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Property tax appeals rise but victories fall

Thursday, November 07, 2013
Crain's Chicago Business
by David Lee Matthews

Property tax appeals have risen to their highest levels since the crash, but fewer property owners are winning them.

In Cook County, 141,183 assessment appeals have been filed this year, up 6.4 percent from 132,686 appeals during the 2011 tax year and the most appeals since at least the 2008 tax year, when nearly 135,000 were filed, according to the Cook County Assessor.

Yet the percentage of applicants who successfully lowered their assessments fell, to 44.5 percent, from 51.8 percent last year. Nearly 60 percent of applicants who filed in the 2009 tax year, while home values were plummeting, won their appeals. The county comprises about 1.3 million residential properties and 500,000 commercial properties.

The data does not include appeals filed with or assessments lowered by the Cook County Board of Review.

Property tax bills are computed in part by multiplying municipal tax rates by assessments, or property values, reported by the assessor's office. So even if someone's assessment declines, the person's tax bill could rise because of a higher tax rate.

Local home prices started rising from their long slump this year, but a spokesman for the assessor said "the ongoing fluctuation" of market conditions "is just one of the factors" in determining property values. The assessor uses a computer-assisted mass appraisal for its residential properties, which are assessed by comparable sales data, location and other factors, the spokesman said.

Each year one third of the county is reassessed: the city of Chicago, the north suburbs or south suburbs. That means each area is reassessed only once every three years.

The assessor revalued city properties in the 2012 tax year, whose tax bills were delivered in March and August. That reassessment factored in the depressed prices that have driven housing since the last assessment in 2009, making it harder for city homeowners to lower their assessments based on market conditions, said Chicago-based lawyer Anastasia Poulopoulos, a property tax specialist. "(The assessor has) been a little tougher this year," Ms. Poulopoulos said.

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