It may not be the sexiest topic in the world, but for homeowners in West Deerfield Township, a crucial period is upon them as their annual property tax assessments are not too far away.
Inevitably, that means some property holders will get to know the process of appealing a ruling. It may not be easy, but it can be beneficial if the proper steps are taken leading to a reduction of the property tax bill.
Two local people with two different perspectives on the situation have enjoyed some degree of success in dealing with West Deerfield Township Assessor Tom Healy. The township includes all of Deerfield as well as parts of Lake Forest and Highland Park.
Max Wasserman moved into Deerfield about five years ago, just before the housing market crashed. He believed his home had been over assessed once before, but the township did not agree based on the appraisal he brought in to the office. With the housing market still struggling, Wasserman took a different approach last year.
“People were selling homes in our neighborhoods for half of what the assessed value was,” Wasserman said. “With new foreclosures in the neighborhood, nobody could sell their house and we thought it was time to get an attorney because the first time we got an appraiser and it went nowhere.”
With his attorney pulling statistics from comparable homes in the area (which are available to the public on the Lake County web site), Wasserman’s experience the second time around proved to be more successful as the assessed value was knocked down to the point where he believes he will eventually save $4,000, both from the current assessment, and future ones.
“I think if you show up with an attorney, they take you more seriously,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman Has Concern for Village’s Future
Wasserman is clearly happy he saved some money yet is concerned about the future of the Deerfield.
“We had the experience before,” Wasserman said. “All of my friends were petitioning and weren’t getting anywhere so this was par for the course for the township which is why I know a lot of people are leaving Deerfield.”
Alexander Choe is a graduate student living in his parent’s home in Lake Forest and handling some of their business initiatives. Real estate runs through the veins of the Choe family as they are in the business with properties in Cook County.
What is also a tradition in the family is appealing the assessment of the real estate under their control. “We always appealed the taxes because there is no harm in doing it, it doesn’t cost anything,” Choe said.
Real Estate Crash Concerned Choe
Like Wasserman, Choe was concerned the crash of the housing market was not taken into account by the proper authorities “I just don’t think the home was adjusted for the economy,” Choe said. “I’m not saying we were being ripped off, I’m just saying the township hadn’t looked at it.”
So Choe also went about bringing in an attorney and saved some money. He wasn’t as cynical about the process, just relieved. “Who knows how things work?” he said. “As long as I save money, I’m not going to care how this system works.”
Wasserman and Choe are two clients of attorney Lisa Fishbein. She is also cognizant of the havoc that has been caused in recent years, but thinks the process is beginning to settle down as the 2008 crash gets farther and farther away.
“As a result of the sharp decline of the market, many homeowners have been over assessed in many years,” Fishbein said. “That being said, truthfully in 2012 assessments are much closer to where they should be.”
Assessments Coming in Mid September
Assessments are done every four years in Lake County with square footage, the neighborhood, the year the house was built, lot size and style all factoring into the equation. The fact that economic concerns were at the top of people’s minds is only part of the process, according to West Deerfield Assessor Tom Healy.
“Assessments are always chasing today’s market value,” Healy said. “Because we are required to use the three previous year’s worth of sales it doesn’t identify exactly today’s market value. The difference in a down economy is we are chasing the values down instead of the values up. When the market jumped up we were far below, when the market came down, we were far below.”
Healy is not 100 per cent certain of when assessment notices will be mailed out this year, but he senses it could be around mid-September.
His office received approximately 1500 appeals out of 13,000 parcels last year. But he was reluctant to say how many of those owners were successful in appealing their assessment. It’s impossible to say what level of success is,” Healy said. “That has to be answered individually.”
As for the grounds to base an appeal, Healy notes uniformity, a recent sale, a factual error or a matter of law are avenues, but most of the appeals he receives come on market value.
As for hiring an attorney, Healy said the first steps can be taken by the homeowner using the County Web site.
“All we recommend is try to do some research on their own first,” Healy said. “Everyone has a different comfort level. It is always worthwhile to go out and do a little homework before hiring someone.”