ConsumerWatch: Lowering Property Taxes While Paying Higher Fees

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JoAnn Bell looks over her property tax documents (CBS)

JoAnn Bell looks over her property tax documents (CBS)

TIBURON (CBS 5) – A Marin County homeowner looking to lower her property tax bill ended up paying a service more than double what she saved on her bill, until CBS 5 ConsumerWatch intervened.

JoAnn Bell sought help in lowering her Tiburon home’s property tax bill by contracting with a Southern California company called Protax, LLC.

The firm bills itself as “Tax Reduction Specialists.” However, Bell said Protax charged her more than double the amount it saved her on her tax bill. “I saved about $1,400 and they are asking me to pay $3,600,” Bell said.

The fee calculation is complicated, and was based on a percentage of her tax savings, rather than a flat fee. Bell’s Protax contract indicated the company relied on something called the “trended base year assessment,” as a starting point when calculating her fee. It’s the original purchase price “trended forward,” and adjusted upward for inflation.

Bell incorrectly assumed the company would rely on last year’s assessed value as a starting point.

Marin County Assessor-Recorder Richard Benson said companies that offer to help homeowners lower their property tax bills can take a lot in fees. He advised homeowners who are concerned about their tax bills to start by calling their local assessor’s office. “That’s clearly the easiest place to start, and see what can be done.”

After ConsumerWatch made inquiries in the case, Protax agreed to lower Bell’s bill to $1,000.

Related: California State Board of Equalization Guide for Homeowners

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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