Talk about Texas-sized complexity: Texas REALTORS® has been working to reform the state’s historically complicated property tax system for decades. Following years of diligent effort and a major Issues Mobilization campaign supported by the REALTOR® Party, one of the state association’s heaviest legislative lifts was finally rewarded with the 2019 passage of the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act. But, for the victory to achieve its real value, someone needed to inform and educate the public about the changes. The REALTORS® were ready.
Jaime Lee, the state association’s Director of Advocacy Communications, explains that while the state of Texas itself doesn’t actually levy a property tax, every local jurisdiction—including school districts, cities, counties, and local emergency services districts— do. This results in a multi-layered, often mysterious tax assessment that will likely always be a property owner’s largest annual expense.
To attempt to reduce this annual bill, a taxpayer’s instinct might be to contest a high appraisal value, but this is counter-productive, she points out, devaluing the property investment as well as local market values. “There are two factors to a homeowner’s property tax bill: the appraised value and the tax rates. Where homeowners should be focused, instead, is on the tax rates,” she says. “Local elected officials set these rates through a public budgeting process, but the rates themselves can be driven by constituents. Texas REALTORS® worked to pass the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act so that direct advocacy through public engagement would be as simple and effective as possible, and this is where consumer education comes in.”
One component of the new law requires local governments to provide more transparency in how elected officials set the tax rates that determine property tax bills. Each county’s appraisal district is now required to create and maintain a website where taxpayers can see the proposed tax rates that will determine their property tax bills and they can send their feedback on these rates directly to the decision makers.
The biggest challenge was getting this information—and links to the 254 websites—to taxpayers.
Texas REALTORS® received two Consumer Advocacy Grants from the REALTOR® Party, in 2020 and 2021, that helped support a member- and consumer-facing property tax education campaign called “You Deserve to Know.” This campaign aims to demonstrate to consumers that Texas REALTORS® are on their side, providing clear information and easy access to the user-friendly, pro-taxpayer tools that each county is required to produce and maintain by the new legislation. The ultimate goal of the campaign, says Lee, was two-fold: to reposition taxpayers as the most powerful voices in the property tax process; and to make REALTORS® the primary ambassadors of information on the subject.
The largely digital campaign directed consumers to KnowYourTaxes.org, a single website promoted across the state that makes it simple to find the relevant property tax information for any given property with an easy click. Created and maintained by Texas REALTORS®, the site serves as a central clearinghouse for the 254 county-level pro-taxpayer transparency websites the state of Texas now requires by law. That’s over 250 websites containing the required information but created by different vendors, looking completely different, and with different names and terminology, notes Lee, adding, “KnowYourTaxes.org simplifies the search for property tax information, and helps consumers become engaged in the budget process of their own communities.” The feedback on the site has been very touching, she says, from homeowners across the state who are seeking to learn more about how their property taxes are determined. “People are clearly hungry for this information, and the comments demonstrate that the REALTORS® are reaching them where they are.”
By the end of the regular session of the 87th Texas Legislature in 2021, the lawmakers had caught up with the REALTORS®’ visionary solution, and passed House Bill 2723. This legislation calls for the creation of the state’s own website that compiles all of the 254 counties in one place, essentially replicating the REALTORS®’ concept. Texas REALTORS® couldn’t be more pleased, says Lee – “after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!”
To learn more about how Texas REALTORS® are helping taxpayers understand and engage in the property tax process, contact Jaime Lee, the association’s Director of Advocacy Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512.370.2152; or visit https://knowyourtaxes.org/