But ….

Joanne CleaverChicago Tribune

We’re No. 2!

But second place isn’t usually something to brag about — and certainly not when it comes to property taxes. Illinois residents pay the second-highest property taxes in the country (New Jersey has the highest), according to Attom Data Solutions, an Irvine, Calif.-based real estate data company.

The average annual effective property tax on a single-family house in Illinois is 2.13 percent. Property taxes pay for essential government functions — emergency response, public safety patrols, water, sewer, infrastructure, education — and amenities that define quality of life, like libraries, parks and social services.

Are they worth it?

First, consider how property taxes affect your overall return on homeownership.

Taxes affect property market values and siphon off money that you could potentially direct toward building equity. “Property taxes are a carrying cost that represent money you could use to pay off the mortgage early and build equity,” says Daren Blomquist, a spokesperson with Attom.

Count on property taxes to be the second-highest cost of homeownership, right after the mortgage. Property taxes are so important, says Blomquist, that they are one of the key indicators of likely profitability for real estate investors who buy Attom’s reports.

“We see that home price appreciation is held in check by property taxes,” says Blomquist. “In higher-tax states, you don’t see home prices rising as quickly during an up cycle in the housing market because people have to pay (through taxes) for those higher values, so those markets are a little more protected from wild swings. “

On the other hand, he adds, low-property-tax states, such as Nevada and Arizona, tend to be more susceptible to extreme swings in property values. In a way, high property taxes insulate Illinoisans from the worst of market cycles, though that’s cold comfort to many.

One way to analyze the value you get from property taxes is to “unbundle” the amenities and services from the quality of life in that neighborhood, says Blomquist. With an a la carte approach to municipal amenities and corresponding taxes, you can identify where you get the most for what you are paying. For instance, if you’re looking to buy a home and you want access to a top-quality library, but don’t have any children in public schools, you might consider buying in an area that channels a healthy revenue stream to its library, even if its public schools are not highly rated.

“You can fine-tune your decision based on which benefits are most important to you,” says Blomquist.

If you do not think you are getting what you are paying for, know how the system works before you lodge a complaint.

Joanne Cleaver is a freelance writer.