Cook County Land Bank Training: How to Find Information About Properties (Updated with Video)

On July 24th, Smart Chicago Collaborative will present at the Cook County Land Bank Workshop at the Union League Club, hosted by the Metropolitan Planning Council. The workshop will help attendees understand how to work with the land bank to either buy or donate properties. Smart Chicago will present on how to locate information about properties.  We’ve outlined our presentation below the fold complete with a video demo.

11928 S. Prairie Ave. (Detail)

11928 S Praire Ave, Photo by Robin Amer

If you’re wanting to buy, donate, or simply inquire about a property – there are many different sites that you’ll need to check in order to get a complete picture. The best way to explain this is to go through the process of researching one specific address. Let’s take a single family home like 7611 S Eggleston in Chicago. We’ve put together a video demoing all the sites we’re going over below.

The first thing we need to do is to find the Property Information Number of PIN. While the address and property details may change when we’re looking (because this stuff gets messy) – the PIN will always be the same. To find our PIN, we need to go to the Cook County Property Tax information website. ( . For the Eggleston property, our PIN is 20-28-313-004-0000.  We’ll be referencing this number a lot so write this number down or print out the page. The page also shows the assessed value of the property (about 10% of market value) and some details about the property.  The first thing you should do is to make sure that the property you’re thinking of is actually the property listed. Occasionally, addresses change and the data you’re looking at might be incorrect. But if it looks like the house we want, we’ll keep going. 

To get a much more detailed picture of the property we need to click the CookViewer link. CookViewer will let you look up any property by PIN number. We can also search for comparable properties as well as see what’s around it. 

Back on the Property Tax Information Portal – we’re going to want to check out the tax information towards the bottom of the page. (Highlighted in the pic.) If you want to buy a property, the taxes have to be cleared on it first. To find out if there are delinquent taxes, you’ll need to visit the County Clerk’s website. ( For this example, we see that there are multiple tax bills due. We’ll need to add these into the cost.

The other rather odd thing about delinquent property tax is you can actually purchase the tax debt. When you do this, you place a lien on the property. When somebody wants to buy it – you can sell it for 18% interest. (You can see a list of registered buyer here). To find out who has the tax bill, you can go back to the Property Tax Information Page and look at their address here.

The other section of information that’s important to look at is the recent activity in the documents section. This is where you can see what’s legally going on with the property. In this case, we see that this went through some sort of court function. To get more details we need to go to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Website. Again, we’ll need to use the PIN to look up the property we’re interested.

Now to see the individual documents, we need to click the document number. (Make sure your pop-up blocker is off.) You can now see the entire legal history of that property.  If you want to print out the docs, you’ll need to pay the Recorder of Deeds. In this case, we see that the last action was that the court ordered the owner to clear out the junk.

It sounds like this property has a building violation. We can search that by looking at the City of Chicago’s Building Violation lookup tool. It’s important to check this site because if the City thinks the building is too dangerous, they’ll demolish it.  And good thing we looked, because this building was in demolition court. Since the case shows “cleared” it looks like this property is safe..for now.

Thus far, we’ve determined who owns the building…the condition of the building…and what it might cost to obtain the building.  Next,  we’re going to go a little deeper in exploring the neighborhood. You can do this in a few ways:

The first is by going back to the Cook County Viewer. By clicking the “Base Map” you’ll get a better idea about roads and rail lines are nearby. You can also look up the City of Chicago zoning map which can help with finding where the parks, schools, and commercial districts are.

There’s another site,, which is based on this zoning information provided by the city.  We’ll put in the address which will zoom us into the area we want to see.  Each zone is colored a different shade, but if we click on the zone we’re interested in the site will tell us what it is. For example, the blue area along Vincennes Avenue is a commercial district.

Another useful tool for discovering what’s around a property is Redfin. Simply enter in the address and it will tell you additional details about the property. For example, this house caught on fire once. (So it will definitely need rehabilitation.)

But, it’ll also tell you what homes are selling for around that area to help you get a better idea of what a refurbished house would go for. This will give you a good idea if the property is a good investment.