Property Taxes & the Homestead Exemption

Not just a terrible idea for a band name

A hot topic of conversation in central Texas is our property tax rates (boy-howdy is it ever!!), especially so while we are in the thick of tax season.  Depending on where you are located in the state, you’ll find tax rates that can be startlingly high and seem to be creeping ever higher. (Just a side note: that’s one of the trade-offs of living in a state with no income tax — the money to fund things like our utilities, roads, hospitals, and schools has to come from somewhere so, sadly, it kinda leaves homeowners holding the bag.)

Rather than debate the merits of our system of taxation, I just want to pass on a little reminder to homeowners — especially first time buyers — to be sure and file for your HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION in order to lessen your tax bill.

So for those of you unfamiliar, here’s a little FAQ to start with from the Travis County Appraisal District:

What is a general homestead exemption?

The general homestead exemption is provided by State law for owner-occupied residential properties. The exemption removes a portion of your value from taxation providing a lower tax amount for the homestead property.

How do I qualify for the general homestead exemption?

In order to qualify for this exemption you must have owned and occupied the property as of January 1st of that tax year. This property must also be your principal residence. You may not claim another homestead on another piece of property. You must submit a copy of your driver’s license with your application and the address on the license MUST match the address of the property for which you are requesting the homestead exemption.

If there is more than one owner of the property do all owners have to sign the application?

Yes, unless the owners are married. If the owners are married then only one has to sign, but we encourage both signatures. All owners must include a copy of their Texas Driver License or State-issued ID Card with matching address.

If my driver’s license does not match the property address, will you accept a passport/temporary/CHL?

No, per the Texas Property Tax Code the district cannot accept a passport or Concealed Handgun License (CHL). Only a Texas ID or Texas DL with the address of the property is required along with the homestead application.

When do I apply for my homestead exemption?

You may apply at the Travis Central Appraisal District between January 1st and April 30th of the tax year. You may file for late HS exemption up to one year after the date which the taxes become delinquent. 

I forgot to apply for my exemption, can I receive it retroactively?

You may file a late homestead exemption application if you file it no later than one year after the date the taxes become delinquent.

Is there a fee to file for an exemption?

There is no fee to file and you do not have to hire anyone to file for you. 

What year do I apply for the homestead exemption if I purchased my property last year?

To qualify for a homestead exemption you must own and occupy the property on or before January 1st of the year for which you are applying for. You may submit the form now and the homestead will be applied to year in which you qualify.

Do I need to reapply every year for my homestead exemption?

No, you do not have to reapply unless the chief appraiser requests a new application in writing or you move to a new residence.

Do I have to file another form for the new home I just bought?

Yes, a new application is required when a property owner’s residence homestead is changed.

How many acres can I claim as my homestead?

State law allows you to claim the portion of your land that you maintain for residential purposes but this amount may not exceed 20 acres. Generally, one acre or less is maintained for homestead purposes.

Where to file your exemption, or to get answers to more questions:

Travis County
Phone: 512.834.9317
Homestead exemption forms are available on our website at on the Forms page under Exemptions or you can request that an application be mailed to you by contacting Customer Service at (512) 834-9138. The applications must be returned to the appraisal district and may be returned by the following methods:
Online:  Please call and select option 4 for general questions to request a Personal Identification Number (PIN)
Hand deliver to: 8314 Cross Park Drive, Austin, TX 78754
Mail: PO Box 149012, Austin, TX 78714

Williamson County
Phone: 512.930.3787
Email forms to:
Mail/Hand deliver to : 625 FM 1460 Georgetown, Texas 78626

Okay, I hope all that has been helpful.  Make sure your ID matches your homestead address and get those exemptions filed if you haven’t already!

Why I Love Working With First-Time Home Buyers

Almost as exciting for me as it is for them

I love working with first time home buyers!

I love guiding them carefully through what can be a daunting and confusing process… and then slowly begin burying them under a silent avalanche of paperwork to read, contracts to sign, listings to pour over.

I like watching them struggle to memorize a whole array of terms they’ve never had use for before: appraised value, restrictive covenants, earnest money, warranty deed.

I love getting to know their likes and dislikes as we tour properties, gently reminding that that hideous sofa isn’t actually staying with the house, or that garden gnomes are not immovable fixtures.

I love trapping them in my car to tour just one more property before we call it a day.  Because this one might be THE ONE.

I love seeing their eyes light up when they finally find the right house, like a little kid on Christmas morning spotting a new bike under the tree.  Then, of course, watching that light flicker and dim while we await the seller’s response to our offer.

I love learning new vocabulary words from them in reference to dawdling and obstinate sellers.

I love their sigh of relief when the offer is accepted, and again when the house finally appraises at the right value.  (When I can then much more easily blame any further delays on the mortgage company.)

And I love closing day, when their excitement can’t even be crushed by the titanic mound of papers facing them, each one requiring their signature, culminating in a handover of keys into their eager hands, at least one of which now features acute, tendonitis-like pain.

And finally, because once it’s all done they let you pose them with silly props…

Oh the thrill of new home ownership and balloons

Even upside down props! (Which you are laughing too hard to even notice the fact that it’s upside down…)

The key to happiness, or to my room at the loony bin

All kidding aside, it truly does tickle me to work with first time buyers.  Even in our age of HGTV-educated consumers, a lot of folks are still almost completely unfamiliar with the whole process; getting to walk with them through what will likely be one of the biggest –if not THE biggest — purchases of their life is almost as exciting for me as it is for them.

Bless their hearts. 🙂


Sign of the Times

That 250-count check order is way more than a lifetime supply now

Here’s something kinda startling I’ve recently noticed about younger buyers (the dread Millennials!): they don’t have checks for their checking accounts.

Like, none.  As in they never ordered them from the get-go.

I have to believe I’m not alone in my wonderment here, that for folks from my generation it just seems weird to NOT have checks for your checking account.  Even as we’ve switched to paying all our bills online and using our debit cards for virtually everything else.

While the need for checks has dwindled and all but died away, I still always have checks in my desk drawer for the 1-2 of them I might write a year.  (It’s funny how that 250-count check order — the minimum — is way more than a lifetime supply now!)  I keep those checks because…well, by God, it’s a CHECKING ACCOUNT!

But Millennials don’t, or at least the ones I’ve been in contact with recently don’t.  (Discovery made upon requesting earnest money from a couple of different Millennial buyers.)

My interior voice:  Wait — you have to get a money order?!  You don’t have any checks?! *Slaps interior forehead*

Truth be told, this does actually make sense to me.  Why waste money and trees for something you will literally never use.  So I get it, even if it does make me feel a wee bit antiquated.  But this does also beg the question: do Millenials know how to write out a check, or is that a skill which has died out like cursive handwriting and punctuation?  They’d probably struggle with a rotary phone too.  I’m mildly curious (and perhaps a wee bit nostalgic).

Ah, the times they are a changin’…