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HOUSTON -- Nancy Magato spent part of her day sitting in a conference room with a tax consultant, poring over paperwork and shaking her head at her skyrocketing property tax appraisals.

It s unbelievable, she said. Unbelievable, isn t it!

The appraisal on her home in Houston was bad enough, rising 9 percent percent in a single year. By state law, the actual tax bill on her homestead can increase by no more than 10 percent a year. Unfortunately for her, that break doesn t apply to her second home in Galveston, where her appraisal shot up a whopping 32 percent.

If you haven t, I absolutely advise you to protest it, she said. Either e-file it, mail it in, do whatever.

Monday marked the final day for homeowners to protest their property tax valuations, an annual ritual made even more important by the skyrocketing prices of homes in the Houston area.

Taxpayers accustomed to filing protests by May 31 were granted an extra couple of days because the usual deadline fell over the weekend. By midday Monday, more than 220,000 property owners had filed in Harris County alone.

Houston s white hot housing market has sent tax appraisals through the roof, with the average single-family homeowner s appraised value in Harris County jumping 16% in the last year. Commercial properties like office buildings saw their appraisals rise an average of 18 percent, while apartment property appraisals shot up an average of 22 percent.

A steady stream of homeowners strolled through the doors of the Harris County Appraisal District s headquarters Monday, dropping off their protest paperwork. Clerks patiently stamped documents and answered questions to occasionally confused property owners.

Meanwhile, at the offices of Bettencourt Tax Advisors, a firm that protests property tax appraisals, so many new customers were trying to sign up the company shut down its website.

This is such a strong appraisal year -- and values are going up like a rocket ship -- that you really have to protest, because if you miss it, then next year it s just going to be this value plus more, said Paul Bettencourt, the firm s owner. In other words, you ll pay more in property taxes in perpetuity, as long as you own your home.

Other taxpayers discovered weeks ago they could easily file protests on line, generally saving themselves a trip to HCAD s offices. Deborah Green, who works in Bettencourt s office, filed a protest on-line and ended up cutting her appraisal by about ten percent.

You can do it in your sleep, Green said. You don t have to be tech savvy. Like I said, everything is laid out for you. The directions are clear and simple. And so, yes, it was definitely easy.

Deadline for that is midnight tonight, said Jack Barnett, a spokesman for HCAD, on Monday afternoon. But I really encourage people not to wait until the last minute just in case there s a big rush and something happens and they can t get through.

Taxpayers can also file by mail, but their protests must be postmarked by midnight. Another option is sending in protests via FedEx or UPS, but Barnett cautions people using that option to save their receipts proving they shipped their paperwork before midnight.

Before the property owner files a protest, they should also go on line and make sure that they ve got all of the exemptions that they are entitled to, such as a homestead exemption, Barnett said. If you live in the home and you own the home, you qualify for a homestead exemption. And that can be a significant savings when your tax bill is sent out.

Other exemptions are extended to people who are over 65, disabled or veterans, Barnett said.

Taxpayers have become so accustomed to protesting appraisals, many of them file the paperwork even though they believe taxing authorities have undervalued their homes.

The bottom line on all of this is if you do a little homework, you re likely to get a result that s positive, because about 2/3 of everyone gets some type of reduction, Bettencourt said.

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