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Assessment Appeals - Recommending Professional Assistance

As bankers you will periodically come across properties that are over-assessed.  When a property is over-assessed it incurs higher property tax costs which can hurt property values, cash flow and the ability of your client to pay their loan.

Often, we are asked whether or not it makes sense to use a tax attorney. After all, it is every owner’s right to handle their own appeal, and the price may be lower. The Assessor’s Office may tell the owner simply to fill out a form and attach an appraisal—no attorney required. But while handling their own appeal is every owner’s right, is it necessarily the smart thing to do?

As appraisers, we do not, and cannot act as an advocate for a client seeking an assessment reduction. All we do is provide an appraisal— an opinion of a property’s fair market value— that may be used as evidence. For the preparation of the appraisal, we are paid a fee. We don’t give legal advice, nor help with paperwork. We may be called as witnesses, but our expertise is limited to valuation only.

Attorney’s can and do advocate for their client— that’s their job. They can provide legal advice, help to secure an appraisal, assist with paperwork and they make sure filings are complete, accurate and timely. Attorneys compensation is generally a percentage of the tax savings realized. If the client doesn’t succeed, they get nothing.

Many individuals do get some relief doing it alone. It is our impression; however, that tax attorneys are able to obtain far better results on average than the individual property owner, and that the assessment reductions tax attorneys may get will typically outweigh the associated fees.

Assessment appeal in Cook County is a process, not an event. Initially, the valuation is appealed at the Assessor’s office. It may then be taken through a re-review with the Assessor. If the appellant believes the results are still unfair the appeal can be taken up the Board of Review, beyond which is a more formal PTAB hearing, and there are even more avenues of redress after that.

Each step of the way is time consuming. Tax attorneys do not simply fill out a form, but create briefs to support their position, some of which are extremely comprehensive. In these cases, the burden of proof is on the taxpayer. When the property goes through the assessment and re-review process, as well as the Board of Review appeals, the attorney must demonstrate why the Assessor was in error, and counter with additional facts and arguments of their own. While the attorneys work daily in this arena, an individual property owner probably lacks the specialized knowledge and expertise in matters pertaining to the tax code, real property law and case law to effectively pursue these avenues, or to refute the Assessor.

In the 2016 North Triennial, we completed an internal quality control study where we tracked over $550,000,000 in proposed commercial property assessments and 372 files through assessment process. This analysis only included appraisals for tax appeal purposes that were ordered in time to go through the Assessor’s review and re-review process.  We then tracked the assessment levels through the Board of Review process. All of the files in the study were ordered through tax attorneys who specialize in property tax appeals.

For appeals attorneys submitted through the Assessor’s office and then re-review, the average relief observed in our data set was 20.9%. After the Board of Review process the tax attorneys were able to further drop the assessment to an average 29.5% reduction. While the intent of our study was not to compare results of private individuals versus tax attorneys, we were left with the overall impression that the assessment reductions obtained with attorney representation likely vastly exceeded what a typical property owner could achieve on their own.  Most individuals would simply be overwhelmed by the need to go through the various steps of the process which require so much time and expertise.

Without hesitation we always recommend utilizing a tax attorney for assessment appeals over the property owner going at it alone.

J. Chie, Esquire

Our law firm provides legal work for real estate closings for over 30 years… What distinguishes Chicago Commercial Appraisal Group from other appraisers is the level of thoroughness and details.

A. Raila, Senior Tax Analyst

Gary is a hands-on professional always willing to pick up the phone and work with you... His appraisal firm produces one of the best real estate forecasting reports in the state. I highly recommend his work and his opinion is highly recognized by governmental agencies.

J. Norris, Property Tax Attorney

As an attorney, we deal with many appraisal reports used in tax appraisals. Gary's work has proven successful for our clients and I do not hesitate recommending him for tax assessment appeal appraisals.

C. Noone, property owner

I needed an appraisal for settling an estate. Mr. Peterson was very professional, punctual and helpful with the process. I received my report ina timely manner. I would certainly recommend this company, as well as use their services in the future.

J. Tsiaousis

Gary is one of the top commercial appraisers in Chicago. Every time I have a client in need of a commercial appraiser I refer all work to him without hesitation.