A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Reducing Cook County Property Taxes

bill-w-pinSix years ago, I wrote about the Cook County Property Tax Homeowner Exemption, which is a reduction in the assessed valuation of your home and decreases the property taxes for owner-occupied residences here in Cook County. I checked and updated the information there to reflect any new links, so go there if you want to know more about that exemption and what you need to do to receive it.

While the Homeowner and Senior exemptions are a definite reduction as long as you meet their qualifications (you’ll get the reduction in the 2nd installment), there are some other ways that might reduce your taxes, but you’ll have to do your homework or pay someone to do it for you. They are not a sure thing but worth the effort.

Cook County is divided into townships, and every three years the Assessor re-evaluates your township which generally means your taxes will be going up, sometimes WAY up. When your township comes up on the assessor’s schedule, you have about 30 days to appeal that assessment. If you miss the deadline, you’re stuck with the assessment, however you may also appeal your assessed valuation in any year between reassessments when your property’s township re-opens for appeals. The 3-year assessment is the “big one” though, so you should make a concerted effort to appeal then. Don’t come crying to me if you don’t!

We are in Niles Township, and now is the time to appeal! The deadline is October 6th to get your application in, but you have an additional 10 days to send in supporting evidence/documentation for the appeal.

You can’t just say, “No, I demand that you not increase my taxes—I pay enough!”—you have to prove to them that you’re paying too much, whether in relation to other properties similar to yours or if there are errors in their assessment. So, what are your options?

One option is to go with one of the real estate lawyers who send you solicitations in the mail when your township opens for appeals.

We went that route twice. For this particular lawyer, we had to pay $50 upfront, and then if he won the appeal, you pay 50% of the amount that your taxes are reduced for that first year. We won the first time, and I think we had to pay him a couple hundred dollars for a $400-something savings. The second time we lost the appeal, so it cost us $50 for the initial fee. They don’t show you what they submit for the appeal, so you have no idea how much time and effort they put into your case or what they’re basing their appeal on.

I thought about going that route again, because when I received the letter from the assessor with our proposed valuation, it showed that our square footage increased, along with a hefty increase in value. The square footage increased, I assumed because of our attic renovation, but I have no idea how they came up with the number and I wanted to find out because it seemed a little excessive.

A couple weeks ago, we went to a Community Outreach event led by the Assessor’s office. They gave a little talk on how to file the appeal—basically how to fill out the form with your name, PIN and address, which (DUH!) was self-explanatory. Then they said to check which reason(s) you’re basing your appeal on, like Lack of Uniformity or Overvaluation and write down the comparable PINs. That’s pretty much all the explanation they gave for that part.

The disclaimer: I am absolutely NO EXPERT and am just like any other homeowner trying to muddle through and figure this out for myself, so I’m going to share some resources that I’ve found that may help you. You’re on your own as far as dealing with your own property so either use the resources provided here or go to your local assessor’s office for help (either your township assessor or one of the county branch offices).

Some of the “rules” seem pretty vague, but there are some specifics in the pdf “How to Present a Case Based on Lack of Uniformity” and these Suggestions and Tips, both from the Cook County Board of Review site.

I don’t know why I haven’t come across it before, but I just discovered the Cook County Property Tax Portal. According to the site,

The Cook County Property Tax Portal, created and maintained by the Cook County Treasurer’s Office, combines property tax information from the Cook County Assessor’s Office, the Board of Review, the Clerk’s Office, the Recorder of Deeds, and the Treasurer’s Office into one unified site.

Up until now, I had been searching around the Assessor’s site for comparable properties to ours and also going to the Cook County Treasurer’s site to see what others have paid in property taxes (yes, it’s public information that you can look up with a property’s PIN). It was a lot of back and forth, and entering many Captcha codes to prove I’m not a robot.screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-9-31-38-am

The most exciting thing about this site is the “COOKVIEWER”. Enter your PIN on the Tax Portal home page, and under the image of your property you’ll find the COOKVIEWER, which will show you comparable properties and other information within a certain radius of your home. Try starting with the lowest radius, per the Board of Review’s stipulations that similar properties must be:

  1. Within your neighborhood (from next door to a block or two away, preferably on your own block.)
  2. Similar to yours in size, type of construction, age, construction materials, and general condition. For example, if your property class is a 2 -03 (small ranch house or bungalow), your comparables should be 2-03 s.

In our case, the COOKVIEWER is displaying comparables based on what the assessor claims is our current square footage, so I’m first dealing with a Property Description Error, which I’ll talk about in the next post. Good luck and get started!

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