After seeing just how inaccurate Zillow's home price estimates are it occurred to me that property taxes suffer from the same problem - i.e. wildly inaccurate home value estimates are resulting in thousands of people overpaying in property taxes and thousands of others paying far too little. If you want to get excited about financial inequities property taxes is where you want to focus your attention. You can actually do something about it and you should.
I pulled some random recent closings and compared the sale price of the homes to the 2011 first pass market values that the Cook County Assessor is coming up with. As you might expect the results are all over the board.
If you take a straight average of the errors you get about 9.7%, which means that on average the market values are too high and there are more positive errors (market value too high) than negative errors. All of this is actually a bit of a surprise to me because I figured that people would be pretty active in trying to get their assessed values knocked down. They certainly wouldn't be trying to correct errors in their favor. So I fully expected to find a negative bias.The fact that I didn't indicates that people are overpaying their Cook County property taxes.
So clearly you need to get on the stick and check out what kind of 2011 market value Cook County is coming up with for you and see if your valuation is out of whack. Do your research on what's closing around you that might be comparable and see if you can come up with a fair market value for your own home. I recently did this for my mother-in-law and it's a bit of work so I'm not going to suggest that you contact a realtor unless you want to pay them for their time. Of course, if you just bought your place this gets pretty easy. You just attach a copy of your HUD closing statement to your appeal form and it should be a no-brainer - in theory.
It's too late to do anything about your 2011 assessments (except Hyde Park and Hanover townships still have a couple of days left) but it's not too soon to be looking ahead to your 2012 assessments. You may need the time to get psyched up about doing this because once your assessment notice comes out you only have a one month window to appeal your property tax valuation. The Cook County property tax appeal timetable will appear behind a link at the bottom of the page I just linked to. I've reproduced the 2011 filing dates and appeal deadlines here to give you some rough idea of where the dates will probably fall in 2012. Your dates depend upon which township you are in. Mid May will probably be the earliest date that some townships will receive their assessment notices and be open for appeal.