Kaegi starting over on countywide tax assessments, adjusting for pandemic’s impact on property values
Monday, April 06, 2020
The Daily Line
by Alex Nitkin
Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi is restarting the clock on this year’s round of property valuations.
Kaegi will send new assessment notices to property owners in the nine townships that already got mailers from his office this year, he told The Daily Line on Friday. The revised assessments will take into effect the toll that the coronavirus pandemic has already taken on the region’s real estate market.
“We think it’s only right” that the office start over on the long process of assessing the county’s 1.8 million property parcels, Kaegi said.
“Because the market has changed so much, it’s only right that we take that into account for people,” Kaegi said. “It doesn’t help if our assessments are out of date and don’t reflect where the market is.”
The fewer than 100 analysts on Kaegi’s staff will work on a compressed timeline in an effort to process all assessments and appeals and deliver them to the Cook County Board of Review by December so that tax bills can be sent out on time next year, Kaegi said. To meet the deadline, property owners will have 35 days to appeal assessments for each township, down from the typical 40 days.
The updated calendar will be posted to the assessor’s website on Monday, officials said.
The assessor’s office is due this year to reassess property values for Chicago’s west and south suburbs, but property owners all over the county receive assessment notices each year and are invited to appeal. Kaegi’s team mailed notices in February and March to property owners in River Forest, Riverside, Oak Park, Palos, Evanston, Norwood Park, Rogers Park, New Trier and Barrington townships.
Appeals may be submitted until May 1 for the city and north-suburban townships where notices were mailed. Appeals will be accepted on a rolling basis for the others.
Kaegi announced on March 19 that he was suspending assessment mailers and scuttling appeal deadlines “until we have more certainty about what the future looks like.”
Related: Kaegi suspends assessment mailers, appeal deadlines amid Coronavirus crisis
In the two weeks since, analysts have pored over data from real estate investment trusts and “examined the effects of past disasters” like the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the 2008 financial crisis on the county’s real estate market in order to estimate how the coronavirus crisis may impact property values, Kaegi said.
“The hardest part is that this is all unfolding in real time,” Kaegi said. “The market is still discovering prices in some different markets, but I think it’s better that we try to be reflective of what’s going on, rather than not.”
Property owners in Chicago and the north suburbs will be sent revised assessments this year with a “broad uniform reduction” calculated to model the financial toll of the crisis, but south-suburban assessments will be more “granular,” the assessor said.
Last year, during the first assessment cycle after Kaegi unseated former Assessor Joseph Berrios, the new assessor drew a backlash from local real estate industry leaders after his assessments radically shifted the burden of property taxes from homeowners to commercial property owners, and his staff rejected most appeals from commercial owners. Kaegi has argued that his valuations are more accurate than those produced by Berrios, who was widely accused of intentionally deflating commercial assessments.
Related: Kaegi promises ‘more flexibility’ on next year’s tax appeals after rejecting most complaints
Kaegi said it would be “hard to generalize” whether a similar shift is coming to the city’s south and west suburbs.
“We’ll be looking at each asset class to see how it’s impacted, and it will depend a little bit on the township and on the locale,” Kaegi said. “Some classes of property have been really devastated by the crisis, especially small retail. Others have been less impacted. So in terms of the mix between residential and commercial properties, it will be different on a case by case basis.”
Staffers in the assessor’s office shifted early last month to working from home, where they have continued working on property valuations, officials said. They have also continued their “field work,” which involves driving alone to specific properties and examining them from the outside.
Leaders of the office were in the process of creating a “call center” to better field questions from taxpayers before staffers were sent home. Voicemails are now being patched through to staffers so they can respond, Kaegi said
The office also rolled out a system this year that allows property owners and their attorneys to file appeals online, which Kaegi said should help staffers churn through appeals on the shorter timeline.
Some property tax attorneys have hit a wall when trying to use the online filing system, which limits each filing to five megabytes, about the size of a 100-page PDF document.
Staffers in Kaegi’s office have been working with appellants to help them “get over the technological hurdle” of the file size limit by lowering the resolution of their file or breaking it into smaller documents, assessor’s office spokesperson Scott Smith said.
As of Friday, more than 10,000 appeals had been filed with the assessor’s office. Those appeals will be processed based on their properties’ original assessed value or the “Covid-19 value, whichever is lower,” Smith said.
Analysts with the Cook County Board of Review also switched last month to working from home, where officials say they’ve churned through tens of thousands of appeals and are on schedule to complete the remaining cases in time to deliver updated assessments to Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas by early May.
Related: Board of Review picked up its pace after staffers started working from home, Cabonargi says