The blue slips from the county have arrived and property owners want to know: Why have some assessed home values gone up when the housing market is down in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff?
It's a good question, said Shields Township Assessor Theresia Yakes.
As with swimming, romance and the perfect souffle, timing, it seems, is everything.
"We're always chasing after the market," Ms. Yakes told GazeboNews. "We're looking at sales that transpired prior to what is happening in the market today. … If people believe their housing values have gone down, more often than not our assessments are short of the current market value."
What that means is that today's tax assessments are based on home sales from 2005, 2006 and 2007; the housing market is generally understood to have started slowing down midway through that time period. To read a more complete explanation in Ms. Yakes own words, click here and head over to the county's web site….or continue reading this entry…
So what is an assessed valuation, anyway? According to the assessor's office, "An assessment is a value placed on property for real estate tax purposes. The valuation is used to divide the tax burden among all properties in a taxing district. According to the Illinois Property Tax Code, a value must be placed on all taxable property by Jan. 1 of each year and the assessment will represent one-third of the fair market value." Click here to link to the county assessor's site for more information on how the process works.
"They use a lot of fuzzy grey formulas that are not actual figures but percentages of figures," said a realtor who asked not to be named because she did not want clients to know how confounding she finds the assessment formula to be–although she is far from alone on that matter. She added that historically when an assessed value goes up, it is often because the property was under-valued.
Property owners can appeal their home's assessed valuation before a firm deadline of Oct. 13, 2008. (Click here for the appeals form.) Ms. Yakes said 225 property owners contested last year, out of the 10,460 parcels in Shields Township, which encompasses all of Lake Bluff and portions of Lake Forest.
One Lake Bluff resident said she has appealed twice in 12 years and got her assessment reduced somewhat each time. "But I never feel like I get an exact answer," she said. "I feel like there is an art and science to home valuations."
Ken Hite, a local real estate appraiser, said he is seeing an increase in the number of people appealing assessed valuations this year. "So many people are wondering why there was a 2 percent increase in their property valuations when the market has been flat or declining," he said.
In an appraisal he did recently for a client's two-year-old home in Lake Bluff, Mr. Hite estimated home sale prices declined 15% on average from Jan. 1, 2006 to Jan. 1, 2008 in that market, using data of homes worth less than $9 million. In that case, the homeowner's assessed valuation increased.
The good news is that it is easier for property owners to get information about their tax assessments and assemble the material needed for an appeal. Where once property owners had to pore over documents in the library or tax assessor's office, they can now visit the county assessor's web site to get data such as comparable home valuations. They can also attend several venues aimed at helping people better understand the valuation process, such as "tax help centers" for one-on-one assistance–there's one tonight–and two public-information forums, hosted by the Lake County's Chief County Assessment office (dates and times are listed below).
But property owners can no longer rely on complete assessment data being published in local papers. For many years, the assessor's office ran complete tax valuation rolls in the Lake Forester and Waukegan News Sun, which property owners used to compare their situations with similar homes. But this year, the only properties published were those that experienced an increase in assessed valuation (the roll is in the Lake Forester's Sept. 11, 2008, print issue).
Comparable valuations can be found quite easily on the assessor's web site. But Mr. Hite said he has found the best way to contest a tax assessment is not through comps but by providing the assessor with the present market value of the house.
The "tax help centers" are open from 5 to 8 p.m. on the following dates and locations:
- University Center of Lake County, Grayslake: Sept. 16 and 30; Oct. 7 and 14; Nov. 5 and 12.
- College of Lake County Southlake Educational Center, Vernon Hills: Sept. 16; Oct. 1, 8, 15 and 29
- University Center of Lake County, Waukegan: Oct. 9 and 23
The public forums will take place at College of Lake County in Grayslake at 9 a.m. Oct. 25 and Nov. 8.