May 25, 2023 - News

How Cook County is trying to improve its property assessments

Illustration of a house being examined with a magnifying glass and revealing binary code.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Cook County Assessor's Office is working on several fixes to improve the accuracy of property assessments.

Why it matters: Earlier this week, Axios reported that the office is using flawed data to create certain assessments and deny some appeals.

The big picture: Property tax appeals are a big deal in Cook County. Nationwide only about 5% of homeowners appeal their property taxes, but in Cook County that number jumps to 30%, per the Board of Review.

  • The business of tax appeals is so prominent and potentially lucrative that two of the state's most powerful politicians — Mike Madigan and Ed Burke — chose tax appeal law as their other profession.

What's happening: CCAO chief of staff Scott Smith told Axios the agency is taking these steps to address issues with some assessments:

  • Revising its permit collection and review process, "which will ensure we have up-to-date information on new construction."
  • Implementing a new team to "review sales that seem inconsistent with characteristics or are not 'arm's length' (meaning a sale to a family member for a lower than market price)."
  • Increasing field inspections, "which will confirm property characteristics and spot recent construction."
  • Requesting access to a federal Universal Appraisal Database, "which offers better information on newer properties."

Yes, but: Smith can't say when these improvements will be implemented.

Reality check: Though still flawed, the accuracy of Cook County assessments has improved under Assessor Fritz Kaegi, according to University of Chicago researcher Chris Berry, who found high overassessment in low-income neighborhoods under Kaegi's predecessor Joe Berrios.

  • "Some of the lower-priced properties were being assessed at [values] 25% or even 45% more than they were worth on the market, and that's almost entirely gone now in Cook County," Berry told Route 50 magazine.
  • "I was really shocked when I saw the quality of the assessments coming out. I thought it could take much longer."

Of note: In 2021, state Sen. Emile Jones III introduced a bill that would allow property taxpayers to pay only a portion of their bill until they had exhausted all appeals and lost.

  • Similar legislation has succeeded in other states, but it failed here.

Editor's note: This story is the fourth in a series about navigating the Cook County tax appeals process that covered how flawed data is skewing assessments, how to FOIA for evidence used in your appeal denial and whether or not you should use a tax appeal lawyer.

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