CONSUMER ALERT
HCAD WARNS HOMEOWNERS TO BE WARY OF HOMESTEAD DESIGNATION AND UNCLAIMED MONEY SOLICITATIONS

The appraisal district is regularly contacted by homeowners who have unnecessarily paid money to solicitors who--for a fee--offer to file “designation of homestead” and/or homestead exemption forms in Harris and other counties.

Additionally, many homeowners complain after being misled by letters from individuals or businesses that offer to help them recover unclaimed government funds if the homeowner signs an agreement giving the solicitor half the recovered money. In the typical case of this type, the homeowner simply receives a property tax homestead exemption application form prepared by the firm doing the solicitation.

Unfortunately, once the homeowner has agreed to pay the solicitor half the refund, he or she loses that much of any potential tax refund, and many of these firms have been quick to sue in small claims court if the unfortunate individual refuses to pay.

Roland Altinger, HCAD’s chief appraiser, urges homeowners who receive these types of solicitations to be extremely careful and check with the appraisal district or an attorney before responding to the offer.

“There is absolutely no charge for a homeowner to file his or her own homestead exemption application with the appraisal district, and application forms are available both on HCAD’s website and from the district’s Information & Assistance Center at 13013 Northwest Freeway in Houston,” Altinger noted.

The homestead exemption is the single most important tax saver available to homeowners. You are eligible if you meet these requirements:

1. You owned and occupied your home on January 1 of the year for which application is made.
2. Neither you nor your spouse has claimed a residence homestead exemption on any other property, regardless of where that property is located.

A qualified property owner may apply up to one year after the date taxes for the year of application become delinquent (usually February 1).

Homeowners who are over-65 or totally and permanently disabled (as defined by Social Security) are eligible for additional exemptions, and become eligible on the date they turn 65 or become disabled. Totally disabled U.S. veterans are eligible for an additional homestead exemption, and there are several other exemptions available to disabled veterans and their surviving spouses.

Some solicitations offer to file a “Designation of Homestead,” which does not qualify as a property tax homestead exemption application. This sort of form is submitted to the county clerk rather than the appraisal district and the designation deals only with protecting one’s homestead property in the event of a forced sale for debt. Most homeowners never need to file such a designation and, generally, should consult an attorney before doing so.

For additional information about property tax homestead exemptions, contact HCAD’s Information & Assistance Division at 713-957-7800 between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM Monday-Friday.