How can property assessments be fair when they aren't even accurate?

Opinion

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Tom Holmes, One View

Dear Mr. Houlihan, Cook County Assessor's Office,

I was in the audience a few months ago when you appeared at Oak Park Village Hall to talk about our real estate assessments. I remember you stating how you wanted your office and the process to be more "transparent." I also noted your website states:

"Assessor Houlihan has focused on developing an office that prides itself on accuracy and fairness, bringing additional clarity to the assessment process."

It is with that thought in mind that I have taken time to review what little I knew about the process and how it affects us in Oak Park. I have since done a bit of research and spent some time on your website.

I confirmed that village hall sends building permit information to the local assessor and their office then forwards it on to your office. However, there seems to be a problem somewhere in that I have found many, many improvements not updated in your website listings.

Over the past few months I have found the following discrepancies:

1) Over 1,200 garages are incorrectly listed. By that I mean your listings of "no" garage, "one-car" garage or "one-and-a-half-car" garage bear no resemblance to the two- and three-car garages now sitting on those properties. Many have second floors as well.

2) Over 150 homes are listed on slabs or crawl spaces, yet they have windows around their perimeter at ground level.

3) Over 100 homes were advertised in our local papers in this same time period that are promoting more improvements than your listings say they have. I even checked past real estate listings at the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest when these homes were sold previously and found many of these improvements have been there for 10-15 years or more. (Even some "slab" homes have had basements for years).

All of the above information has been given to our local assessor's office, but I have to wonder how many more homes have expanded and improved that continue to go unreported. Surely additional living space, like enclosed porches, additional bathrooms, or other improvements such as central air, fireplaces, etc. add value to that home and should be considered.

This leads to my questions:

? Why is some living space important and some not? Your listings indicate living space in a basement or in a garage is not added to total square feet, but in an attic it is included. Is a bedroom in the basement not as valuable as one in the attic? Surely any additional space adds value to the home.

? What value is assigned to a finished basement or attic vs. a non-finished one? From your definition: "Finished-basement (or attic) used as recreation room, study, bedroom or similar living area" implies that a single room makes that area "finished." Surely that, too, adds value to a home.

? Why are garages with second or third floors not addressed in your garage characteristics? You show eight variations of garages but do not mention the possibility of additional floors and therefore additional probable living space. Surely these add value to a property.

Since all these "unreported" or "uncorrected" improvements are not shown on your website listings, those homeowners are paying no additional taxes for them. However, they are more than happy to promote all those same improvements when selling their homes to get the highest prices. If my assessed valuation is not based on the characteristics of my home but instead on the average selling price of homes in my neighborhood, then my valuation is determined and taxed higher than it should be due to those "unreported" characteristics, which raised the value of those other homes. They should have been taxed all along for the improvements they were enjoying and not by me having to make up for their misrepresentations.

I cannot begin to guess how many properties are incorrectly listed on your website, but I feel very upset when I hear you stress "the rule of uniformity" and then attempt to compare apples and oranges.

I quote from your site:

"The key concern in property assessment is uniformity. The rule of uniformity requires that property be valued equally with property of like kind. The sales comparison average ensures that similar properties are therefore assessed similarly."

If your records are not correct, since you do not know of certain improvements, then how can you possibly compare it to a similar property without those same improvements?

Unless the assessor has the properties inspected after building permits are reported to your office to confirm and update your records, you should not claim to stress "fairness and accuracy" as you do now.

I would like to know when, if ever, your records will be updated and hope it is well before the next re-assessment.

I remain overtaxed and upset.

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