If you opened your property tax bill or reassessment notice this year, and there was weeping and gnashing of teeth, perhaps the emotions have ebbed by now and you're ready to do something about it.
Residential properties in Cook County are reassessed every three years. This year the city of Chicago is being reassessed. But all townships in the county provide certain dates for homeowners to file an appeal of their property tax assessment.
Residents of many North and Northwest suburbs, including Evanston Township, have until Nov. 6 to file an appeal with an obscure county agency known as the Board of Review. That leaves little time, so you must act quickly.
But wherever you live, if you believe your home is over assessed, you can still prepare an appeal. An opportunity to file that appeal will come again soon.
An increase in the assessed valuation of your property generally means your tax bill will go up and there are some very good reasons why you should file an appeal.
Dan Patlak, an analyst with the Board of Review, said 57 percent of all appeals last year resulted in a reduction of assessment. That percentage was even higher in previous years.
You don't need an attorney so it costs you nothing, only some time and a little shoe leather. If you have access to the Internet, it's even easier. And if you don't want to, you don't have to go downtown and appear before the board. A competent analyst will review your evidence.
There's an old fear among homeowners that if you file an appeal you might end up with a higher tax bill. The old "let sleeping dogs lie" theory. Not so, says the Board of Review.
"We won't change your assessment because of the information you give us," said Patlak. "If you're under assessed, don't worry, nothing will change. And we won't change your neighbor's assessment if you use them as a comparable property. So you won't be ratting out your neighbor."
The first thing you need to do is get an application. If you're downtown you can pick one up at the Board of Review office, 118 N. Clark St., 6th floor (312-603-5542). The board also has satellite offices around Cook County including the County Courthouses in Skokie.
Applications are available at your township assessor's office, at 846 Dodge Ave. (847-332-2465). It might be wise to call the township assessor for an appointment to avoid a long wait.
You may want to make the township assessor's office your first stop because they can help you with the application and run a computer check of comparable properties in your neighborhood. The application and the instructions are pretty easy to follow.
Although the Nov. 6 deadline to file an appeal is approaching, you don't have to present evidence on that date. You'll be notified when the evidence must be filed. One easy way to appeal your property assessment is to prove over valuation. If you purchased your home within the last three years or, if you're like many homeowners who have taken advantage of low interest rates by refinancing your home recently, you probably have a current appraisal of your property.
Patlak said the Board of Review will accept the appraisal as expert testimony and assess your property at 10 percent of that value. So, if your current assessed valuation is higher than 10 percent of the appraised value of your home you should get a reduction.
The most common appeal is for lack of uniformity. This means your neighbors who have similar homes to yours have lower assessments. The township assessor's office can help you find evidence of this.
You can also go on the Internet to www.cookcountyassessor.com and do a search of residential properties. Remember you are looking for homes with the same neighborhood code, similar square footage, style and construction. You need to present three to five comparable properties and provide pictures of the properties. These can be printed from the assessor's Web site.
Check your own property and make sure all of the information is correct. Also make sure you're getting the automatic homeowners exemption. Some lower income senior citizens may qualify for an assessment freeze.
Another source of help might be your local county commissioner's office.