appraiser and his staff speak for themselves. We should all feel well served by the WCAD.