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WVN Newsletter #137: Is your assessment accurate?

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, Do you think your new property assessment might be inaccurate? If so, you may have a lot of company. You have only until Feb. 1 to file for
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 24, 2006
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Do you think your new property assessment might be
      inaccurate? If so, you may have a lot of company.

      You have only until Feb. 1 to file for an abatement if you suspect
      an error. See details and advice below.

      Last April, all three members of the Board of Assessors backed
      a proposal to spend an extra $190,000 on new tools to produce
      fairer assessments. The article failed.

      A few months later, one member of the board resigned, saying
      the assessors were bogged down in tax abatement requests
      and failing to attack obstacles in the way of a better system.

      That member was Marcia Malmfeldt, who wrote the following on
      how to evaluate your situation and file a request before the
      deadline. A residential real estate agent for many years, she has
      moved and no longer
      owns Wayland property.


      FEB. 1 DEADLINE -- IS YOUR ASSESSMENT ACCURATE?

      Wayland property owners were first advised of their new
      proposed assessments in late November. Owners were given a
      small window of time to request changes and clarifications from
      the assessment consultants, Tyler/CLT. The plan was then
      certified by the state, and the fiscal 2006 tax bills were sent out,
      with payment due on Feb. 1, 2006. In certifying, the state looks at
      sales ("assessments are based on sales") and does not follow
      through to be sure that assessments are consistent for all. That
      is the role of the BOA and property owners.

      First, some background. Specific instructions follow.

      Tyler/CLT used a new method of valuing properties: "cost" rather
      than "comparison sale." Another company, Vision, will replace
      Tyler/CLT for FY2007. The cost method was suggested for use
      by CLT since Vision uses only that method, to provide a
      transition year. This method has changed the value of some
      Wayland dwellings as much as 50 percent higher or lower.

      No information about how this is done has been given to
      property owners as required by Article 40 passed by a large
      majority at Spring 2004 Town Meeting.

      The most recent Wayland Annual Report indicates that this
      information will not be made available for FY2006. The reasons
      given on Page 17 of the Annual Report for July 1, 2004 through
      June 30, 2005 are "limitations in the present computer system,
      excess workload burden on the present limited staff, and
      switchover to a new computer system". It is noted that in
      "August 2004 the attorney general's office approved the passage
      of Wayland Town Meeting Article 40 that provides the additional
      information to the taxpayers".

      Assistant Assessor Molly Reed stated that "this information is
      supplied by CLT and CLT has not yet submitted its final report
      and documentation to the Board of Assessors." Yet the BoA's
      minutes clearly state that on Oct. 5 Eric Henderson of CLT was
      asked by the board for "an explanation sheet for the land factors
      so that the board will have an understanding in order to answer
      any questions". This suggests that the BoA has answers.

      CLT indicated to this writer that the work for a triennial
      assessment is generally begun in April. (Other towns begin the
      triennial assessment process as early as the previous
      December.) This year the CLTcontract was not signed until
      mid-June, and the first meeting did not take place until July 19.
      CLT's goal, at that point, was a preliminary certification by Sept.
      20. The BoA then indicated that it was not ready
      for CLT to begin work. The first time the new assessments were
      discussed by the BoA was Sept. 12, according to the minutes.

      This writer believes that insufficient attention was paid to to the
      2006 reassessment, partly because of about 200 abatement
      requests, limited staff and computer limitations. The schedule
      for abatement hearings was generally
      not followed during this writer's tenure on the BoA. Often the
      interviews with taxpayers lasted much longer than scheduled,
      and property owners had to wait for interviews and few
      decisions were made in a timely manner. The process was not
      complete until Aug. 2, according to the minutes.

      Article 40 also requires that the BoA notify property owners when
      data on the Property Record Card is changed. Currently, some
      land now has a "grade", which adds or deletes value, which is
      new to the process this year, and this grade information is now
      on the PRC. Therefore, according to Article 40 homeowners
      should have been notified, and they were not.

      These BoA minutes state, "Their (CLT's) review is done from the
      outside if the Board knows better on the inside due to a
      inspections then they should state this. Their review is done for
      consistency of properties and assessments. The review puts the
      ball in the assessors' hands. CLT was hired as the Boards
      consultants, they are doing mass appraisal, the bottom
      line is that these are CLT's recommendations and the Board
      needs to review and get back to CLT."

      When asked in writing about standards for grade and condition
      of a dwelling and grades for land the answer was: "This
      information is supplied by the vendor CLT and CLT has not yet
      submitted its final report and documentation to the Board of
      Assessors." That would seem to indicate placing the blame
      on CLT. CLT was obviously under a great deal of time pressure
      and was not indicating that it had more expertise or knowledge
      of the town properties than the local elected officials were
      expected to have. The BoA knew that the attorney general
      supported Article 40, effectively requiring the BoA to give full
      assessment methodology disclosure. This year, there is less
      than ever.

      So, without the legally required documentation, how can a
      property owner apply for abatement when he/she believes the
      assessment is not correct? Because time is now short, it must
      be emphasized that the legal deadline for abatement application
      of assessment is Feb. 1. If you cannot do all of the suggested
      work before you file, do it before your scheduled hearing.

      If you believe that your assessment is not fair, your only recourse
      is to file for abatement. Get the form from the Assessors' Desk
      at the Town Building. This means that a member of the staff of
      the BoA will inspect your property (at an appointed time), and
      you can request a meeting to explain why you believe that your
      assessment is not correct. THIS MUST BE DONE BY 4:30 P.M.
      on Feb. 1.

      Suggested work:

      Get your Property Record Card at the Assessors' Desk. Make
      sure that you get the two-page or long version, as that is the
      complete one. You cannot get it without having someone print it
      for you. Yours is free. Others cost 25 cents each page. Much of
      the data is in the short schedule, which you can print, but not all.

      Specifically, information on land may not be on the short version
      and this information may create thousands of dollars in
      assessment. Look at "grade" near land. We have no
      information concerning how that was established, but if your
      land is graded, then find out about others near you to be sure it
      is the same if the land is the same. Ask how it was done. If
      there is no answer, ask for additional two-page property record
      cards for other properties. It may be worth the investment.

      There are two land schedules. Be sure to ask for both. One
      gives a detail (incomplete) of neighborhood or land values for
      2006. The other gives a history. Both are useful. Some areas of
      town have not experienced increased assessments in land for a
      while. If that true for your neighborhood, then you can expect
      higher land values. One area, last year, experienced a decrease
      in land value. All areas of town had increased land values this
      year. These changes generally have a marked effect on
      assessments.

      Use the complete schedule of assessments that can be
      purchased for $10 for all of the properties in town. Share it with
      friends or neighbors to help minimize the cost. The total
      assessment that was printed in the Wayland Town Crier will not
      help you in your decision to file for an abatement, for it gives the
      total assessment only.

      Look at properties that are near you. You most likely have some
      idea of renovations or upgrades that others have that you do not
      have. How similar or dissimilar are they to yours? The BoA will
      not increase the assessment of your neighbor, but you can use
      this information to suggest that, in comparison, if, based on cost,
      your neighbor's was "X", and then because of the following
      reasons, yours should be "X minus".

      So, since there are no written standards used by the BoA for
      grade (quality of construction) or CDU (grade, desirability and
      condition) use the residences near you or that you know to
      establish a standard. If one is better than yours and you have
      the same grade or CDU, indicate that yours should be lowered.
      You can use the information that the building department has in
      gathering information about other properties.

      The appellate tax board has recognized the effect of topography
      in establishing value. If this is an issue, then request an
      adjustment for this. The same goes for other items, such as
      traffic, historic district, and view. If your neighbor has a view and
      you do not, then your land value should be lower. These are
      factors, which, according to the minutes, were discussed this
      year.

      Another value factor is wetland. The Conservation Commission
      has data on this. You must document it for the BoA. The CC
      should be contacted. It has been brought to my attention that
      sometimes, in the past, the Property Record Cards have had this
      data deleted or changed, which is one reason why the issue of
      informing property owners of changes on their data cards was
      included in Article 40.

      Historically, the number of rooms, the number of bedrooms, and
      the condition of the house has NOT affected the assessment.
      New kitchens and baths and taller ceilings do not currently affect
      assessment. It appears that the style no longer is a factor, but
      this has not been documented. Square footage, number of
      plumbing fixtures, the number of fireplaces, the basement (finish
      and the level of finish and the square footage of this finish), the
      garage, air conditioning, as well as the grade and CDU or
      condition, desirability, utility (which have no established
      standards) have been factors which determine the assessment
      of the house in the past. Also, swimming pools, tennis courts,
      barns, etc. add to assessments.

      The lowest grade allowed for a habitable dwelling is D-. Do not
      be afraid to ask to lower the grade of your property if it is high in
      comparison to others. If you know properties in town that are
      very well built, check their grades and you will see that the grade
      may not have anything to do with what is there, nor is it
      consistent one with another. However, the assigned grade and
      CDU have a great influence on assessment values.

      If your land is larger than zoning requirement, check to see how it
      is assessed. The most common way is to take the amount of
      square footage required and to assess it at the base value, as in
      the charts, and then to take the next part, and calculate it by the
      square foot and assess it as residual and then to assess the
      remainder as undevelopable. Wetland is assessed as
      marshland. This is done on an acre rate. There are 43,560
      square feet in an acre. This information is available in the land
      schedule that gives the details for this assessment period only,
      not the one, which gives the history of land assessments. It is
      interesting to note that some properties skip the "residual" rate
      and others never get past this. This difference can make a great
      difference in assessment. This does not seem to be the "FAIR"
      assessments promised by the elected assessors in their
      campaigns.

      The state looks at the properties that sold to certify. Not all
      assessment neighborhoods had even one sale in 2004 (used
      for FY2006 sales) yet all neighborhoods had a land increase.
      Remember, the number of abatement requests is one indicator
      of the perceived accuracy of the reassessment. If you believe
      that yours is too high, then do not be afraid to request
      abatement. Another indicator is the number of hearings at the
      appellate tax board. Do not be afraid to go there if the BoA
      rejects your claim. Often Wayland's BOA will give an
      assessment change at the last minute to avoid this. Last year, a
      high percentage of abatement requests were at least partially
      granted locally.

      Article 40 also requires that the property owner be informed
      about the reason for the abatement. It should be recorded on
      the Property Record Card. Make sure that it is done. If you
      choose not to go the appellate tax board if you are offered a
      settlement, be sure that your Property Record Card is changed
      so that you do not face the same problem next year.

      The only way to get the fairest assessment is to file for
      abatement if you think that yours is too high. Remember, "fair" is
      consistent, so if it is done for others, it should be done for you.
      You have no power to change the assessment of a property that
      you do not own.

      Assessing is the most important means of financing the town. In
      FY 2005, 95.76% of assessment revenue was collected was
      collected through residential valuations.

      It would seem that it is important to all Wayland residents to be
      able to understand their assessments as required by Article 40
      and to be informed about changes on your PRC even if you
      choose NOT to file for abatement. If you believe that this is true,
      email to: mreed@..., selectmen@...
      and to fturkington@.... Tell town officials that you
      demand that the BoA follow Wayland's by-laws.

      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to
      your friends and neighbors in Wayland. If they want to receive
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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