Late this summer, when Drew Walker and his wife, Jill (pictured at right, with their two children), got the latest installment of the bill for their 2011 property taxes, they noticed that the assessment on their house had gone up 17 percent from the year before. “I don’t get it,” says Walker, the afternoon host at US99. “My home’s value has done nothing but nose-dive since ’07.”
Assessments are dropping all over the region. As it happens, my assessment in Lake County went down by the same proportion that the Walkers’ went up. (Lower assessments do not necessarily mean that property tax bills go down; the assessment is multiplied by the tax rates that are set by taxing bodies such as the school district and village, and tax rates have for the most part not gone down.)
A former accountant, Walker did some research on comparable homes so he could file a property-tax appeal with the county. He found a bewildering set of conflicting assessments all within a few blocks of the west suburban bungalow where he and his wife have lived since 2004. “Most of the neighbors’ houses are going down, but ours isn’t,” he says.
A few doors up the block is a bungalow about the same size as the Walkers’ house, with a partial second-floor addition similar to theirs; its assessment went down 14 percent. Four blocks away is a house that’s slightly bigger than the Walkers’; its county assessment went down by just about the same amount that the Walkers’ went up.
Four blocks in another direction is a three-story house with about half again more interior space than the Walkers’ home and a lot that is about two and a half times larger. Its assessment dropped by a little over 10 percent at the same time that the Walkers’ went up 17 percent; the two homes’ assessments are now within a few hundred dollars of one another.
Behind their house is a home with a full second-floor addition; that place has 42 percent more square footage than the Walkers have, and it’s one of the few other homes he found in the neighborhood where the assessment went up. But its assessment rose 15 percent, a little less than the Walkers’.
Walker, who has diligently filled out a spreadsheet with data on these and other homes, can’t discern a reason for his home’s assessment increase—or any kind of pattern behind the data he’s compiled. “[The assessments on] my neighbors’ houses are all going down, mine is going up,” Walker says. “It seems arbitrary.”
The Walkers filed a property tax appeal several weeks ago and are awaiting a decision by the Cook County Assessor. Recently, an inspector showed up to measure the exterior of the home and calculated the square footage at 1,700 square feet. Walker has done detailed calculations of the interior—“including every little nook and cranny”—and says the home has only 1,400 square feet. Because they have done no major improvements to the property in the past few years, the Walkers contend that their home’s assessment has been increased unfairly—particularly in light of how comparable homes’ assessments have changed.
The Assessor’s office does not comment to the press on individual properties and appeals. But I will keep in touch with the Walkers and post an update.