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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Here's another statistic to throw on the fire. The National Association of Realtors reports today that median home prices declined last month by nearly eight percent compared to a year ago. That means the median home price is now a little more than 200,000 dollars.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In many areas, even as housing prices are falling, property taxes are going up. Here to discuss how you can appeal your property tax assessment, Day to Day personal finance contributor Michelle Singletary. How is it, Michelle, that property taxes go up when property values go down?

MICHELLE SINGLETARY: I know, it sounds counterintuitive in this market, but, in fact, it's definitely happening in many areas across the country. Two things are happening. Local jurisdictions need the money. Everyone knows we've been having a downturn in our economy for a couple years now, and so that's where they look to raise funds. And secondly, lots of people's properties haven't been assessed for a couple years, and so, now that they are being assessed, they are going up, even if their value has gone down.

And so, to them, they're like, what's going on? But if it's been two or three years since your home has been appraised, of course it probably is going to go up, even though you may not be able to get as much for it as you could two or three years ago.

CHADWICK: Well, it's gone up since you first bought it, or it was last assessed. It may not be worth what it was a year ago, but it's worth more than it was three years ago...

SINGLETARY: That's correct.

CHADWICK: So your taxes are going to go up.

SINGLETARY: That's exactly right.

CHADWICK: OK, so what do you do then?

SINGLETARY: Well, you know, we get, and I got mine recently. You get your property-tax-assessment notice in the mail, and, in the past, we've just sort of tossed them aside because our values were going up, and we didn't care. Now, when you get that notice, many of you probably have it, and have it buried somewhere in your desk. Take it out and look at it and examine it. It will lay out all the things you need to do to appeal if you feel that the assessment is too high.

CHADWICK: And so you can go and say look, you've misstated this value, and the value is actually lower. So therefore my taxes will be lower. How do you get ready for this appeal?

SINGLETARY: Well, you want to, first of all, look at the assessment and make sure the description of your property is correct, that the right amount of bathrooms are listed, that the square footage is correct. Perhaps, you know, they made a mistake and thought you had an addition that you actually don't have. Mistakes do happen, and you want to be sure that they are not assessing you on a house that isn't yours!

CHADWICK: That you're not living in!

(Soundbite of laughter)

SINGLETARY: Or at least the features in the house. I mean, extra bathrooms and bedrooms make a big difference in your assessment. So, if you've only got three bedrooms, and they list four, that can make a huge difference in your assessment.

CHADWICK: OK, check on the accuracy of what they've sent, and what else to get ready for an appeal? Do you need a lawyer for this kind of thing, or not?

SINGLETARY: No, you don't. You can do the appeal yourself. The other thing you can do is look at the property values of homes around you to see what they've been selling for because, you know, a lot of this information is in flux. And you may be able to make a good argument that the assessment is too high based on the sales of homes in your subdivision or near where you live.

CHADWICK: Day to Day personal finance contributor Michelle Singletary. She writes the "Color of Money" column for the Washington Post. You can send questions for Michelle. Go to npr.org, click the "Contact Us" button and write Michelle in the subject line. Thanks, Michelle, we'll talk again soon.

SINGLETARY: Great.

CHADWICK: NPR's Day to Day continues.

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