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Haisler, Getting good data key to property assessment appeals

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

roperty assessments are once again being delivered. Already 12 of McHenry County’s 17 townships have filed their reports, leaving only Marengo, Nunda, Riley, Grafton and Algonquin left to file.  

It is very important that you review your assessment as soon as you get it. The window for appealing it is just 30 days from the file date, regardless of when you get it or open it. For six townships, the deadline has already passed.

If you’re still in within the review period and have questions about your assessment, often the best place to start is with your township assessor. Call his or her office and have a conversation with him/her about it. After that conversation, if you feel you need to file an appeal, the process isn’t terribly difficult.

The most difficult part of the process is acquiring information on comparable properties.

That is, you will need to get information about other homes similar to yours to use as references for why your assessment should be lower than it is. One of the best sources for this might be to contact your local real estate agent. Many of them are willing to help past clients with this process. Some might charge a fee, others might not; that is a business decision each of them and their brokerage firms makes independently.

Finding good data may be difficult if you live in a unique property, but do the best you can to find data on properties that have sold as close to Jan. 1, 2014. That’s the date the assessor uses for valuing your home. So if the market is appreciating in your neighborhood this year (and many in McHenry County have), then the value would be lower on the assessment than it is today. Ideally, the best data would be from three months on either side of Jan. 1. If, however, due to the lack of data or specific characteristics of your property, the best comparables are a little older, you may need to use those.

The most important thing is to submit all of the data you wish to use. Don’t overdo it, but don’t limit yourself either (five to seven should sufficiently demonstrate your appeal). If you don’t submit it, though, you can’t reference it in the hearing.

Once you have good data, you’ll need to fill in the simple form and submit it before the deadline. There is no room for error on the deadline. Once it passes, you will miss your chance to appeal this year.

On your appeal, you can state whether you’d like to have an in-person meeting or have it reviewed without you present. Personally, I have found them to be equally successful so long as you go in with a good case. Weak cases won’t get you the results you wish. In fact, you risk having your assessment increased if it was already too low. While this isn’t likely, it is possible.

Keep in mind that you are only appealing the assessed value of your property. This is not the tax bill. While the assessment certainly affects your tax bill, it is possible to have your assessment lowered and still have your tax bill increase, but that’s a whole other article.

Beyond your assessment, it is very important to ensure you are taking advantage of the exemptions you are entitled to. There are a myriad of exemptions property owners can take advantage of. The first and foremost is your homestead exemption for the property you reside in. This is critical. When you move homes, the professionals assisting you (title agent, attorney or real estate agent) may ensure this is completed for you, but it’s not their responsibility; ultimately, it is yours. Other exemptions available include: senior citizen, senior freeze, senior deferral, home improvement, disabled veteran, disabled person and returning veteran. If you’re not sure if you qualify, contact your township assessor or real estate attorney.

While paying taxes is no fun for anyone, it is our duty. If our house were on fire, we’d certainly hope the fire department would show up to put it out without asking for our credit card information beforehand. Having good schools is important for our children and our property values. So while no one wants to pay it, by having fair and accurate assessments, we all pay our fair share. That’s the whole point of this exercise; ensuring we each pay fairly for the property we own.

• Jim Haisler is CEO of the Heartland Realtor Organization, a nonprofit trade group based in Crystal Lake serving real estate professionals throughout northern Illinois.

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