How to Leverage Your Property Tax Assessment to Lower Your Taxes in Chicago (Cook County) | Zenlist

How to Set Up a Tax Maintenance Schedule to Re-assess Your Property Tax

Property taxes can be confusing. They vary based on the city, county and school district you’re located in, and frustratingly, they fluctuate often — sometimes every year.

To make matters worse, there’s seemingly no logic behind what you pay. One homeowner might pay two or even three times their neighbor, all because their home is “assessed” at a higher value.

Fortunately, as a homeowner, you have the power to appeal these assessments and, subsequently, lower your property taxes as a result. All it takes is enforcing a consistent tax maintenance schedule and:

  • Knowing your county’s property tax assessment timelines.
  • Filing an appeal for your property value.

While you can’t outright control what your taxes are, you can control what your property is valued at. By appealing the assessed value the county puts on your home, you may be able to lower that valuation and, thus the tax burden you pay on the home.

Property Tax Value

Not sure what your property tax value is? The starting point is the most recent sale for the property. The sale price of the property, together with the value and sales of other similar sized homes in the area, is what will influence your home’s overall assessed value. This value will then be used to determine your overall tax burden for the year.

A few notes on property values:

  1. Property values vary by home type. Condos, new construction, existing properties and other types of homes will differ — even in the same neighborhood.
  2. Property taxes are paid for the previous year. So if you buy a home today, you won’t pay taxes on the property until early next year.
  3. Your property tax value may change year over year. You likely won’t pay the same amount annually.


New properties — particularly those in new developments or communities — may see more fluctuation on property taxes, especially at the beginning. It typically takes 2 to 3 years to determine an appropriate value for these newer areas, so owners might see a relatively small tax bill up front and a significantly higher one a few years down the road.

Property Tax Deadlines

In Cook County, you’ll get your property tax bill in two installments. The first, which accounts for 55% of the previous year’s taxes, is due by Nov. 1 and is delinquent anytime after 5 p.m. on Dec. 10.

The second installment, which should include the entire remaining balance of your tax bill, is due by Feb. 1 and is delinquent after 5 p.m. April 10. The deadline to appeal your property value — and your tax bill — depends on your exact neighborhood. (See below for more detail)

How to Reduce Your Property Tax Bill

The first step to lowering your property value — and your tax burden — is to find the appeal deadline for your specific neighborhood. Check out the Cook County Assessor’s office for a full breakdown of deadlines.

Next, you’ll want to:

  • Ask your agent to access MLS and pull 5-10 recent home sales in your neighborhood — ideally they lowest-priced ones they can find. The homes should be similar in size, age and style to yours.
  • Pull the appropriate appeal forms for your property. You may want to work with a tax lawyer to ensure you’ve filled them out properly and gathered the right evidence, or you can opt to e-file your appeal on your own.
  • Wait to hear back from the assessor’s office. You may need to provide additional documentation or appear for an in-person hearing.


Typically, using a tax lawyer or property tax appeals expert is the best way to lower your tax burden. Keep in mind that they will likely charge a fee for their services. If they’re able to save you thousands in added taxes, though, it may be worth the investment.

Often tax appeals expert will charge a fee on your savings, so remember to ask if this formula can be applied to your case as well!

Announcing our Zenlist “Independent thinkers” Fall 2018 scholarship winner!

First of all, we wanted to thank all of our participants. We received over 75 applications and picking just one winner has been really hard!

Our “Independent thinkers” scholarship aimed at supporting an outstanding, courageous and bold “independent thinker” to pursue his/her dream.

We believe we found one, Theodore E. Martin from Florida Institute of Technology in Florida! We had a brief chat with him, and we can confirm he’s a great individual who’s not scared to take big risks to accomplish his life goals! Here’s his application:



Congratulations Theodore, we wish you the best of luck at achieving your career in space!

Our Fall scholarship is now open. More details below.

Who we are

Zenlist is a team of independent thinkers from outside the real estate industry creating solutions for the modern home buyer and seller. We are college grads who were given many opportunities along the way and determined to pay it forward.

Our purpose

To create the premier marketplace for accurate home listings and information.  Zenlist is focused on real home buyers and curates the most comprehensive set of active and pre-market (“Coming Soon”) home listings available.  With Zenlist, home buyers can search with confidence on the journey to their dream home.

Our mission

Buying real estate is an emotional, complicated, and expensive experience.  Zenlist provides the most complete online and offline experience for the modern day home buyer.

Scholarship Details

Award: $1,500 per award, biannual

Deadline: November 30th, 2018, June 30th, 2019.
Our Scholarships are offered twice per year (biannual). Fall Scholarship applications must be completed by 11/30/2018 and will be awarded on or near 01/15/2019.  Spring Scholarship applications must be completed by 06/30/2019 and will be awarded on or near 07/15/2019.

Eligibility Criteria:
Open to US citizens or permanent residents enrolled in or planning to enroll in an accredited college or university full-time in 2018.  There is no minimum GPA requirement, but it is mandatory to include your cumulative GPA and declared major in our application form. The basis for awarding the scholarship will be the passion and originality of the applicant, as represented by their video sample. Verification of enrollment will be required. Individuals are only eligible for one award.

How to Apply:  

To apply, create and submit a short video (<2m) on the following topic:
Talk about an accomplishment that you are most proud from the past few years. Have fun talking about it, be yourself!

Here are some ideas to get you started
1. Did you set goals for this?
2. What were the challenges?
3. How did you solve it?
4. What did you learn from it?

*We certify we will not sell or share student information with any third party. The information is collected for scholarship candidacy purposes only.*

Application Form

All you need to know about off-market properties – Pocket Listings, Pre-mls listings, Coming Soon Listings | Zenlist

As high-tech as today’s real estate world is, there are some listings that you just won’t find online. At least until now..

Off-market properties – also called pre-MLS, coming soon or pocket listings – are becoming more and more common in today’s industry. You might hear about them from a friend buying a home, a real estate agent, a neighbor or even just see a sign on the street.

And while they might be harder to come by, they’re often the Holy Grail of real estate deals, offering lower competition, a faster purchase process and, in some cases, a more negotiable price.

Let’s start from the beginning with a quick summary of what off-marketing listings are and why they’re heating up in today’s market.

As high-tech as today’s real estate world is, there are some listings that you just won’t find online.

Off-market properties – also called pre-MLS, coming soon or pocket listings – are becoming more and more common in today’s industry. You might hear about them from a friend buying a home, a real estate agent, a neighbor or even just see a sign on the street.

And while they might be harder to come by, they’re often the Holy Grail of real estate deals, offering lower competition, a faster purchase process and, in some cases, a more negotiable price.

Let’s start from the beginning with a quick summary of what off-marketing listings are and why they’re heating up in today’s market.

Glossary & Definition

In the U.S., real estate listings are categorized into two groups:

1) on-market listings, or properties listed on an MLS, or

2) off-market listings.

On-market listings are put on one of the country’s nearly 1,000 multiple listing services by a licensed real estate agent. An MLS allows these agents to market their properties and establish contractual offers, line up appraisals and more.

Off-market listings, on the other hand, aren’t listed on an MLS. For sale by owner (FSBO) properties are always off-market listings, because you need a real estate license to list on any MLS database. We’ll go into other types of non-MLS listings later, but for now, let’s look at the implications of going off MLS, and what it means for buyers and sellers of these properties.

The Implications of Off-MLS Properties

Naturally, off-MLS properties are harder to find. Many online sites like and use MLS data to populate their listings, so when properties aren’t on an MLS, buyers can’t find them on these sites or apps either. Generally, off-MLS properties are discovered through an agent, a street sign or even neighbor or friend.

Off-market properties exist in every market, just in different quantities. Big, urban centers like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Dallas are all markets with high shares of off-MLS listings. In San Francisco, about a quarter of all sales come from off-market listings, while in Denver, the off-market share is about 15 percent.

As with anything, there are pros and cons to off-market properties – both for sellers and potential buyers.

Browse Our Off-Market Listings


For Buyers

On the buying side, off-market properties mean less competition – or maybe even no competition at all. By offering a premium price on these listings, buyers can avoid tireless bidding wars, haggling and time-consuming searches and showings – particularly in hot markets.

Buyers may also be able to get an unexpected deal on an off-market listing, maybe because they know the seller, have some connection to them, or the seller is wanting to get the property off the market quickly.

For Sellers

Sellers see a number of benefits from going the off-market route. For one, starting off-market can allow sellers and their agents to solicit feedback on the property without increasing its days on market (see our recent post on DOM to learn why that’s important!)

It also gives the sellers a foundation to evaluate their listing price, staging and other details. What offers came in while it was off-market? How did those measure up with expectations? Should the price be adjusted before going on MLS?

Generally, a seller would opt to keep their home off market if:

  • They’re a celebrity or well-known person who wants to protect their privacy
  • They don’t want others to know they’re selling their home, for personal reasons
  • They’re very reserved or private and want to avoid lots of coming and going in their home

Criticism: The Dual Agency Problem

The biggest problem with off-market properties is that they often fall into a “dual agency” trap, where the selling agent is promoting their non-MLS listing to their own buyer-side clients.

Though at first glance, it might not seem a big deal, there are some pretty big issues at work when an agent represents both sides of the transaction:

  1. They don’t have the best interest of either party at heart. They’re getting commission from both sides of the deal, so they’re not motivated to truly serve either the buyer or the seller. After all, they’ll get paid no matter what!
  2. There are ethical issues are work. Agents working both sides of the transaction would need to inform both parties of their involvement – and the fact that they’ll get commission from each side.
  3. It’s technically complex. There are different disclosures, contracts and documents that must be handled separately on each side of the transaction, and mistakes can be costly – both in money and time.

Most agents will shy away from pushing their seller listings on other buyers, but it does happen. Just make sure you know who is listing any off-market properties you’re being shown, and ask your agent to be forthcoming about any potential conflicts of interest.

Off-market Property Types

Aside from for sale by owner listings, there are a few other property types that are commonly sold off-market. These include:

  • Coming soon or pre-MLS listings – These are listings intended to build buzz around a property that will soon hit the MLS, though the homes are often sold before that point.
  • Pocket listings, whisper listings and tip-pocket listings – These don’t have a defined go-to-market or MLS date and may never hit the MLS at all. They’re often meant to be private, behind-the-scenes sales.

The same types of off-market listings aren’t seen in every state or city, as laws and regulations vary. In Milwaukee, for example, coming soon listings aren’t allowed, while in L.A., those listings are one of the most commonly sold in the city!

The Rise of Pre-MLS Listings

Today, experienced agents typically have about 10 to 15 percent more inventory than they actually have on the MLS. These are properties in this “pre-MLS” phase that they can show exclusively to their own clients and network of brokers and partners.

Agents have become big fan of pre-MLS listings in recent years, especially as new technologies have made sharing properties broker to broker easier and more convenient. Here are just a few of the tech options making pre-MLS listings easier to share with others

  • Top Agent Network, a platform launched in L.A. but now operating nationwide
  • Off-MLS, a Chicago-born tool now serving all 50 states
  • ThePLS, a pocket listing service for agents

Though these tools serve only to expose off-market properties to other brokers, the natural evolution would have tech enabling consumer access to non-MLS properties. That’s exactly what we’re doing here at Zenlist, connecting Chicago brokers and consumers on the same platform to improve access to all local real estate has to offer.

Want a way to find off-market properties for yourself or clients in Chicago? Zenlist can help.

Everything You Need To Know About Luxury Condos in Chicago – June 2018 | Zenlist

A Luxury Condo in Chicago

Chicago is seeing an increasing interest in luxury condominiums throughout the city.

Despite their higher price and often smaller square footage, Chicagoans are gravitating toward these properties for their unique designs, layouts and finishes, as well as their prime locations and high-end amenities.

Particularly popular are small- and mid-size boutique condos – ones with three to five bedrooms and around 1,800 to 2,100 square feet. Though their price per square foot may be more extravagant than most traditional condos in the area, they come with an air of luxury and elegance those other properties just can’t offer.

The Luxury Difference


What Defines a Luxury Condo?


When compared to traditional ones, luxury condos usually differ in three main areas: design/layout, finishing, and amenities.


Design-wise, luxury condos often offer a non-standard layout that really speaks to Chicago buyers. They might have intermingled indoor and outdoor spaces, integrating the living area with the balcony, or they could have unique corridors or bottom-floor bedrooms that offer added privacy. Luxury condos also typically come with slightly higher square footage – one of the many the reasons they fetch a higher price tag.


The finishes in Chicago’s luxury condos also set them apart from traditional properties in the area. Timeless, classic and simple, they utilize top-notch materials that enhance the space’s aesthetic, while also standing the test of time. Many luxury condos also utilize innovative or sustainable finishes, which improve the property’s value and branding, as well as cut down on the resident’s energy bills and environmental footprint.


Amenities are what really set luxury condos apart for most buyers. Many units come with high-tech smart home technology, extra-large master bedrooms, rain showers and balconies with a view. The buildings they’re housed in often have serious perks, too – things like wine rooms, 24-hour security, fitness centers, rooftop pools and indoor or even heated parking.

Who Buys Chicago’s Luxury Condos?

Luxury condos are particularly popular with buyers moving back into the city after leaving a more suburban living arrangement. They’re often used to more space, have multiple vehicles and just want to enjoy the city life with more perks than traditional condos offer.

Many couples purchase luxury condos in hopes of raising their kids there – especially if the condo building is located in a great school district, and young, tech professionals also gravitate toward more expensive condos, due to the status and amenities they have to offer.

Most luxury condo buyers are looking for a long-term, permanent living space. They want more room and somewhere they can put down roots for the long haul. (This is likely why the three-bedroom, 2,000-square foot + luxe condo is generally the most popular!)

Where to Look for Luxury Condos in Chicago

There are two types of luxury condos Chicagoans typically look for: lakefront ones with city views and non-lakefront condos with quieter, more private surroundings.

Popular areas for lakefront luxury condos are the West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. Condo buildings in these areas typically have “blended price” options, meaning they’re housed in the same community as non-luxury units, but demand a higher price point because of their better views or more square footage.

The West Loop is Chicago’s top spot for lakefront condos, offering great views of the city and the lake below. For many, city views are more desirable. (Lakes look great in the sunlight, but at night they’re not visible. The city’s alive 24/7 no matter what time of day it is.)

Lakefront condos have the highest price points of all luxury condo options and can run anywhere from $700 to $800 per square foot. The average lakefront three-bedroom, 2,000-square foot condo starts at $1.2 million.

Non-lakefront condos are popular in River North, Bucktown/Wicker Park and North Center, which includes Roscoe Village and Lincoln Square. These condos are often situated in smaller buildings that leverage their neighborhood’s unique branding, personality and vibe.

Chicago’s non-lakefront condos come with top-notch amenities and amazing rooftops, and though they lack city or lakeside views, they don’t typically come cheap. Generally, they run between $400 and $500 per square foot and about $750K to $900K for a three-bedroom, 2,000-square foot home. In River North, prices are even higher. Units in this in-demand neighborhood are often just below those of the West Loop – the city’s hands-down most expensive area for luxury properties.

Going Luxe in Chicago

Chicago’s luxury condo market has the edge over other big cities. With larger properties than typically seen in New York, San Francisco or other major metros, Chicago’s luxury condos offer residents big city living with more space and more amenities. Plus, spread throughout the city’s unique neighborhoods and locations, they also allow buyers to pick and choose the absolute best spot for their preferences, budget and lifestyle. It’s this flexibility and versatility that has luxury condo purchases on the rise in Chicago.


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#framethathood Photo Contest – Chicago Neighborhoods We Love | Zenlist




@rosi.visuals, with a view of Chicago’s River near River North and Streeterville.

Here’s the collection of images from our contest

Our team picked this image because it’s matching the competition criteria, and we believe it catches Chicago’s mood and feel. There are other honorable mentions such as danny_7raceur, who didn’t follow our guidelines by uploading more than 6 images. Nonetheless, his pictures are great! Scottterry submitted some awesome drone shots and hennytron had some great, real street photography shots.

We’re looking forward to our next contest, we will be posting more images from this contest later on.


We thank everybody for your participation!

We are on a mission to represent the uniqueness of Chicago’s Neighborhoods. It is a big challenge considering there are over 240 of them! We want to start from our top 10 picks. Submit your best, original images with the hashtag #framethathood and get the chance to win a $150 Gift Card.


Submit your best pictures of the following neighborhoods*

Gold Coast
Lincoln Park
Hyde Park
Lake View
Wicker Park
West Loop
Logan Square
Near North Side

And get the chance to win a $150 Amazon Gift Card!

* Each participant can submit a maximum of 6 images. Only 2 images per neighborhood are allowed. The winner will be publicly announced on the blog and social profiles. More images = Higher chances to win!

Step 1. Follow our Instagram account @zenlistcom

Step 2. Tag your image with #framethathood and tag us @zenlistcom


Zenlist’s “#framethathood” Photo Contest begins May 10, 2018, at 1 a.m., and ends Jun 10, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST).


To be eligible, a participant must:

– Be at least eighteen (18) years of age or older
– Have an established Instagram profile with a proven history of posting & engagement
– Submit only own work and prove ownership of the images if requested

Individuals affiliated with Zenlist, including employees, trustees, interns, volunteers, fellows, research associates and their immediate families (children, siblings and spouses) are not eligible for any prize. Zenlist will determine winners’ eligibility in its sole discretion.


Images will be judged on originality, technical excellence, composition, and number of likes. The judges are a panel of Zenlist staff members and/or guest judges, familiar with photography and responsible for Zenlist’s overall design and creative direction.

Zenlist shall determine winner eligibility in its sole and absolute discretion. All decisions made by the judges are final. Zenlist will notify the winner via the contact information provided at the time of entry; Zenlist may disqualify anyone who fails to respond to the notification within five business days. Please do not contact us about the status of entries or judging.


The winner will be rewarded with a $150 gift card approximately 10 business days from the end of the contest.


All photographs should accurately reflect the subject matter and the scene as it appeared, however, photos may be digitally altered beyond standard optimization (removal of dust, cropping, reasonable adjustments to exposure, color and contrast, etc.), and multiple exposures that have been combined to produce a single high dynamic range (HDR) image are acceptable. Images with text watermarks exhibiting the photographer’s name may be entered, but will not be considered for judging.

By entering the contest you retain your rights to your photograph; however, you grant Zenlist (and those authorized by Zenlist) a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to publicly display, distribute, reproduce and create derivative works of the entries, in whole or in part, in any media now existing or later developed, for any Zenlist purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and promotion of Zenlist and its website, exhibitions, and commercial products, including but not limited to Zenlist publications. Zenlist will always attribute the image to the author. Zenlist will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek any additional approval in connection with such uses.

For a photo in which a person is recognizable, you must secure a model release from the subject or, in the case of a minor, the subject’s parent or guardian and provide it to Zenlist upon request.

Your submission indicates that you have read and agree to all of the rules and regulations.