By: Ted Dabrowski
Some New Trier Township residents were stunned to see the assessed value of their homes jump by as much as 40, 60 or even 100 percent this year. Those increases were an unwelcome surprise stemming from Cook County’s latest reassessment of properties in the township, which is performed every three years.
That’s a big reason why there was standing room only at an informational event hosted by Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin in Wilmette two weeks ago. I attended because my own assessment went up more than 45 percent.
The confusion and anger among homeowners was obvious, and they weren’t quiet about it.
“My property value hasn’t gone up, but my assessment is way up.”
“We haven’t updated our house in 30 years. I could never sell my house at the price you’ve valued it at.”
“Are they not looking to see that I live in a small ranch house? Did they even look at the houses around mine?”
The biggest issue for people was the lack of justification for their individual increases. Assessed values have skyrocketed for some residents and plummeted for others with no apparent rhyme or reason.
“I’m not justifying any numbers, I’m just giving them to you,” acknowledged the commissioner’s Chief of Staff, Adam Newman. Newman was there to help residents navigate the appeals process. He advised everyone who suffered an increase to appeal their assessment.
New Trier township residents have until April 29th to file their appeals.
It’s important to note that the assessor doesn’t actually set the tax bill for your home. Your local government is the one that decides the total amount of property tax dollars it’s going to raise – called the property tax levy.
But the assesor does determine what share of the property tax “pie” you’ll pay based on the value of your home relative to that of your neighbors’ homes. If the assessor gets your assessment wrong and overvalues your home, your share of the levy – and therefore your tax bill – will be higher than it should be.
One of the residents I sat next to at the meeting was Mila, a clinical dietician for dialysis patients. She said her total assessed property value jumped by 53 percent.
The Glencoe resident said she was “afraid to open the new assessment” this year.
Mila didn’t understand why her value had jumped so much. She speculates it’s because her house is surrounded by bigger homes worth much more. “I’m willing for my assessment to go up by 10 percent or so, but 53 percent?”
And as it turns out, the increase on Mila’s home was even more extreme.
Her entire property’s assessment, including the land, was up 53 percent. But the assessment on just her house – what the assessor revalued this year – had jumped a whopping 98 percent.
A glance at the assessor’s website for comparable house types to Mila’s residence – “one story residence, any age, 1,000 to 1,800 square feet” – yielded only 9 other homes in her “neighborhood,” a geographic area created by the assessor.
Those homes show why the assessment process can frustrate residents. The disparity in the assessment changes between them is huge.
To allow for an apples-to-apples comparison, I calculated each home’s assessed value per square foot.
Mila and two of her comparable neighbors saw big increases in their assessments per square foot, three neighbors barely changed, and two saw their assessments fall 50 percent.
When I broadened by comparison to include “one story homes, any age, 1,800 square feet and larger,” it was easy to see the full impact of the new valuation on Mila’s home.
Last year, Mila’s home was assessed at $11.40 per square foot. Now, that same house is being assessed at $22.50 per square foot, according to the county assessor’s website.
Her home is now the 4th-highest valued of more than 100 similar houses in her neighborhood – with no explanation or real justifications as to why.
No wonder she’s upset.
Mila is far from the only resident who’s suffered a major, unexplained jump in their home assessment. I talked to several people at the event who saw their assessments jump more than 30 percent. And several of my neighbors had their assessments jump more than 50 percent.
Much of the current chaos is the result of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s attempt to fix the county’s assessment process after years of corruption. Former Assessor Joe Berrios’ tenure was a tragedy for ordinary homeowners. The Chicago Tribune covered the extent of Berrios’ disastrous management in a four-part series in 2017.
Kaegi has said he’s eager to correct the “imbalances” in the assessment process that have done long-term damage to communities and homeowners, especially in the South Cook area. His new approach has shifted values from the South Cook suburbs to the wealthier parts of the county.
He’s also shifting values between residential and commercial properties. That’s good news since residential properties had been carrying an ever-growing burden for a long time. The bigger commercial properties in Chicago and the suburbs with access to property tax lawyers like House Speaker Mike Madigan and Chicago Ald. Ed Burke had benefited the most from that trend.
Crain’s recently captured the difficulty of changing the current system by looking at what’s happened to commercial assessments in Evanston this year. It’s bad, but not unexpected considering how corrupt and opaque the assessment process was under Berrios.
The fact is it’s going to take time to fix such a messed up system. And even if you trust Kaegi to fix things in good faith, there’s no denying his shakeup has resulted in lots of frustration across Cook County, at least for now.
For homeowners who have seen their assessed value skyrocket this year for no apparent reason, the only advice I can give is to appeal your assessment. Residents have until April 29 to appeal to the Assessors Office, so if you haven’t yet, get on it.
And if you miss that date, you’ll have another chance to appeal directly to the Cook County Board of Review later this year.
To be very clear, you don’t need a lawyer to appeal your assessment. Appealing on your own is easy. And if you need help, the Assessor’s office and the Cook County Commissioner’s office are very willing to assist you with the process.
I experienced that myself. I visited Adam Newman of the commissioner’s office, who helped with my appeal. He pulled up all the comparable homes in my neighborhood, gave me an excel file with the data, and told me exactly what to do. The process was quick and simple.
If paying the nation’s highest property taxes isn’t enough to anger Illinoisans, a seemingly random and opaque assessment process surely is. And unfortunately, the appeals process does nothing to bring overall property taxes down for a community. Instead, it pits neighbor against neighbor over what share of the tax pie they’ll pay.
Right now, appealing your property assessment should be your top priority, especially if you’re an unlucky homeowner that’s been hit with a substantial increase. But all Illinoisans should be ultimately focus on lowering the ballooning costs of their local governments. And the only way to do that is to demand an end to the failed public policies imposed on municipalities.
Unless that happens, property taxes will continue their lethal climb, families from the struggling south suburbs to the affluent North Shore will continue to do the math, and Illinois will continue to empty out.
To learn more about the state mandates that are driving up your property taxes, read the following:
- Chicago’s south suburbs struggle under Springfield’s continuing neglect
- Harvey, the first domino: Data shows nearly 400 other pension funds could trigger garnishment
- New wage requirements will deliver ‘devastating blow’ to Southland development, mayors say – Chicago Tribune
- Springfield fiddles while Illinois cities burn
- Illinois’ lethal combination: Rising property taxes and stagnant incomes
Cook County Assessor’s Tax Appeal Information (From an ABC 7 article)
To appeal online, go to: http://www.cookcountyassessor.com/Appeals/Appeal-Search.aspx
- Appeals are for the purpose of reducing the Assessor’s valuation of a property. They do not automatically reduce a future tax bill. Dollar amounts of tax bills are decided by the tax rates and levies in individual communities (school districts, etc.). Most property tax revenue goes to public schools.
- For homes, Assessed Value is 1/10th of market value. For businesses, it is 1/4 of market value.
- Valuations of homes are based on the Assessor’s Office analysis of the preceding three years of sales and market conditions for similar homes in the same neighborhood. Each neighborhood has its own code in the Assessor’s Office system; there are many neighborhoods in each township.
- If someone “loses” an appeal and does not receive a reduction, their assessed value will NOT go up. It stays the same for the three years between triennials (unless they appeal the following year and win).
- Anyone not happy with the results of their appeal to the Assessor’s Office can take the next of appealing to the Cook County Board of Review, an independently-elected, quasi-judicial body.
- By law, the Board of Review can take into consideration factors the Assessor’s Office is not allowed to use.
- Homeowners do not need an attorney to appeal and there is no fee.
- Someone appealing does NOT have to (do) the work. The assessor’s office will look up comparable properties for them. If someone wants to submit their own list of comparables, that is, of course, fine. We just make it clear that appellants don’t have to worry about how “long” it’ll take to file an appeal. It is a one-sided form which takes approximately five minutes.
- Most homeowners appealing to the Assessor’s Office do not use an attorney.
- Most successful appeals to the Assessor’s Office did not use an attorney.
- Approximately 51 percent of residential appeals to the Assessor’s Office are successful; the amount of reduction varies, however.
- That does not mean 51% of all homes in Cook County receive reductions. Please keep in mind that, last year, only 14% of single-family homes appealed their valuations. 51% (approximately half) of them received reductions-via-appeal….which means 7% of homes –half of that original 14% appealing– in Cook County were reduced on appeal.
- Online appeals were begun under Joe Berrios years ago and they are still an option.