Over the past decade, Austin home values have increased more than anywhere else in the country, with the average value skyrocketing by over 65 percent. The increase in value has caused a corresponding increase in property tax. In fact, in February, the University of Texas / Texas Tribune released a poll, which ranked the lowering of property taxes as the top issue respondents hoped would be addressed by legislators this Spring. On March 14th, in a late-night, 9-5 vote, the Senate Finance Committee approved SB 2, a bill that would require approval by local voters for property tax collection increases over 5 percent. Because of continued increases in property values, this could theoretically trigger a mandatory vote, even when local governments do not increase the property tax rate.
However, even in light of legislative efforts to limit your property taxes, if you owned and occupied a home as your primary residence on January 1st, and haven’t filed for a homestead exemption, you might consider doing so. Homestead exemptions reduce the home value by $25,000 for school taxation purposes, prevent appraisal districts from increasing the appraised value of your home by more than 10 percent per year, provide some protections from creditors (on up to 10 acres in an urban setting and up to 100 acres in a rural setting), and some counties even offer additional incentives. Travis County, for example, exempts up to 20 percent of home values for tax purposes. Lastly, there are some additional exemptions for special categories of people (such as those over the age of 65, disabled persons, and disabled veterans) and purposes (for example, religious or charitable).
The application deadline is April 30th and you merely have to apply to the county appraisal district where your property is located. You only have to apply once and, after that, the exemption will remain in effect in following years unless and until you change your residence homestead.
Applications are available on the Texas Comptroller’s website and, often, at your county appraisal district’s website. They can generally be mailed, faxed, or hand delivered. Ensure that the address on your driver’s license or state-issued personal identification certificate is up to date as you will have to provide a copy of your license along with the application form.