Money Matters: When housing markets heat up

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Housing markets are heating up in many metropolitan areas across the country, sparking stories about affordable housing, mortgage rates and home flippers.

WFAA Anchor/Reporter Jason Wheeler, recently named one of the 2018 RTDNA/NEFE Personal Finance Reporting Award winners, covered another key angle of this story in his winning report: property tax assessments.

In the nearly 10-minute segment one 4pm newscast, Wheeler dug into the issue.
 
Dallas-Fort Worth has consistently had one of the hottest real estate markets in the country for several years running. So even without any tax rate increases, property taxes have been soaring driven solely by increases in valuation. Many people don’t understand how taxes go up even when the tax rate stays unchanged. Even those who do understand wonder whether it's worth it to challenge their tax liability. WFAA set out to explain the process plainly, give property owners tools to protest extraordinary valuation increases, and tell them how they can also get involved in changing the system responsible for their skyrocketing tax bills.

What made the story work?

Illustrate the problem
First, Wheeler illustrated the problem clearly using data on the number of area properties for which the tax had increased 100% or more in the last 5 years to show the problem’s scale and maps to show how widespread the issue is.

The story expanded its reach by explaining how renters, not just homeowners are affected by increasing property taxes, and included specific, relatable stories to illustrate its impact on real people in the community.

The report also clearly explained the “why” of the issue, using a simple but effective graphic to show that property taxes are increasing due to increased housing valuations and not by changes in tax rates.

Walk through potential solutions
Next, the report offered actionable insight by explaining that not only is it possible to protest property valuations, but possible to win them, by showing data about the rates of success for valuation challenges.

The report was able to recap a story from years earlier showing one step in how valuations are performed – collecting photos of properties. This step not only reminded viewers that the station has been looking out for them for years, but also provided another piece of actionable advice: Be sure to have current photos to bring to a valuation dispute.

In addition to offering additional online resources showing viewers how to begin the valuation dispute process, the story also included an interview with a local real estate expert offering assistance with the process.

Add another angle
Finally, the report added another important and insightful angle by talking to a county tax official, who offered criticism of elected officials’ lack of understanding about the property tax process themselves as well as another way for community members to become involved in the issue: by participating in the little-known but publically accessible budget process that sets tax rates.

This important angle provided a check to officials arguing they are “leaving the tax rate the same,” an accurate but incomplete assessment that could leave people thinking there’s nothing they can do about increasing property taxes.

Is the housing market booming in your viewing area? Have you looked at property tax rates? The process in your city or county for disputing valuations? Look to this Personal Finance Reporting Award-winning report (Wheeler will show how more about how it was done at EIJ18) as an example and start digging into potential property tax stories in your market.

Weekly Money Matters personal finance content for your newsroom is sponsored by the National Endowment for Financial Education