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updated: 5/3/2013 10:19 AM

New home's high real estate taxes seem too high

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Q. My husband and I recently closed on our first home. We are very excited but are concerned about our real estate taxes. They seem very high. We live in Lake County and we're told by everyone Lake County taxes are high, but ours seem real high. How can we check to see if we are where we should be and what can we do to reduce our taxes if they are too high?

A. Congratulations on your home purchase. As you have just purchased, determining your appropriate tax bill is easy.

In Lake County, the assessed valuation of a property should be 1/3 of the property's fair market value. Go to the Lake County Assessor's website and look up the assessed valuation for your property. Multiply your purchase price by 33.3%. If the assessed valuation exceeds 1/3 of your purchase price, you have an excellent basis to reduce your assessed valuation, which will generally result in a reduction of your tax bill.

You won't be able to do anything regarding your 2012 tax bill, payable this year. Keep an eye out for the 2013 assessment notice, usually sent in the fall. The assessment notice and the assessor's website will contain information necessary to file a complaint to reduce your assessed valuation. The basis for your complaint will be the HUD-1 statement you received at your closing, which indicates the sales price. It will be your position that the sales price is definitive evidence of the fair market value of the property.

Q. My mom died last year and left her home to me, my brother and my sister. She did not have a will but the property was in a trust that stated the property would go to us. We are all co-trustees of the trust.

It took awhile to get the property ready to sell, but it's now all cleaned up and ready to go. Problem is, we are already fighting about money.

My brother hasn't had a steady job for quite a while and has been borrowing money off my sister and me for years. I am willing to let it go and give him his 1/3, but my sister, who is now a single mom and struggling, wants my brother to pay her back out of his share. She claims he owes her over $12,000. My brother says if that's her position, he won't sign anything and, to quote him, "the house can rot to the ground".

As the house is worth over $200,000 with no mortgage, that doesn't seem to be a very good idea. I have tried for weeks to resolve this, but neither one of them will budge. Any thoughts on how I can get this moving?

A. My first thought is make the following pitch to brother: The market is hot, houses are moving quickly and this is a great time to sell. If we can't agree on how to divide the sales proceeds, let's just agree then to sell the house and deposit the proceeds in a joint account that no one can access without approval from all three. We'll worry about how the money is divided later.

If brother is amenable to this arrangement, you will address the tough part of the equation, which is getting the house sold. And, if brother is still struggling financially, it will be difficult for him not to come to a resolution with sister with $50,000 to $60,000 just an agreement away from landing in his pocket.

If brother absolutely refuses to cooperate, you will be required to file a partition action in the circuit court for the county where the property is located. The court will most likely order that brother cooperate with the sale and order the proceeds be held pending further order of the court. Of course, you will incur attorneys fees and court costs to obtain that result, which will come out of all of your pockets.

Presuming you and brother remain cordial, take him out for a beer and come to an agreement. It makes no sense to incur the expenses of litigation to resolve this.

• Send your questions to Attorney Tom Resnick, 345 N. Quentin Road, Palatine, IL 60067, by email to or call (847) 359-8983.

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