With Friday’s deadline for appealing Evanston property tax assessments just two days away, I finally got in gear and tried out the Cook County Assessor’s online tax appeal system this morning.

With Friday’s deadline for appealing Evanston property tax assessments just two days away, I finally got in gear and tried out the Cook County Assessor’s online tax appeal system this morning.

All-in-all, not too bad an experience to gain at least the hope of a reduction in that monster property tax bill.

And it only took about 90 minutes start to finish.

Assuming you figure, as I did, that some of your neighbors’ got a better break on their tax assessments, you probably want to appeal based on what the assessor calls “lack of uniformity.”

You don’t have to specify who you think got a better break in your appeal — but there’s room to list up to four comparable properties on the online appeals form, and you want to prove to yourself you’re not getting a fair shake, right?

So, go to the property search page on the assessor’s site, and investigate.

You’ll want to search by neighborhood, which is down at the bottom of the page. Select your Township — Evanston — and then hit the “Search by Neighborhood” button.

Then select your neighborhood code and the property class of your home. They’re both on the assessment notice you received in the mail from the assessor. Hit the “Search by Neighborhood” button again and you’ll get the first page of a list of all the homes that match.

Now, here’s where it gets a bit ugly. I got 144 results — which is an awkwardly large number to deal with. And there’s no listing of the assessed value per square foot to help you pick likely prospects from the list.

What you can do is start by focusing on the part of the list that has houses that are closest to yours. All other things being equal, the closer they are, the more likely they’ll actually be comparable.

Then click on a listing and see if the house has about the same features that yours does — the same number of bathrooms and garage stalls, for example. And look at the picture to see if the house is similar in style to yours.

Next it’s time to do a little math. The easy way is to open up a spreadsheet program and enter the property index number and address for the house, the “building assessed value” and the “building square footage” and then divide the value by the square footage to get a value per square foot.

If that value is significantly less than the assessed value per square foot of your house, it’s one you may want to add to your comparable properties list.

(Don’t bother calculating the value per square foot for the land. I wasted some time doing that until I noticed after checking over a dozen properties that within the same neighborhood, all the land values per square foot are the same.)

Be sure to look at the property description of your own house. You might find an error on that. For example, the assessor’s office thinks we’ve got a half bath that doesn’t actually exist. That “property description error” is another grounds to appeal.

Next stop, the assessor’s online appeals form.

It’s pretty easy to fill out. The only puzzling thing I ran across is that you can’t directly enter the permanent index numbers of the comparable properties on the form. You have to access a special pop-up window that validates the numbers first. To do that use the “To get Permanent Index Numbers click here” link just below the comparables fields.

Submit the appeal form and print out the confirmation notice, and you’re done.

What’s your experience with the assessment appeals process been like? Gotten help from the township assessor or another agency? Paid a tax assessing service to file your appeal? Share your comments below.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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