Opening the property tax bill that comes twice a year is never pleasant, but sometimes it can be downright shocking.
Taxpayer sticker shock has become a more common phenomenon in recent years as assessed valuations have sometimes remained high in the face of falling home market values, said Stephanie Seiwerth, founder of Property Appeal Inc., a Lake County-based business that assists homeowners in appealing their assessed property values before boards of review in Lake, McHenry and Kane counties.
"Everyone should be aware that they have the option of appealing their assessment when it comes. It is all about everyone paying their fair share," she said.
"I have seen some homes' assessed values that I feel are between $40,000 and $70,000 over the fair market value, thanks to the major decline we have experienced in home values over the past few years. This decline in home values is certainly bringing the appeals process to the attention of more people," Seiwerth said.
"Lake County used to get between 5,000 and 7,000 appeals each year. In 2010 they had 17,000 appeals and in 2011 it climbed to 25,000 appeals."
As a former alternate member of the Lake County Board of Review, Seiwerth said she saw many homeowners appear before the board without the correct evidence to argue that their homes were overvalued, ultimately causing them to lose their appeals.
"Homeowners would come in and give evidence about a nearby ranch home that sold when their own home was a two-story, or they would come in and just say that their neighbor's house across the street sold for much less. That isn't sufficient evidence," she said.
"You need to value a home in much the same way that a Realtor does when they show a potential seller comparable nearby homes' sale prices in order to help a seller choose an asking price for their own home," Seiwerth said.
A licensed real estate broker since 2006, she has experience doing these kinds of valuations for her sellers and also spent two years as an alternate on the board of review, a position she earned by passing a rigorous Illinois Department of Revenue-administered real estate valuation test.
So Seiwerth is well versed in analyzing and valuing properties and has now chosen to help others appeal their property taxes, when warranted, within the strict 30-day window for appeals offered in each township.
Lake County, for instance, has 18 different townships with different assessment dates. Residents of Fremont, for instance, have until Aug. 26 to appeal their new assessed valuations. Zion and six other townships will send homeowners their blue assessment notices in mid-August so they will have until mid-September to appeal. It varies from township to township.
"They are all trying to get them out earlier this year because there have been so many appeals over the past few years that they don't want this process dragging out and affecting the distribution of tax bills next year," she said.
"In Lake County, where I do most of my business, the first installment of tax payments is due June 1 and the second on Sept. 1. Since this appeal is fighting the home assessment, not the taxes themselves, this process will only affect future bills, not those already issued," Seiwerth said.
Consequently, any appeal must actually be in the hands of the board of review on that 30th day after the assessment notice is delivered. A postmark on the 30th day does not count, Seiwerth said, and no late filings are permitted.
"Homeowners can certainly appeal their assessments on their own. They can even file the appeal online now. But when they go in for the hearing, they just need to make sure they bring good evidence because the wrong evidence can actually hurt a case. You need to start the process with your township assessor," she said.
For those who don't know where to start or don't have the time to devote, Seiwerth and her staff at Property Appeal are available to meet those deadlines and provide the best evidence to support a homeowner's argument.
They gather proof of the price for which comparable homes sold in 2011 to substantiate the homeowner's argument that their home is overvalued; present it at a preliminary review; and if the board and homeowner agree, a new valuation is selected. If there is further disagreement, they then represent their client at a formal board of review hearing. The decision of that body is final.
The whole process can take up to five months to complete, Seiwerth said.
Payment to Property Appeal is based on the amount of taxes a homeowner saves in their first year after the new valuation Seiwerth and her staff obtain. They take 25 percent of those savings. For instance, if they save you $1,000 in taxes that first year, their fee is $250. If they fail in the appeal, there is no fee at all, she said.
For more information, visit www.propertyappealinc.com or call (847) 453-4000.