May 24, 2023 - Real Estate

Appealing your Cook County property tax, with or without a lawyer

Illustration of a house surrounded by angry emojis with dollar sign eyes and tongue

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Every three years, when new property tax assessments hit our mailboxes, so do letters from tax appeal lawyers offering to help lower them — for a portion of the potential reduction.

  • But does a lawyer really improve your chance of getting money back? Maybe not.

The intrigue: Appeals filed by individuals actually do as well or better than those filed by lawyers, according to the latest data from the Cook County Assessor's Office and the Cook County Board of Review.

By the numbers: In 2021, the success rate for appeals to the CCAO was 37% with lawyers and 38% without.

  • Individual filers do even better when they appeal to the Board of Review. In 2021, the success rate for non-condo residential property owners appealing to the board was 41% with attorneys and 51% without.

What they're saying: Officials at the CCAO and the board tell Axios a strong appeal presents proof of similar nearby properties called "comps" were sold for, or were assessed at, less than than the property in question.

  • "Homeowners have a pretty good sense of their home in comparison to others in the area," CCAO chief of staff Scott Smith tells Axios.
  • "So they have a better idea [than a lawyer would] of what comps to include."

The other side: Tax appeal lawyers are essential because they keep track of the calendar to make sure appeals are filed on time and "know the best case to argue and best presentation," Gary H. Smith, president of the Illinois Tax Appeal Lawyers Association, tells Axios.

Be smart: Homeowners don't have to appeal first to the CCAO. They can appeal straight to the Board of Review, where lawyer-less homeowners had a higher success rate recently.

  • All you have to do is apply online and ask for a hearing.
  • During the hearing, an analyst walks through data on nearby comps to let applicants know whether they have a good shot at a reduction.

Editor's note: This story is the third in a series about navigating Cook County's tax appeals system. The first covered how bad data is skewing assessments and the second explained how to FOIA the reason for your appeal denial.


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