Lower your property taxes

Home values have fallen, but your tax bill has not. With a little effort, that could change.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' "Home Rich," now in bookstores.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The real estate downturn has probably impacted your own homes' value. But it's unlikely your taxes have gone down. Here are top tips on what you can do to lower your property taxes.

1. Define the issue

Your house can be assessed every year or every 10 years. As we all know, a lot can change. And even as housing values fall, property assessments aren't going down. They're still basically level says Pete Sepp with the National Taxpayers Union.

Nationwide, property taxes have increased about 5% from March of last year to March of this year according to the Census Bureau. Here is how your assessment is calculated. While it is based on your home's value, it's also based on what it would cost to replace your home from scratch. And that has nothing to do with your home's value.

In California, the assessment is based entirely on what you bought the house for.

2. Get your records

First, check your assessment. You can go to your local assessor's office. Here you can get an idea if the assessments in your area resemble market conditions. Included with your assessment there should be a worksheet that describes how your home was valued.

If you don't find it, ask. Check this for mistakes. You may think the assessor knows your home inside and out, but rarely do assessors make house calls.

You want to highlight your home's warts. If your basement isn't finished, or you only have three rooms instead of four, if your roof is older than what's listed, make sure you take note of the inaccuracies.

Then, you can just contact the assessor's office. You may need to show proof of the inaccuracy by taking pictures or making copies of receipts. Usually you don't have to do much more than state your case.

Finally, see what your neighbors are paying. Get assessments on about 10 comparable homes in the area. If eight out of 10 homes have seen their assessments reduced, you have a good case. Your next step is to take action.

3. Take action

If you think your assessment is too high compared to other properties, you may need to request a hearing before a local property tax appeals board. You don't need a lawyer for this. The whole process can take as little as a month.

And it's well worth the effort. Assessment appeals are successful up to 50% of the time and you'll likely be able to cut your taxes by 10-20% according to Sepp.  To top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to toptips@cnn.com or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and CNNMoney.com.
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