WVN Newsletter #199: Tax abatement deadline
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Feb. 1 is the day your current property tax payment is due, and
also the deadline to apply for an abatement. Here is information
to help you decide whether to file for abatement, as a record
number of residents did last year.
WVN readers have responded to our request to share their
research using new computer access to comprehensive
assessment information. They recommend the huge database
at www.AJReiss.com (compiled by Selectman Alan Reiss) as
offers an assessment tool, but it is limited and might lead to
errors, particularly when two parcels have the same street
Readers' findings are not a scientific sampling but only
anecdotal evidence supporting assertions that assessments
may not be accurate or fair. The examples do not necessarily
answer questions but raise them. There could be logical
explanations for anomalies found. But there is no way to find
out without knowing how the assessors calculated the figures.
By law, the Board of Assessors must provide you with detailed
information about how your property was assessed. Ask
assessors to refer to Article 40 passed by annual Town Meeting
Here are a few examples from readers:
-- Several dwellings on Lake Road have been enlarged in recent
years, as reflected in significant tax increases. Four homes that
appear to be well maintained have seen increases of 30-35
percent since Fiscal 2000. But 38 Lake Road has had an
increase of 74.2 percent despite an outward appearance of
considerable disrepair. (All cumulative figures below cover
-- Two houses that real estate professionals might describe as
"lovely antique on spacious lot" appear similar in many ways.
But 140 Old Connecticut Path has had increases totaling 64.1
percent while 59 Lincoln Road has had an increase of 8.8
percent in the same period.
-- 12 Plain Road shows cumulative increases totaling 29.5
percent despite recent renovations. Neighbors at 8 and 14 Plain
have had increases of 52.6 and 61.8 percent, respectively. And
on Lincoln Road, the assessment on No. 4 increased 58.6
percent while a similar house across the street increased 3.3
percent. How could this could happen when assessments are
based on market value?
-- Assessments that are too high can affect resale. A house at 82
Old Connecticut Path went on the market on March 3, 2006 at the
assessment, $1.18 million, before the real estate market
softened significantly. Nearly 11 months later, the price has
moved downward and is now $939,000.
-- Some older houses are rated as being in A condition, an
assessment factor, while some new houses are rated B. What
accounts for this?
-- Some large properties seem to be under-assessed. One
property on Oxbow Road is assessed at $1.74 million, down
from 2006. The $24,000 tax bill is large, but the property is 8.81
acres, with a 4500-square-foot, five-bathroom house and other
buildings including a barn, garage and gazebo. Compare that
with examples you'll find of tax bills well above $10,000 for one
middling house on a middling lot.
-- Some assessments dropped during a rising market. The
assessment on 5 Barley Lane went from $1.99 million in 2006 to
$1.81 million in Fiscal 2007. The assessment on 15 Brook Trail
was $1.37 million in 2005, $1.24 million in 2006, $1.13 million
in 2007 -- a 17% decrease.
-- Assessors are supposed to visit properties when there is a
sale, a new building or a completed addition. Practice seems to
When assessors asked the town in 2005 for money to
modernize and improve systems, the Finance Committee
opposed the expenditure. The only change since then is the
addition of two members to the overburdened board, a
manpower increase of 66 percent that should be noticeable.
Those two seats and an incumbent seat will be on the April
election ballot. If you believe assessment systems should be
improved, encourage competent and dedicated people to run,
question them closely and vote accordingly.
You can try to protect yourself by requesting an abatement, but If
errors and inconsistencies are widespread the problem will
require large-scale change. Abatements will help those who are
over-assessed but won't affect those who are under-assessed.
RECENT ABATEMENT HISTORY
In 2006 Wayland property owners made 413 abatements
requests. About 35 percent -- 144 -- received abatement checks.
Abatements totaled $106,436, averaging $739 per recipient.
Sixty-two percent of the money went to 28 property owners,
generally those with assessments of more than $1 million.
By comparison, Weston has received four abatement requests
so far this year.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
When you consult the assessors' database you may find a
picture of the house as well as detailed information about
rooms, size, lot, additions and so on. (Some of the large houses
mentioned above are not pictured, and some pictures show
houses that have been torn down.) First, be sure the
information is accurate. Some readers have reported finding
nonexistent rooms in the summary.
Next, look at the "quality" rating from "excellent" X+ to D. What
that means is subject to interpretation. The top category
generally goes to houses advertised as "custom," meaning
expensive finishes and details. But, as noted above, even a new
house isn't necessarily an A. What's the standard?
Third, look for the Depreciation rating. This replaces the previous
standard of Condition-Desirability-Utility. It isn't clear how the
new standard is defined or applied. Age may not be as important
a factor as maintenance. Replacing appliances and heating and
air conditioning systems may lessen depreciation. But what
information do the assessors have?
In any case, if you disagree with the letter grade or the
depreciation percentage, that would be a good reason to apply
for an abatement.
ABOVE ALL, FILE BY FEB. 1. There is a form to fill out. One WVN
reader offers this advice to other property owners: If you can't yet
fill out the form complete with comparable properties, etc., write
"Not available at this time." Finish your research and be ready by
the hearing date.
Assessors should visit the property of everyone who applies for
Remember, you're looking for an abatement that adjusts your
assessment to a fair market value in relation to comparable
properties. If you don't receive that, or if the assessors offer an
inadequate last minute adjustment, consider appealing to the
Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board.
To be sure you're getting the assessment data you are entitled
to, consult Town Meeting Article 40 of May 12, 2004. Copies are
available from the Town Clerk.
-- Michael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor