Property taxes continue to rob owners of ‘Home Alone’ house

Property taxes continue to rob owners of ‘Home Alone’ house

Illinois homeowners pay double the national average on their property tax bills.

While Kevin McCallister’s wit allowed him to scare off the “Wet Bandits,” his tricks will be no match for the Cook County tax assessor who comes back each year with a higher tax bill. 

Property taxes paid on the “Home Alone” house in Winnetka where the movie was set will be about $30,201 in 2020 and are on track to be a few hundred dollars more in 2021. Since 1990, when the holiday film featuring a young Macaulay Culkin came out, the homeowners have paid more than $890,000 in property taxes.

In 2000, the “Home Alone” owners paid almost $19,000 in property taxes. By 2007, this climbed to over $30,000 per year. Recent taxes have been stable in alignment with fluctuating property values, peaking at almost $37,000 in 2014.

The value of the house at 671 Lincoln Ave. in Winnetka has taken a hit in recent years, losing about $326,000 in value. It sold for nearly $1.6 million in 2012. Assessors now peg the market value at nearly $1.26 million.

Property tax pain isn’t limited to the suburbs: Chicago’s single-family residences were hit hard by average property tax increases of nearly $700 in the central part of the city and $600 in northern neighborhoods in just two years, according to the 2019 and 2020 county clerk reports. The south side average increased almost $60, and in 2020 alone, Cook County’s suburbs saw increases over $100.

Average property tax bills were $5,288 in north Chicago, $5,981 in the central city and $2,445 on the south side. North and northwest suburb bills averaged $7,537, while south and west suburbs were $5,813.

As if the past two increases weren’t enough, the Chicago City Council just passed another property tax hike to the tune of $94 million dollars to offset an ever-increasing budget deficit exacerbated by the pandemic and pension costs.

The McCallister family’s movie home is supporting 11 different taxing districts through its property taxes, and those government units have a combined public pension and health care shortfall of $16.1 billion. Only one of the units, the New Trier High School, has enough to meet the needs of its 277 retirees and 701 active employees. Cook County is responsible for most of that pension debt, with $14.7 billion less than it will eventually need from local taxpayers.

Taken together, growing pension deficits, high property taxes and dropping property values combine to rob homeowners a piece at a time. State leaders are being forced to face these problems as the alarm goes off that property taxes are dragging down the state’s economy.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s property tax relief task force failed to agree on any potential fixes to the problem costing Illinois’ homeowners double the national average. Property taxes continue to increase across the state, but state lawmakers are absent on the issue that threatens to push more people to other states.

First, Illinois needs to shed its nation-leading 7,000 separate units of government. Each Illinoisan supports twice as many government units as the average U.S. resident.

Second, Illinois needs to control its growing public pension debt, pegged at $200 billion for state and local retirement funds, that is pushing uncontrolled spending. That would require lawmakers coming together in support of a constitutional amendment that protects earned pension benefits while allowing for changes in the growth of future, unearned benefits.

Mistakes were made, but maybe the holiday season is when resourcefulness and quick action can inspire meaningful reform – before property taxes inflict any more pain on the “Home Alone” house.

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