Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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.

Assessment shock

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.

Why now?

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.

Final thoughts

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:

 

Appendix.

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.
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Freddy

How many of us would be stunned if our 401K’s or retirement accounts would increase by 40 or 50% in 1 year. None I imagine. If Chicago and Cook county were under PTELL jurisdiction taxes would only increase a maximum of 5% instead it is under home rule where the sky’s the limit. Here in Rockford we have Ptell and when property values go down as has been the case in many years the 5% rule has been exceeded many times (1 year tax rate were up 11% a while back). Maybe Chicago and Cook county should vote to become… Read more »

Being Had

A similar property tax storm hit my area in 2015. There were significant differences in the reassessed value of comparable properties. There are a number of factors that come into play that result in differences. When the proposed reassessment is an amount that the owner believes is more than the property could currently sell for, or questions whether it could, then filing an appeal is in order. I believe the way to get the most subtracted from the assessed value is to first submit the appeals form, then follow-up with a well-written letter to the Board of Review. The appeals… Read more »

world with end

The way the game is played is that you appeal your 30 percent increase in assessment, the county lowers it to 15 percent; then, you’re supposed to declare victory. However, since your property didn’t appreciate in value, you still lose by paying unfairly higher property taxes and by losing the money you would’ve made in appreciated property value by living in a different state that manages its finances properly.

Joe Strzalka

taxpayers are conditioned to appeal because they feel they will get something for it. When you appeal, you are saying the assessors model is wrong. If the assessor wanted transparency and less appeals they could release the model now and let everyone see how poorly their model represents reality. This wont happen, At least they could make available in an easily readable form all the successful appeals, what houses they used as comps, and how they calculated the homeowners reduction. They should then show how the model will be changed so that it wont happen again, and rerun the new… Read more »

world with end

So it looks like even the affluent don’t like being gouged with unfairly high taxes. Except for the privileged State of IL workers and retirees, what an undesirable state to live in.

DantheMan

“Undesirable state”… that’s a very polite way of describing it.

world with end

True. “Uninhabitable” may be a better choice of words.

DantheMan

Yes. Much better.

Rick

In illinos a home is not an investment. The state will slowly reconfiscate your home through property tax. If you have a mortgage don’t pay principle because it’s like throwing money in the garbage. Just refinance to an interest only loan, think of yourself as a renter, and save the money you would have paid to principle as the down payment on a home elsewhere in the future when you move. It’s like moving early without physically moving yet.

Illinois Entrepreneur

Rick, I think you’ve proposed this in other comments. For the record, I completely agree with you that home values are declining due to a confiscatory tax policy at state and municipal levels. But your suggestion after that is not only irresponsible to one’s credit rating, but also presupposes that a bank will take no action against your assets to collect the remaining underwater balance. Someone is responsible for that principal balance, and it’s not the bank; it’s you. if you choose not to pay it, it doesn’t mean that you get to walk away whenever you decide, without consequences.… Read more »

Rick, as one who practiced law in this area earlier, I agree with Illinois Entrepreneur’s comment entirely — you are offering very bad, dangerous advice, if you are suggesting they just walk away from the loan later. I would add that taking out a loan with the intention of defaulting on it may even be criminal.

Freddy

I do not think Rick is saying to walk away. A principal only mortgage would be leveraging. Payments that would go to principal could be invested in stock market or saved for another home. If you bought just a few years ago in parts of Chicago you could have made instant equity with the new assessments (could have gone the other way). My home is paid for but my equity is dead money. Had I invested more of my equity money in the stock market I would have reaped more benefits maybe? It would take luck though which I do… Read more »

Rick

Not to walk away that would ruin your credit. Just don’t keep increasing your equity, leave the equity positive. But don’t pay so much principal.

Danni Smith

I have done a number of tax appeals for my acquaintances, no fee. I learned the process and the system by doing my two own appeals through to PTAB, which is the state level, Property Tax Appeal Board. I won both via PTAB and received two check refunds from the Treasurer in excess of total $3000.00. The use of the township offices to do the appeal or an attorney is they use the information that compares your property to other properties which is the same data as those homes in Glencoe that are over-assessed. and their data is sickeningly filled… Read more »

Illinois Entrepreneur

Danni, I’m not normally a punctuation Nazi, but paragraph breaks would be very helpful to reducing the eye strain of your prospective readers.

I wanted to read what you wrote, but I couldn’t get through the mess of words all in one big block of lettering.

For the record, I do think you have some valuable insights to share.

Jeffrey Carter

So, the people that voted to tax the rich didn’t think they were rich enough to tax?

Joe Strzalka

Your math is obviously correct. A better comparison would be to look at the original 2016 assessment and calculate from that. By 2018 the corrupt appeals process would have changed the assessments and distorted the percentage change. I am not defending the new assesor who only seems better at public relations than anything else, but at least look at that. Also since they will not release the model to the public, there seems to be something to hide and that would be the frustration at how little they are able to reflect reality in their assessments. Their weightings of such… Read more »

Hank Scorpio

What a mess. Even if pensions were reformed, expect property taxes to continue to rise. The whole concept of some bureaucrat deciding what your home is worth using some arcane formula and taxing you on that is ridiculous and fraught with corruption potential. Incidentally, raising property taxes DECREASES property value, so the system is flawed (intentionally).

I pay a premium for renting but at least I don’t have to worry about these vampires unexpectedly screwing me with a 50% increase. I can just pack up and leave at a moments notice, and probably will in the near future…

DantheMan

Absolutely correct. Nothing to add.

Jake

Buying property in Illinois is like renting == you essentially rent from the local school board.

world with end

Renting isn’t the solution because your landlord increases your rent to pay for the huge property taxes. Also, I thought about buying a hovel to live in to avoid high property taxes, but, then, I would lose by living in a meager abode, and my property taxes would still be too high. Like many IL residents suggested, it looks like the only solution is to move out of state.

DantheMan

If you have a good paying job In Illinois that perhaps you can’t duplicate elsewhere at this time, by all means stay, but it would be a good idea to sell your home now and switch to renting. This will allow you to be flexible and cut your future losses when the “big exodus still to come” decimates the housing market. You simply don’t want to be the owner of something nobody else wants. You are correct, It doesn’t do anything in the short term to reduce your housing cost.

debtsor

The big exodus is a slow drip, like what happened to Michigan or Rhode Island. Illinois will be a much smaller state, but it will take more than our lifetimes. It’s not like some foreign invader just shows up at door, like the Anglo and Saxons and Jutes displacing the native Britons. It’s just a slow drip of higher taxes, college grads leaving the state, retirees not returning home, and so on and so on.

DantheMan

Hi Debstor. I agree the past few years have been a slow drip but at some point nobody will be willing to lend to the state. At some point there will be no more collateral. At some point the media will no longer be able to ignore the biggest story in the state’s history. The current drip will become a steady stream. Anyway, that’s my thinking. I could be mistaken. My guess is it will be less than 10 years.

debtsor

It took decades for Detroit and Michigan to turn bad. For years it was a coming of age ritual for college students to leave the state and never to return. Workers retired and left the state. Few new people moved in. It took the hollowing out manufacturing and the collapse of the auto industry to finally put the nail in the coffin and now years later things are finally starting to look up. That will be Illinois. We still have a lot of business – we are a HUGE insurance state – its not like Allstate AND State Farm are… Read more »

world with end

Also, even if renting vs. owning solved the property tax problem, you’re still living in an area that bombards you with unduly high and additional taxes and user fees (gasoline, cell phone usage, car registration, etc., etc.), and, of course, the upcoming parade of state income tax rate inreases. Finally, once again, as all of us wirepoints readers know, since way too high a percentage of tax revenue is going to pay pensions, health care benefits, and salaries, not enough money is left over for essential services. So, when you’re driving to a gas station to pay more for gas… Read more »

Stephen

Renting is the answer for me. I won’t be stuck, unable to sell or locked in to taxes rising faster than valuations. I have owned my whole life until moving here 5 years ago. I will never buy here.

Randall

Here is where you are wrong and Hank is right – and the reason I am selling my Wilmette home and renting (after 23 years of owning property): If my landlord raises my rent $1,000, I pay him the extra $1,000. If my property taxes go up $1,000, I pay that $1,000, AND the value of my property falls $20,000. THAT’s why you rent right now.

world with end

Neither renting nor buying is a good option for an IL resident, based, in part, about what I said above. If you have to live in IL, you have to choose to rent or buy. If you don’t have to live in IL, the third choice of moving out of state is the most attractive option.