Seeking tales of successful property tax appeals
July 8, 2014 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the process of appealing the recent assessment of my house. My next (and final) step is to present my case to the local Board of Review, and I'm wondering how best to do that.

This is in Cook County, Illinois, where property taxes are no joke.

My wife and I purchased our house about 1 1/2 years ago. We knew a reassessment for our township was coming up this year, and right on schedule, we received a letter from our county assessor with the news that our valuation had increased about 15%. I'd been told that the first step to appealing assessments was to meet with the local assessor's office, so I made an appointment, during which the staff identified eight comparable properties in my neighborhood with assessed values per square foot about 26% lower than mine. The local assessor filed the appeal on my behalf.

Eight weeks later, I heard from the county assessor that they were declining to revise the assessed value. (I forget the one-line rationale but it was something to do with analysis of the selling price.) I ran back to the local assessor's office and filled out the form to appeal the appeal (deadline less than 24 hours later; very sneaky), which is pending, but I don't have any confidence that I'm going to get satisfaction this way, and am preparing to appeal to the Board of Review, but I'm not sure how to go about it.

I've pre-registered with the Board, which I think will open in August for my township. What tips do you have to help me make a strong case?

Specific other questions:

- I looked up the values of all the other houses on my street and determined that we're being assessed the highest value/square foot of any of the other 20 properties on the block - 26% higher than the average. Should part of my case include details about how my house is inferior to houses with lower values? How many examples do I need to be convincing? For example, my next-door neighbor's house is much larger (56% more square footage, according to the records), and their purchase price was higher than mine when they bought five years ago, but their assessed value is lower (both absolutely and in terms of price/sqft). Our houses are fundamentally similar (actually, ours is frame and their's is brick). There are other examples on my street I can point out. Will this do me any good? There's no way this can lead to an increase in the assessments of my neighbors, can it?

- The houses that sold recently (including mine) have higher assessments, so it seems clear that they're factoring in purchase price. I'm not sure how to make the argument, but something is off about this - it's not so much that their overvaluing my house, I think, as that they're undervaluing everything else nearby that hasn't been on the market (which will make my share of the property tax higher). Ergo, "lack of uniformity," which is an accepted basis for an appeal. It's my understanding that they're supposed to determine what a property would sell for between a normal seller and buyer regardless of whether they actually were for sale, and I don't think that's being done. For example, how can they argue that my next-door neighbor's much larger house would sell for less than mine would?

I've heard that the Board is more sympathetic to people who represent themselves rather than employ lawyers. I'd rather do this myself if I can, but I'd consider hiring a lawyer if it's really my best shot. As I understand it, I also have the choice of presenting my case in person to the board or submitting documentation ahead of time. Is there any particular advantage to appearing in person?

Thanks for any and all suggestions!
posted by ndg to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did contest my assessment once (not in Cook County IL), and did wind up going before the board and getting it lowered, but it turned out that the board's basis for changing my assessment wasn't anything I could have predicted beforehand unless I had been much better-educated about what their valuation criteria were. I had gone in armed with similar information, and they ignored most of that. They asked me about some other stuff, and found in what I told them a different basis (during the meeting, I learned they have different rates of appreciation for houses that are in their original condition, slightly remodeled, or extensively remodeled; my house was listed as extensively remodeled, and so it was on the fastest "elevator," but I pointed out that it had been built in 1946 and remodeled in 1947, and so maybe that classification shouldn't apply).

More recently, I became a customer of a law firm that specializes in contesting assessments. They work on a contingency basis. They're much more effective than I ever was, and they do it every year, like clockwork.

None of this is to discourage you, but my own experience going before the board was just bewildering.
posted by adamrice at 8:45 AM on July 8, 2014

A good friend did this in the SF Bay Area, and got nowhere until he got a lawyer specializing in contesting assessments. The whole process took a few years, but the lawyer ended up getting the base value reset to about 50% of the original, with the standard (for CA) ~1% valuation increases each year. He found the lawyer by attending the public hearings and watching which lawyers looked knowledgeable.
posted by Atrahasis at 9:27 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I appealed my FY2012 assessment (in Carroll County, Maryland) as soon as I bought the house, on the basis that the house was assessed for $80,000 more than what I had just paid for it (in May 2011 -- FY2012 was July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012). Here, you are only allowed to appeal your assessment within 60 days of buying the house or within 60 days of receiving a triennial reassessment notice.

You should be able to ask Cook County or ${township} for a list of the comps they will use in their argument to the Board of Appeals. Then, come up with your own comps. I think being prepared with my own comps, and a prepared argument as to why the county's comps were not actually fully comparable sales, helped me. Maybe they didn't, though -- the Powers That Be reduced my assessment eventually, but my comps were (apparently) ignored, as the letter with the decision of the state appeals board indicated only the purchase price of the house as the reason for lowering my assessment.

Since you're appealing a reassessment, you might want to get another appraisal done. (Unless, of course, you think the cost of the appraisal would exceed the amount you would save in reduced property taxes. This was the case with me, but I had just bought my house and so I had a recent appraisal in hand.)

The appeal process was pretty stressful and adversarial, and took 5 months from start to finish.

The first step was to file an appeal with the county within 60 days of closing; I did this. That resulted in a meeting with the county assessor whereby my appeal was denied. I appealed this denial to the statewide property tax review board (which I had to do within 14 days). This resulted in a local hearing being scheduled with three state appeals board judges where the county assessor had to present her case and I had to present mine. I had the option of having a lawyer at that hearing -- since I thought I had a clear-cut case (purchase price is a very good indicator of what a house is worth), I didn't hire one; I don't know if this helped me or hurt me. The county was required by the state to provide me, in advance of the hearing, with three comps supporting their assessment. Their comps were all in more urbanized/populated areas than my house. I used this fact to argue that the county's comps weren't really indicative of the value of my house -- I then presented my own comps in similarly rural areas of the county (within 5 miles of my house where possible -- I think I had about 8 comps in all).

The state appeals board decided to order the county to reduce my assessment by $20,000 (I was looking for an $80,000 reduction), but their decision letter mentioned ONLY the purchase price of the house as the reason. They seemingly ignored my comps and the appraisal of the house (which came in exactly at the purchase price).

I had the option to appeal this to an actual court of law (again within 14 days) as a third and final step. I decided not to, as I thought there was a good chance that $20k reduction might actually be reversed in court.

I was due for a triennial reassessment for FY2013-FY2015; when this came in, the assessment went down by an additional $120,000 -- meaning my house is currently assessed for $60,000 less than what I paid for it. I was happy with that, so I didn't appeal it.

We'll see what happens in December when I get my triennial reassessment for FY2016-FY2018.
posted by tckma at 9:36 AM on July 8, 2014

I've done this three times in Cook County and won substantial reductions two out of three times. The time frames are sneaky and when I've missed a deadline I've gone to the township assessor and they've fit me in anyway.

When you do get to the Board of Review for your date, the first person you'll meet with is just there to make sure you have your paperwork in order. Then you bring the folder to someone at a high desk - I've had the Board Reviewer do only a cursory review and someone else that reviewed everything and asked questions. Have as much back up as you can muster, in case you get someone that's actually interested. One thing I'd suggest is to keep a record of everything you've done and your comparables because the next reassessment,odds are, if you win your reassessment your house will be then be reassessed to the same amount next go round in just a couple years.

Feel free to memail me for particulars. I'm about to go through the same process again myself.
posted by readery at 9:42 AM on July 8, 2014

Get a lawyer who specializes in assessments.

Property assessment procedures are crooked as all fuck almost everywhere. Mysterious short deadlines, mysteriously applying wrong comps, ignoring your comps, ignoring little details like actual sale amounts, you name it. Only someone thoroughly versed in the local laws and politics will be able to solve the puzzle of why you're being ripped off. A lot of times it has nothing to do with you, you're just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
posted by localroger at 7:14 PM on July 8, 2014

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