Very soon property tax bills will hit homes in Oak Park.

They will be higher this time.

That is not news. Neither is the fact that in general, the property tax rate in Oak Park is nearing three percent, and the sum homeowners pay swings from about $5,000 up to $25,000.

OK, the jaw-dropping amount is for homes assessed and taxed at a million dollar-plus bracket, although, $5,000 isn’t chump change.

“I think the challenging zone for us is once you get over $12,000,” says Rich Gloor Jr. of Better Homes and Garden Gloor Realty in Oak Park. “In certain instances that becomes significant, I mean it’s a thousand dollars a month.”

But, that still isn’t new news to property owners. What is new is that local market activity has been up in the last couple of months compared to the same period last year. It’s most likely related to more first-time buyers flocking to Oak Park from Chicago and elsewhere, and finding the right deals that offset any worry of rising property taxes.

With the economy the way it is, homebuyers want it all: A deal-of-a-house in a town with low property taxes and amenities that suit their needs. To accommodate, a few local real estate agents are reaching beyond Oak Park.

“Well, you could almost draw a partial circle around Oak Park,” says Gloor. “We are seeing some people moving to Galewood, Elmwood Park, Forest Park, Brookfield, Riverside, North Riverside and Berwyn. If you don’t need the space, or require some of the services, like schools, especially, some folks just want to be a little more conservative with what their monthly nut is. That’s the feedback I’m getting.”

But it’s not a cakewalk, especially in comparable municipalities to Oak Park, including Elmhurst, LaGrange, Western Springs and Evanston. There are no bargains on taxes in those communities, Gloor adds.

“Certainly I would say that something like Riverside, for example, is cheaper on taxes on a whole, but you don’t have a thriving downtown, with several different business districts and multiple points of public transportation. There is a price to be paid for those amenities, and I think that some people get it.”

Affordable Galewood to the north is not an alternative to Oak Park either. There, Gloor notes, a three-bedroom Georgian-style home might cost $225,000. In Oak Park a comparable house would sell for between $350,000 and $400,000, with a tax bill of about $9,000 a year.

“That house in Galewood might have a tax bill of $4,000 to $5,000, but there is a reduction on value, as well,” Gloor says.

Meanwhile, in Berwyn many single-family homes that previously sold for about $250,000, are now on the docket as foreclosures, selling anywhere between $50,000 to $120,000. And, according to local real estate agents, sales are brisk.

“There was one that sold for $48,800 and the taxes are $4,000,” says Steve Nasralla of ReMax in the Village. “[Another one] sold for $49,000 and the taxes are $4,800, that’s 10 percent. They had sold for so much more before. There’s another one that sold for $48,000 and the taxes are five grand, a little ranch.

“From a tax stand point, I’ve been more blown away about how significantly the prices have dropped in areas like Berwyn, and how the taxes are compared to the purchase price, than I am to the tax situation here in Oak Park.

“[In Oak Park] people are crazy not to fight their taxes with every tri-annual reassessment, and believe it or not some people haven’t,” he adds.

Pat Cesario, of Prudential Premier Realty, says he’s seen clients biting the bullet on the tax situation in Oak Park.

“The tax range for my [clients] is between $5,000 and $10,000. That’s still a deal because the interest rates are low so they can afford to pay a little extra on the escrow end, and it’s still in their mortgage ability price range,” he says. ” It’s just that less is going to principal and interest and more is going to their taxes. That is the trend and the shift that I am seeing.”

Nasralla emphasizes that living in Oak Park is different than residing in Galewood, Berwyn, Riverside, and North Riverside. There is a trendier city/urban feel here, similar to living in Evanston, without the sandy beaches or water element.

“The bulk of our taxes go to the schools, District 97 and 200. The taxes are what the taxes are,” he says. “Until somebody in the state legislature is willing to step up and actually push through and fund schools more heavily with income tax, rather than property tax, we’ll continue to have the big inequities and you will continue to have some people willing to pay higher prices and higher taxes [to live in] towns like Oak Park.”

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....

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