WVN Newsletter #137: Is your assessment accurate?
- 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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Michael Short, Editor