Archive | Finances RSS feed for this section

2015 Mortgage Prepayment Update

4 Feb

Forgive me for the recent decrease in posts, but we do have some fun news to share: we’re expecting the arrival of our first kiddo… literally any day now!

Baby Bump - Christmas Eve 2015

The bump on Christmas Eve

So while I regret not posting as much, let’s be honest – I’m not exactly expecting MORE time and mental energy in the foreseeable future either. 😉

I did want to take a moment to recap our mortgage prepayment progress in 2015. You might recall we set a goal to apply $10,000 in extra principal to the mortgage of our 2nd duplex.

Here’s how it actually broke out during the year:

  • January – $1,408
  • February – $1,755
  • March – $1,023
  • April – $1,135
  • May – $0
  • June – $0
  • July – $0
  • August – $263
  • September – $0
  • October – $0
  • November – $0
  • December – $0

The January – April payments are correlated to the previous month’s positive cash flow (after first setting some funds aside to increase our rental emergency fund). Around May we changed course and started savings money for a possible 4th rental property and then changed plans again in anticipation of larger-than-average make ready expenses last fall. What can I say – it was investment property priority ADD.

That brings our 2015 prepayment total to $5,584… and then I cheated a little and wrote a check on 1/18 for the remaining $4,416 to reach the full $10k goal.

Our 2015 (ish) contributions saved a total $16,616 in unpaid interest and trimmed 4+ years off the mortgage. The grand total for all mortgage #2 prepayments is now at $27,281 in interest savings and just over 6.5 years off the mortgage.Effects of Prepayments on Interest Paid - 2015Effects of Prepayments on Timeline - 2015It’s easy for these extra payments to feel like a drop in the bucket at the time, but after only a couple years of moderate effort I’m pleased with the progress and I imagine our enthusiasm will continue to increase as we get closer to the final payoff date.

For 2016 we’ll plan to apply another $10,000 to mortgage #2, which should save ~$12k in interest and trim roughly another 3 1/2 years off the mortgage.

Previous Mortgage Prepayment Updates:

Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers

Investment Property Balance Sheet – 2015 Edition

23 Jun
Duplex Balance Sheet

(photo by frankieleon)

Our annual look at rental income and expenses, averaged across 12 months. We own duplexes so these numbers represent 6 units across 3 properties, purchased between 2011 and 2014.

We also perform this analysis when seriously vetting a new rental property to help spot unexpected surprises (property in a flood plain? outrageous HOA dues?) and verify cash flow.

Duplex #1

  • Total cost: $181,350, latest comp $245,000 (Feb 2015)
  • Down Payment: $45,350 (25%)
  • Mortgage: originally $136,000, currently $127,830
  • Estimated Equity: $117,170

Duplex #2

  • Total cost: $144,000, latest comp $189,000 (Apr 2015)
  • Down Payment: $36,000 (25%)
  • Mortgage: originally $108,000, currently $93,223
  • Estimated Equity: $95,777

Duplex #3

  • Total cost: $201,000, latest comp $216,000 (Apr 2015)
  • Down Payment: $61,500 (30%)
  • Mortgage: originally $139,500, currently $137,395
  • Estimated Equity: $78,605
Revenue Duplex #1 Duplex #2 Duplex #3 Monthly Total
Unit A $1,025 $975 $1,050  
Unit B $1,095 $950 $1,050  
-$41 -$37 -$40  
Total Income $2,079 $1,888 $2,060 $6,027
Principle & Interest $699 $531 $738 $1,968
Taxes $352 $365 $365 $1,082
Insurance $69 $76 $63 $208
$150 $150 $150 $450
Carpet Fund ($800/5yrs.)
$13 $26 $26 $65
HOA $50 $0 $0 $50
Property Mgmt (10%) $212 $193 $210 $615
Leasing & Releasing (30%-60%) $80 $72 $79 $231
Umbrella Insurance $12 $13 $13 $38
Tax Prep
$12 $12 $12 $36
Total Expenses $1,649 $1,438 $1,656 $4,743
Cash Flow $430 $450 $404 $1,284

Some Highlights & Observations:

  • Stagnant Cash FlowLast year I predicted our cash flow to slowly increase past our typical $400/property/mo. average because I thought most expenses had been accounted for – but we found a few more. 🙂 Technically it has risen because we got property #3 to market rate, but we also added additional protections and conveniences like umbrella insurance and tax preparation fees. Maybe next year!
  • Rent Appreciation – While cash flow remained stagnant, property #1’s rent has increased 27.5% since our first balance sheet in 2011 – bringing in $457 more income (the cash flow equivalent of having a whole other duplex). Unit A is currently under market rate, so if you assume $1,095 for both sides that would be a $527 increase!
  • Average Cash Flow vs. Actual – Since spending tends to have peaks and valleys, I’ve been charting my actual monthly cash flow throughout 2015 so I can share that perspective in the future. The $150/property/month is really a best guess… some months are SURPRISE! and others months nothing remarkable happens at all – cha ching!
  • Umbrella Insurance – I was hoping to have an umbrella policy setup by now, but no dice – so this is merely a conservative estimate using the most promising quote I have at the moment. I’m guessing insurance agents must not make a lot of commission on umbrella policies, because they sure don’t seem eager to provide quotes for them.
  • Tax Prep Fund – This was the first year I realized we could deduct a portion of our tax preparation fees on our rentals’ Schedule E. Previously we’d been applying it as a miscellaneous itemized deduction… fat lot of good that did us. Oh well, live and learn. I cringe paying a professional for something I used to do myself with online tools, but I still don’t feel reasonably qualified to handle rental tax details like cost basis calculations, depreciation schedules, and improvements vs. expenses.
  • Vacancies & Leasing/Releasing Fees – A guestimate that assumes 1 unit from each property will be vacant for 2 week a year. Using these same vacancy assumptions, I budgeted one renewal fee (30%) and one releasing fee (60%) per year, per property.

Previous Statements:

“Plan specifically so you can implement flexibly.”  – Dallin Oaks

Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers

Monday Mixed Bag – Debts, Deals & Dishwashers

30 Mar

Real life has been extra distracting lately, but we’re grateful to have a property management company in place to keep things humming along when we need to step back for a couple weeks. Since I’ve been a little MIA recently, I wanted to share an update of recent rental happenings:

Multiple Tenant Renewals
I tend to err on the side of keeping good tenants at current rates but this latest batch didn’t shake out that way:

  • Renewal 1 – $995 -> $1,025
  • Renewal 2 – $1,095 -> $1,095
  • Renewal 3 – $950 -> $975

Renewal #1 was $150/month under market rate and we were having a hard time justifying the $1,800 opportunity cost over the course of a year – so we ultimately decided to raise the rent $30/month (an amount I wouldn’t feel too bummed about if it was my rent increase).


(photo by

Renewal #3 originally wanted a 6-month lease so they could buy a house, which would have incurred an extra renewal fee (~$270) – so the original thinking was to offer a short-term lease option at $25 more to split that additional cost with the tenant. Somewhere along the way they decided to renew for 1 year at the new rate instead.

Considering one other lease doesn’t expire until 2016 – that leaves only two potential vacancies in 2015, which is awesome.

Mortgage Pre-Payment Progress
Now that our rental property emergency fund is replenished, we have been DESTROYING our $10,000 mortgage pre-payment goal:

  • Jan – $1,408.19
  • Feb – $1,755.03
  • Mar – $1,022.66

The $4,186 in extra principal payments have saved us $7,744 in unpaid interest, and shaved 22 months off the mortgage. We also set aside another $500 from February and March’s cash flow to raise the rental emergency fund to $16,000. April’s payment should be relatively sparse since those 3 lease renewal fees will probably hit around the same time.

A Difficult Decision
Recently I’ve been observing and advising a friend who is vetting his very first rental property. I’m not sure there’s ever a perfect property and this one is no exception – repairs will need to be made, priorities considered, and risk tolerance gut-checked.


(photo by Sasquatch I)

I’m a huge cheerleader of rentals and I think he has his eye on a solid property, but I don’t envy his decision – it’s never without some doubt or anxiety when your investment decisions have that many zeros at the end of them.  🙂

New Equity Estimates
Because of some pending duplex sales on the market, we should be getting updated sales comps for all 3 of our properties soon. We use Google alerts to notify us of similar properties for sale, and then “favorite” those properties on so we’ll receive email notifications after closing with the final price.


(photo by Dan Moyle)

If the equity becomes tempting enough, I’d like to consider a cash-out refinance of property #1 in the next couple of years and apply it to a new rental. If I play my cards right, I’m effectively getting a free rental property – which is absurd to even think about.

Before then, I’d like to see the rent increase a little more (that under-market-rent tenant isn’t helping!) so I can more or less pull off the same cash flow numbers I was getting when I first purchased the duplex.

Umbrella Insurance Obstacles
It seems like I’ve been trying to buy an umbrella policy for the better part of a month now. I’ll explain in more detail later, but we stumbled on some convoluted chain of events that went something like umbrella policy -> auto policies -> renters policy -> defensive driving. We JUST finished our online defensive driving class and received the certificates in the mail – so now we should be back on track. Good grief.

Recycled Dishwasher
Last Thanksgiving we inherited a dishwasher from my mother’s kitchen remodel, and a couple weeks ago it found a new home after the previous appliance started leaking. A good condition GE unit – and nicer than what we probably would have bought for a rental otherwise.


(photo by Joanna Bourne)

Unfortunately we now have a black dishwasher in a kitchen of white appliances, but beggars can’t be choosers and I’d estimate we saved ~$300 vs. buying new (thanks Mom!). I did look into white appliance paint, but I didn’t see finished results online that I was satisfied with – particularly in the detail work around the buttons and button panel.

That’s all for now – until next time, keep on keepin’ on!

Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers

2015 Real Estate Resolutions

29 Dec

I hope everybody is having a wonderful holiday season. Santa was generous this year and left a Black & Decker Trimmer/Edger with Mower Deck under the tree – I’ll be sure to let you know how it works on the duplex lawns!

A table-sized tree, not a Godzilla-sized cat 🙂

Due to other financial priorities, we do not have plans to purchase a property this year. Fear not, we are 100% committed to the real estate empire, but that just means our 2015 goals will focus on the existing portfolio instead:

  • $10,000 Extra to Mortgage #2 – we anticipate a good bit of discretionary cash flow that can be applied to our pre-payment efforts. Averaged across the year, that $833/mo. will save an additional $16,668 in interest and shave just over 4 years off the mortgage!

  • Setup Umbrella Policy – with the addition of property #3, we know an umbrella insurance policy is in order. I’ve been putting this off because I really hate dealing with insurance agents, but it needs to be done.
  • Streamline Insurance Quotes – Did I mention I hate insurance agents? Like cable companies, customer loyalty is often penalized so regular price-shopping is a must. Resigned to my annual fate, I have a project in mind that should help expedite this process. I also want to consolidate my separate landlord policies under a single agent.
  • Tackle Some Deferred Maintenance – Some repairs need to be addressed immediately, and some need to be addressed… eventually. This year we’ll suck it up and prioritize (1) a new exterior paint job on duplex #1 and (2) some minor roof repairs recommended by the inspector when we purchased duplex #3.

Roof Tab Repair

  • Plant a Cedar Elm – Our apartment balcony has slowly turned into a rental-friendly tree farm. We’re currently growing a Texas Ash and a Cedar Elm from saplings, and the latter is now ready to be planted if the right opportunity (vacancy) presents itself.
  • Take a Vacation! – We’d like to prioritize some time, money, and reward points towards a vacation (or two?) next year. All things considered, it’s hardest for us to prioritize the time.

All of these goals are important-but-not-urgent – i.e. things that should get done but could easily get put off without a plan to stay on-track. I’m dreading some of them, but all the more reason to apply blog accountability. 😉

Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers

2014 Goal Results & Highlights

22 Dec

Earlier this year I created goals for 2014 to keep me on-track. The results:

✔  Pay Down Mortgage Debt$3,522 applied to mortgage #2
✔  Expand Property Management – done!
✔  Mean Tenants – replaced with pleasant people at market rate
✔  Try Discounted Gift Cards – success!
✔  Another Property – technically, but we weren’t expecting a rental
✔  25 Blog Posts – squeaked in at 27 posts this year, yay!

Having goals was quite motivating – a way to ensure “someday projects” get prioritized. When reflecting on the past year, a few key initiatives stand out:

Buying Duplex #3
Our third purchase last May made three properties in as many years – not too shabby! It was also the second time we saved a down payment for a primary residence and ended up buying a rental property instead.

What can I say, we have a problem. 🙂

rental property living room 3

We stumbled on some legitimately good deals, but also wanted to maximize our advantage as DINKs (dual income no kids) while we could. It’s not hard to see a future where adult responsibilities stall our current momentum.

This acquisition was unique because the cash flow and appraised value were low for the purchase price, but our research suggested it still had potential. After a $200/unit rent increase (both tenants stayed!) and a new sales comp – we were back on track a mere 2 months later.

Series: How We Saved $1,454 on Our Property Taxes
Corey’s victorious quest to protest the tax valuations on two properties, broken into a 4-part series:

  1. Receiving a Notice of Appraised Value
  2. Filing a Notice to Appeal & Requesting Supporting Documentation
  3. Compiling the Evidence
  4. Appraisal District Meeting & Outcome

A good example of a financial skill that should be taught in public education, but usually isn’t. I group it in with preparing your taxes, the effects of compounding interest, and calculating student loan payments before a student chooses a college or major.

Aspirations / Running the Numbers
It’s fun to daydream about the future of our real estate empire. I noodled through hypotheticals like how many properties we’d need to retire and whether it would be faster to finance or buy outright.

day dreaming clouds

(photo by Kevin Dooley)

Turns out we could probably buy 13 leveraged properties faster than 5 paid off ones – all things being equal – while generating the same net income. Realistically, we’ll probably do a combination of both, and now that we’ve topped off our rental savings we’re cooking with pre-payment fire again!

Make Ready Kit + New Additions
I continue to adore our make ready kit, and got the opportunity to try it out in the field during a vacancy in November.

Make Ready Vacancy Kit Additions

Through trial and error, I’ve added to the inventory a bit:

Now the real question is whether to expand to a second bin….

Discounted Gift Cards
For those tempted to give discounted gift cards a try, I’d recommend waiting until just after Christmas. An influx of holiday gifts will likely upset the supply/demand model in your favor. More inventory = better discounts.

Also, a big thank you to those using our Raise and Cardpool links – any referral credits are going straight to our mortgage pre-payment efforts!

Cardpool Referral Credit

Previous Recaps:

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and Third, by experience, which is the bitterest.”  -Confucius

Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers

Mortgage Pre-Payment Plan Update – December 2014

2 Dec

Our mortgage pre-payment effort has had a few setbacks this year, mostly due to the purchase of our 3rd duplex in May. This created the double-whammy of (1) tapping our reserves to pay for down payment/closing costs and (2) raising our rental emergency fund minimum (we aim for $5,000/duplex).

Curvy Roads

(edited photo by allison.hare)

As such, we’ve been replenishing our savings ever since, which hasn’t left much in the way of discretionary rental income for mortgage pre-payments:

  • Nov 2013 – $94
  • Dec 2013 – $1,146
  • Jan 2014 – $800
  • Feb 2014 – $881
  • Mar 2014 – $863
  • April 2014 – $0
  • May 2014 – $0
  • Jun 2014 – $0
  • July 2014 – $0
  • Aug 2014 – $121
  • Sept 2014 – $0
  • Oct 2014 – $0
  • Nov 2014 – $0

Wanting to see faster progress, I decided to track and periodically apply small “windfalls” to duplex #2’s mortgage. Particularly things I could easily justify not doing in the first place – like clipping a coupon, waiting to order something until a discounted gift card arrives, or completing an incentivized survey.

Below is my log of about 2 1/2 months of “found” money:

  • $118 – Discounted gift cards
  • $1 – Amazon ‘No Rush Shipping‘ book credit
  • $3 – Remnant rewards from a closed credit card
  • $10 – Social media promotion by my apartment complex
  • $150 – Health screening from my health insurance
  • $424 – Leftover auto insurance premium savings
  • $22 – Returning to DSW to apply a forgotten coupon
  • $129 – Blog revenue

That $857 applied to the mortgage saves an additional $1,724 in interest!

Counting this latest payment, we’ve paid a total of $4,762 in extra principle which translates to ~$10,666 in unpaid interest over the life of the loan. That’s already almost half of the interest savings projected from my conservative pre-payment calculations of ~$94/month.

Mortgage PrePayment Update Dec 2014

Mathematically, we’d probably be better off applying cash flow towards another property, so it’s fair to question whether we should be paying extra at all. We’re both happier with the idea of (eventually) having paid off properties, so I expect we’ll do a little of both. We’re almost done building that larger emergency fund, so progress should accelerate in early 2015.

Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers

How We Saved $1,454 on Our Property Taxes, Part 4

24 Nov

The final chapter of our appraisal protest series. Previous posts include: Receiving Our Notice of Appraised Value, Filing a Notice to Appeal and Requesting Supporting Documentation, and Compiling the Evidence.

Corey received a letter assigning him a specific day and time for two back-to-back hearings at the county appraisal district.

Appraisal District Office

In the interest of time, many appraisal districts begin with an informal meeting that attempts to resolve the issue (like a plea bargain before trial). Corey was escorted to the cubicle of an associate appraiser who heard his case.

Appraisal Disctrict Appointment

Duplex #1’s Outcome
For reasons lost to the sands of time, each unit of this property was taxed independently (an owner-occupant probably wanted to claim the homestead exemption on their half). However, there seemed to be some discrepancies related to what had and hadn’t been split between both units. For example, the improvements (building/garage/patio) were split 50%, but the land value was applied in full and effectively counted twice.

The appraiser consulted with her superior, and came back with a proposal to use the average of the 3 sales comps (which were all complete duplexes) to provide a better apples-to-apples valuation. She also began the process to merge those two units under 1 property ID moving forward.

Duplex #2’s Outcome
This objection related to the selection of comparables. The property is on a street with 20 or so identical duplexes, plus 2 “luxury” duplexes that were built on the end several years later – and at a significantly higher cost.

One of these things is not like the other.

Two of these things are not like the others…

Using photos and year built information, it was pretty easy to convince the appraiser to throw out the outlier and use the average of the rest instead.

Next Steps
If Corey had not come to an agreement with the appraiser, he would have proceeded to a formal hearing with the Appraisal Review Board, a committee of 3 citizens. The results of that hearing could be appealed to district court.

Instead, Corey simply signed a 1-page “Final Agreement and Waiver of Protest” for each property that noted the corrected values.

Appraised Value – Before & After

Property 2013
(B vs A)
Duplex #1 $173,740 $216,948 $179,362 -$37,586
Duplex #2 $131,569 $169,105 $149,488 -$19,617

2014 Estimated Taxes – Before & After

Property Est. Taxes (Before) Est. Taxes (After) Change ($)
Change (%)
Duplex #1 $5,187 $4,288 $899 -17%
Duplex #2 $4,784 $4,229 $555 -12%

Would He Do It Again?
Corey says most definitely. If nothing else, the system simply can’t give too much attention to every little challenge, so they’ll probably cut you a deal to make the issue go away. Perhaps we wouldn’t bother if the appraised value/housing market was fairly stagnant year-over-year.

Since the appraisal process is automated, I think there’s a good chance we’ll see those higher-priced duplexes incorporated into duplex #2’s comps again – that error alone would have cost us a little over $500. We also have duplex #3 to contend with next year.

Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers

How We Saved $1,454 on Our Property Taxes, Part 3

8 Oct

Note: these appraisal protest experiences are Texas-specific (and possibly county-specific) so please be careful applying them to your own district.

Once Corey received our appraised value and filed our notice to protest, it was time to compile any value-supporting data. Below are some places to start, and a notation about whether they corroborate an excessive or unequal protest.


(photo by striatic)

Appraisal District’s Supporting Documentation
We previously sent a letter requesting all documentation the appraisal district intends to introduce at the hearing. Our district provides different reports depending on the reason(s) for protest – so again, check both when you file!

Comparable Sales Report (Excessive)

126 Street 118 Street 200 Street 100 Street
Year Built 2006 2006 2006 2011
TotValue $169,105 $169,105 $169,105 $162,618
Value/Sq Ft $48.87 $48.87 $48.87 $48.87
Sale Date 1/22/13 1/8/13 7/31/13
Sale Price $150,000 $143,000 $182,000
Adjusted Price $153,060 $145,917 $191,252
Indicated Value $153,060

The comparable sales report included 3 other properties sold recently, then made square footage, year built, and sale date adjustments to estimate the market value of our property. Notice that property #2’s indicated value is significantly less than the $161,105 appraisal, and that comp #3 is a considerable outlier in sales price relative to the other properties.

Equity Comparable Report (Unequal)

126 Street 112 Street 112 Street 112 Street
Sq Ft 2006 2007 2007 2006
Year Built 3,460 3,460 3,460 3,184
Appr Value $169,105 $170,607 $170,607 $169,105

Each equity comparable report gave us the appraised value of 10 similar properties relative to our own property’s appraised value.

3rd Party Sales Comps (Excessive)
Request comparables from a real estate agent or property management company, or search online listings ( filters by past sales). Our realtor provided a “Market Analysis Summary” with ~10 similar sales for each property:

Address Unit Mix
Sold Price
Sold Date
212 Street Dr 3/2 3,460 $129,000 3/5/12
112 Street Dr 3/2 3,460 $138,000 6/8/12
220 Street Dr 3/2 3,460 $136,000 7/13/12
200 Street Dr 3/2 3,460 $143,000 1/11/13
118 Street Dr 3/2 3,460 $150,000 1/31/13

The ultimate goal of the appraisal process is to determine the value of the property on Jan 1st of the current year. Properties sold within 24 months of that date can be considered (36 months is allowed if there are limited comparables). This means we’re interested in sales from 2012 and 2013, but the most recent comps have more weight when determining the Jan 1st value.

Appraisal District Website (Unequal)
There is a wealth of information on the appraisal district’s website, included the appraised value of every property in your neighborhood. If you find similar properties with significantly lower appraisals (perhaps they are homesteads – which means the rate of increase is capped at 10% per year), they could support an argument that your property has not been equally appraised.

Appraisal District Property Results

While you’re there, verify the information the appraisal district has about your property. Pay extra attention to the square footage and number of bedrooms and bathrooms – it’s possible the appraisal district used inaccurate information to calculate the appraised value.

Recent Settlement Statements (Excessive)
We didn’t know this at the time, but we could have also used our HUD-1 Settlement Statement to support a lower market value since property #2 was purchased in the previous year.

If you have used any other data sources when protesting an appraised value, please share them for others in the comments below.

Next post – Corey’s meeting with the appraisal district

Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers

Save $ at Home Improvement Stores w/ Discount Gift Cards

29 Sep

We’ve been experimenting with discounted gift cards as a way to trim expenses, particularly during make ready cleaning, repair, and maintenance work.

Saving Discounted Gift Cards

(photo by Judit Klein)

What are discounted gift cards?
Perhaps you received a gift card for a store you don’t frequent. Instead of going to waste, online exchanges will buy your gift card and sell it to somebody else for less than face value. The seller liquidates the value of the card for cash, and the buyer gets a discount.

Where do I buy discounted gift cards?
We personally use Cardpool and Raise, and like them equally. There are some subtle differences in how they operate:

  • Cardpool uses the same discount % per store at any given time, while Raise allows the seller to set their own price.
  • Cardpool has more gift cards in standard denominations ($25 and $50) and I see more remnant amounts ($29.15 and $69.77) with Raise.
  • Cardpool separates physical vs. electronic gift cards using separate tabs, but Raise will list them all together with different icons indicating card type.
Save $5 when you use the above referral links on your first purchase.
(You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do!)

Selecting a Discounted Gift Card
My current strategy is to buy a home improvement store gift card before each vacancy – roughly $200 per vacancy or $350 for a “first time” vacancy. Check both sites before you buy because changes in supply and demand could show different prices on different days.

For our recent purchase, Raise had the better discount. I chose a physical gift card since we needed the flexibility to make in-store and online purchases.

Raise Home Depot Card Options

(Click to view full size)

A bought a $181.63 Home Depot gift card that cost me $161.80 (no tax, free shipping). That $19.83 might not seem like much, but applying it to our mortgage pre-payment saves another $40.77 in interest. Imagine the potential of applying this technique to an appliance purchase!

When I received the card (egifts can arrive in hours, physical cards in days or weeks), it was actually store credit instead of a traditional gift card, but the functionality is the same.

discounted home depot card

Additional Considerations
Using discounted gift cards, we could consistently save 10-11% on our home improvement store purchases – as long as we have advance notice. It’s also easy to buy too much or too little, but at least most cards won’t expire.

This process can easily be applied to your personal expenses too. As long as I plan ahead, I regularly save 10-20% on my Starbucks habit. 🙂

Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers

How We Saved $1,454 on Our Property Taxes, Part 2

22 Sep

Earlier this year, Corey successfully protested the tax valuation of our investment properties – this series shares his experiences and lessons learned along the way. The information below is definitely Texas-specific, and possibly county-specific, so please take caution when applying it to your local area.

Step 1 – File a Notice to Protest
After reviewing our tax appraisal notice, we needed to schedule a hearing with the Appraisal Review Board. Form 50-132 requested owner information, property details, asked us to declare the reason(s) for our protest.

Notice-of-Protest-Reasons Checked v2

Our reasons would determine what evidence could be presented at the hearing. We wanted to get our hands on the appraisal district’s documentation first, but we couldn’t do that until after the protest form was filed. The solution: check both over market value and value is unequal to give us the most flexibility later.

Make a notation if you’d prefer an evening/weekend slot (if available). Be sure to make a copy of the completed form before you turn it in – you’ll need it in Step 2.

Tip: protesting multiple properties in the same appraisal district?
File Form 50-131 to schedule the hearings on the same day.

Step 2 – Request the Appraisal District’s Evidence
Next, we sent a separate letter (template below) requesting the documentation the chief appraiser will use at the hearing to justify our valuation. This provides 2 HUGE advantages for the property owner:

  1. At least 2 weeks to review the appraisal district’s rationale for the valuation, and prepare any counter-arguments.
  1. The evidence the appraisal district can introduce at the hearing is now restricted to only those materials.

We would be provided different documents depending on whether we protested market value (comparable sales report) or unequal appraisal (equity comparable report) – another reason to check both boxes when you file!

Next Appraisal Protest Post: Compiling Your Evidence

[Month DD, YYYY]

Via Hand Delivery
[Name], Chief Appraiser
[Name] County Appraisal District
[City], [ST] [Zip Code]

Re: Request for property appraisal information at [Property Address], [City], [State] [Zip Code] (account #) Property [#]

Dear Sir/Madam:

Enclosed please find the Property Tax – Notice of Protest Form 50-132 regarding the above described improved real property.

Additionally, pursuant to section 41.461 of the Texas Property Tax Code, please provide a copy of the data, schedules, formulas and all other information the chief appraiser plans to introduce at the hearing to establish any matter at issue.

It is my understanding that information, “not made available to the protesting party at least 14 days before the scheduled or postponed hearing may not be used as evidence in the hearing,” according to 41.67(d) of the Texas Property Tax Code.

Please notify me when a copy of the above referenced information is available and I will make arrangements to pick it up and remit payment for it.




Want to be notified of new posts?

Join 186 other subscribers