WVN #228:Many assessment questions remain
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Assessors say they have corrected the more than 2,700 data
errors in current residential property records, but long-standing
concerns about the fairness and accuracy of Wayland's system
In this newsletter we'll look at selected examples that raise
serious questions. Anyone whose assessment is up this year
on an unchanged residence would be well advised to do
research and decide whether to file for an abatement before the
Feb. 1 deadline. And even if your assessment fell, research may
indicate a comparable property with an even lower valuation.
Residents were upset when they discovered that the square
footage of their houses had been drastically reduced as if a
tornado had blown off the second floor. Though the incorrect
information stood until inquiries were made, the assessors say
they discovered that because of a clerical error only the area of
the first floors was entered from the master table. The
assessors' office says the calculated values of homes are
correct and were never altered even when only a portion of the
total square footage was reflected on the initial release of the
The Wayland Assessors' web site contains more information
than the sites for many nearby towns. This is an advantage in
determining whether you should consider filing for an
abatement. At the end of this newsletter you'll find information on
filing. Be sure to file by Feb 1. This is the only way to correct data
or ask for an adjustment. As you'll see below, you may find
anomalies in assessments of property similar to yours.
Article 40 passed at Town Meeting in 2004 requires the
assessors to disclose information on how assessments were
determined. You may have to ask.
The aggregate value of residential properties in Wayland is
down. The median value dropped by about $50,000 to $544,300,
a change of about 8 percent.
But there are some striking increases and decreases of 50
percent and more. How did this happen? In a falling real estate
market, why are some assessments rising? There may be
logical explanations, but individual property owners will have to
First, a little background.
The assessors' office is coming up for state certification in
Fiscal 2009, which starts this July. Since the town has converted
to a new system, it needs to do a full field review which consists
of a drive-by to ensure data affecting value are applied
consistently, according to "Guidelines for Development of a
Minimum Reassessment Program" issued in February 2006 by
the Department of Revenue. The "field review, whether full or
partial, must be completed early enough in the valuation process
to allow for corrections."
Given widespread skepticism about the fairness of Wayland
assessments, it might make sense to do a thorough "full list
and measure" to take complete advantage of the new system
and ensure accuracy since the town should do a portion of the
work this year. The list and measure involves measuring all
properties and updating the records.
(Disclosure: WVN contributor Molly Upton is the chief petitioner
on an article at April Town Meeting seeking funding for a "full list
and measure." This article was filed long before the current tax
bills were issued. Funding for this measure also could be on the
spring ballot if the Finance Committee decides to fund it by debt
"Where a reassessment program provides for the development
and implementation of a new valuation system or a data
conversion program (manual or automated), a full field review of
all data and the new valuations of all parcels must be
conducted," according to the guidelines.
The manual also cautions that "where the values have been
previously factored, the application of trending factors may
magnify underlying inequities and, therefore, be considered an
inappropriate appraisal technique. Trending occurs when sales
analyses are used as a basis for adjusting the assessments on
a group of properties by a uniform percentage."
The town-wide average decline in valuations raises the
question of just what the assessors used to raise
assessments by 50 percent and more. Residents have asked
to meet with the assessors, but have not had a response.
Anomalies cropped up in various neighborhoods, and some
are simple. For example, residents have told WVN that they
asked for an abatement because the underlying data
erroneously listed features (such as central air conditioning)
that influence the assessment. The assessors agreed, but the
information wasn't changed.
Keep in mind that, though the number of elected assessors
was raised from three to five, the paid staff is very small. You
can't assume that errors will be caught and quickly corrected.
Other anomalies are not so simple.
As noted in a previous WVN newsletter, the Dudley Pond area
experienced dramatic increases as well as decreases in
assessment. Looking only at two streets, one can quickly find
12 properties whose value at least doubled. Of these, three
tripled. There seem to be different factors applied to the 1013
code indicating surface water. On Dudley Pond, these vary by
topography. There seems to be no sizable premium for
properties on Lake Cochituate, also coded 1013.
The assessment for 22 Lakeshore rose nearly five-fold, from
$215,400 to $1,075,900. But 219 Lakeshore dropped 58
percent, from $535,000 to $206,500.
The assessed value of a 40,000-square-foot lot at 114
Woodridge was $229,000 in 2005, exactly the same as on a
parcel of the same size at 125 Woodridge. (There is a house on
125, which of course is assessed separately.) The land at 125 is
now assessed at $360,000, 11 times the new assessment of
$31,800 on the land at 114.
EFFECTS OF SALES
The principle behind assessments is market value, and of
course the best measure of that is sales. If there aren't many
sales, matters can become murky. But some Wayland
assessments made after sales seem equally murky.
A small house at 25 Castlegate went on the market on Jan. 24,
2006 at $339,000. It sold seven months later for $285,000. Now
it is assessed at $325,000.
State guidelines call for a median assessment-to-sale price
ratio of 90 to 110 percent of the sale price. Research of the
database shows that of 173 sales 51 assessments were under
90 percent of the price and three greater than 110 percent.
Neighboring Cape Cod houses on Trinity Place sold in 2006.
No. 8 sold for $572,500 and was assessed at $562,500. Thus
the assessment-to-sale ratio was .98 -- 98 percent of the sale
price. No. 10 sold for $657,500 but was assessed at only
$572,200, 87.percent of the sale price.
On Lewis Path, a new colonial sold for $1,258,543 and was
assessed at $1,217,600 (ratio .97). Nearby 20 Lewis Path sold
for $1,925,167 and was assessed at $1,626,900 (ratio .85).
2 Joels Way sold For $925,000 and is assessed at $1,088,800,
a ratio of 1.18.
A Cape at 9 Oak St. sold for $550,000 and was assessed at
$428,900, 78 percent of the sale price. But a Cape at 11 Oak
sold for $390,000 and was assessed at $422,700, a 1.08 ratio.
108 Old Connecticut Path sold for $1,949,000 and is assessed
at $1,318,400, 68 percent of the sale price.
-- Michael Short
FILING FOR ABATEMENT
To download an abatement form, go to
A few tips on filling out the form:
-- At the very top, check Real Property Tax (personal would mean
a car, for instance)
-- A. Taxpayer information
Give the names of the property owners as on the tax bill
Fill in your home phone number (or another if that is where
you wish to be called)
Your mailing address
You don't have to fill in your social security number
You MUST fill in the amounts and dates of the last real
estate tax payment. (If you have records of more than that,
provide those also.)
-- B. It is the account number that is on the top of your tax bill that
Give the new assessment.
Give the address of your property.
The description is: single family residence
The map-block-lot is a series of two three-digit
numbers with a dash in between; this should be on your tax bill
The land area, probably in square feet; it is on your bill.
The class is 101, which means single-family residence.
-- C. Check "Overvaluation."
Applicant's opinion of Value. Here a resident might
reduce the last assessment by about 5 percent. That is roughly
how much the market dropped. This data is at the assessors'
desk. The assessors and the Library have "Property Sales
The form will ask the purchase price (information the assessor
should already have). You aren't required to list the down
payment or mortgage interest rate.
You must schedule an inspection of your property within two
weeks after filing.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor