WVN #281: Assessors welcome abatement filings
- Dear Wayland Voter,
There is mounting evidence, from a consultant as well as residents' investigations, that a great deal of property assessment information is incorrect.
The Board of Assessors says it welcomes abatement applications from owners who feel their assessment is too high.
Be prepared to do some homework and remember that the deadline for submitting the complete application is Feb. 2. Many of the documents you need are available at the library. You can also find information posted on the town's website:
Below you'll find updates and tips.
ASSESSORS: DON'T HESITATE TO FILE
The Board of Assessors is repeatedly advising attendees at its meetings to file for abatements if they think their Fiscal 2009 assessment is wrong.
Although a previous WVN newsletter and instructions from the assessors office suggest finding comparables, in some cases there may not be enough relevant information. Board member Susan Rufo suggested to a Joyce Road resident filing and
saying "not able to obtain necessary information from your inquiry."
" I would hate to see you lose that opportunity," Rufo added.
Joyce Road is site index 6, whose land value has an added multiplier of 1.15, but is described as modest 1950s multilevel homes. The street had one sale whose interior apparently was not inspected at the time of sale, and the next street had two sales
of houses of very different design.
Residents of Joyce and Aqueduct Roads have asked the assessors why their streets have a 1.15 multiplier while the Wayland Hills streets, with their larger lots and homes (which presumably command a higher sale price), have a land multiplier of 1.0.
There were no 2007 sales in the Wayland Hills neighborhood.
PIKE ABUTTERS UPSET
Residents living on streets close to the Massachusetts Turnpike also have asked questions about their assessments. Of particular interest was the decision by Vision Appraisal (the firm that performed Wayland's revaluation) to grant land discounts of
only 10 percent to the first two houses closest to the Pike, regardless of the distance from the Pike for other homes. In the past, land in that area had discounts up to 40 percent.
Affected residents need to file abatements in order to benefit from any reconsideration of their land values.
On Jan. 20, the board asked for an independent review of valuations in the neighborhoods close to the Pike. Other than mumbles about "based on sales" from the assistant assessor, there has been no real answer forthcoming from the board meetings,
despite the Board of Assessors' efforts to probe.
ARE AFTER-SALE INSPECTIONS BEING DONE?
The assistant assessor has repeatedly told the Board more than 60 percent of 157 homes sold in 2007 were inspected. But a key question is: when were these inspected? An independent review reveals fewer than 13 were inspected in 2007. Given
homeowners' propensity to make changes to their new homes, do inspections in 2008 really capture the true caliber and value of the home at the point of sale in 2007? Because sales form the basis for the value of other homes and land, this raises the
question: how valid are the data?
Lately, the Board of Assessors has grilled the assistant assessor on why the methods used by Vision differed from what they had been told to expect by Vision in a previous meeting. The assistant assessor indicated she had received the information but
had not compared it because Vision had not indicated there were any changes.
Among the differences were the number of grades used, which grew from 11 to 15, the addition of two more housing styles, and changes in the description of grading guidelines. There were changes in pictures that exemplified the grades of homes. "I
thought the board should have had the ability to confirm/deny changes," commented Rufo. There was also no conversation on changes in land, she said.
"There were a lot of changes and the board should have been advised that changes were occurring and we didn't see them until published," she continued. "There was no conversation on changes made, and it should have been incumbent on Vision or
you to advise us...The board didn't have information to review."
Chairman Bruce Cummings also noted that some of the data in the spreadsheet on the Website are inaccurate. For example, he said, some houses on "Hearthstone were labeled condominiums and my house grew by 20 percent so I want to know what
happened." The assistant assessor responded that there are difficulties in preparing spreadsheets with several fields, which she called "custom reports" from the Vision database.
Board member John Knapp expressed surprise that although the town is paying for reports, Vision is not being asked to enable the town to generate the needed reports.
Cummings also noted the fact many property cards do not contain dates for inspections, which apparently was a year 2000 (y2k) problem with the previous vendor that has never been corrected. This makes it hard for the town to demonstrate to the
state Department of Revenue that all homes have been inspected within the last 10 years, he said.
The three attending Board members endorsed a citizen petitioners' resolution submitted for the spring Town Meeting that the Finance Committee incorporate in its capital plan funding for a full list and measurement to be done over three years, as
recommended by the town's consultant, Harald Scheid.
ABATEMENT WORK LOAD
The Board also expressed concern that the assistant assessor has not lined up sufficient help to inspect all the abatement applications they expect to receive. As of Jan. 20, the office had received 50 applications, and most generally come in the last
few days, the assistant assessor added.
Marcia Malmfeldt, a former member of the Board of Assessors, noted that Weston has already started its next cyclical review. Currently, the Wayland office is preoccupied with abatements, which will likely consume the next two months of its efforts.
One resident said her 80-something-year-old neighbor will be forced to move because his taxes are rising 20 percent: "This is our town it's heartbreaking." Most of her neighbors are older than 60, and she said she doesn't want to see her neighbors
"squished out." She described the incalculable value her children derive from having nearby proxy grandparents, and commented that she would hate to see the town lose its character.
TREASURE TROVE AT LIBRARY
The library has a lot of information available to help residents file for abatement. Beyond the usual spreadsheets of current and past years, there are spreadsheets that indicate changes in grade and depreciation for each property. This may help you
understand changes in your assessed value on your house. There are also the site index maps with the land values attached.
But your property record card and access to the office's file folder containing previous years' information about your property are available only at the assessors office.
Consultant Harald Scheid will conduct three more public information sessions on assessments for Wayland residents on Mondays. The next session on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. will be on "Results of the Data Quality Study"; Feb. 9, "Compliance and
Competencies"; and Feb. 23, "Best Practices and Recommendations."
Be sure to keep a copy of everything. This will be helpful if you decide to take your case to the state Appellate Tax Board. Also, having a copy of your paperwork will be helpful when the inspector visits, which is a required step in the abatement
process. You might ask that inspector to explain how your grade and depreciation are determined.
Note that it is up to citizens to check their assessment records. This includes reinstating prior condition factors such as streams, and wetlands if you discover that these have been removed from your property records. Other factors applied in the past
were high tension wires, easements, topography and parcel shape.
Those who do not file for abatement will not be awarded whatever financial adjustments may occur as a result of their neighbors seeking equity and fairness through the abatement process.
First check your property record card. (This is free at the assessors' desk.) Grade and depreciation values have been changed this year. Some grade changes have been dramatic. Most grades have been decreased, some have increased. Check the land
value. For many smaller properties, land may have had a huge increase; it has decreased for properties with larger land sizes. Check everything.
You have the right to review the office's file folder about your property and ask for photocopies of any of the contents.
If the land value has dramatically increased, check dwellings of the same style as yours in the site index, (formerly called neighborhood) that have sold. They are numbered 5-8 under the heading SI and they are color-coded on the site index map.
There is a list of sold properties in 2007 in the library that have had the site index added. The site index is also stated in the spreadsheet at the assessors' desk and in the library. The 2007 sales were used to determine 2009 values. Note land
characteristics: Does yours have a change in topography? Is it wet? Are there high tension wires? Do you abut a busy street? These reduce your land value.
If incorrect data is your reason for filing, check your home against those that sold. Property record cards (PRC) for all properties sold (and used in Wayland's calculations) in 2007 and the Multiple Listing Sheets for all properties sold through MLS are in
the library for you to use or photocopy. For example, if a dwelling that sold has a grade of C+ and yours does too, and you believe the sold property to be better than yours, note that. If your PRC is incorrect, note that.
Applications for abatement are available at the assessors' desk and in the library. You do not need to fill in your social security number. Your reason for abatement is "overvaluation". Give your opinion of value, using the assessments of your comps as
a guide. The class is "101", single-family dwelling. Then give your explanations and fill out page 3. You may want to submit pictures you take of your property. Document everything possible. In the "Explanation" section, you may want to say, "see
attached". Make sure your argument is complete. Repeating: Keep a copy of everything. Once you submit your application, you cannot add to it.
Deliver it to the assessors by Feb. 2. Schedule an assessors' home inspection. This must be done within two weeks of filing. When your inspection is completed, get a dated and signed report of the inspection. That's a receipt of the inspection. Keep
Most likely your house is unique. Find properties of the same style in the same site index and show how each differs from yours. If there are none, remember, a fireplace costs the same all over town and the land value should use the same formula
For certification this year the state looked closely at the value of properties with large land sizes. Many towns worked to be sure that these were done fairly, but Wayland evidently ran out of time to do this. So, many smaller land parcels have
dramatically increased in value; many property values with larger land sizes decreased.
Land should be valued in the following way: the dwelling value is subtracted from the sale price, and the remainder is valued as land. Property record cards show the value of the dwelling and the land. There are site index maps in the library with the
land values that have been set.
This system is dependent on having correct dwelling data. Properties that have been sold should have been inspected at the time of sale. However, many of them were not. You can get data about the dwelling from the Property Record Card and the
Multiple Listing Sheet (if it had been sold through a realtor) from material in the library.
HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?
Consultant Harald Scheid concluded that Wayland's high rate of abatements -- at least five times that of nearby communities -- indicates the need to do something to lessen inequities. Scheid didn't present specific examples, but citizens have done
In addition to material reported elsewhere in this newsletter, a former Wayland assessor presented some examples in a letter to the Town Crier. You can read the letter at
The letter from Marcia Malmfeldt, who has left Wayland but remains a real estate agent in the area, points out that assessed value is partly a function of recent sales. But after examining files she found that after some Wayland sales there was no
inspection, a key element in determining value.
Malmfeldt cited compelling examples: "52 Woodridge Road sold to a private party in 2004. It was torn down and a much larger house was built. This owner decided to leave Wayland, and sold in 2007.
"There were occasions for three inspections. None were recorded!"
Another example was 82 Old Connecticut Path. The assessment dramatically increased as a result of increased land value when a nearby house was rebuilt and sold in 2001.
"The owner probably assumed that value had increased," Malmfeldt said, "and after 359 days on the market with an assessment of $1,164,300, it sold in 2007 for $917,500. No internal inspection recorded. The 2009 assessment $845,600!"
Another example: The sale of 115 Lincoln Road sold in 2007 for $2,065,000 (2009 assessment is $1,562,000) was not used because of "substantial physical change after the sale." Building department records indicate all construction work was
completed before the sale.
"Twenty-four properties represent a total of a $5,478,000 decrease in assessment (detail in library)," Malmfeldt said. "Is your assessment helping to make up that loss? Does this represent fair values? So, my advice: check everything. Style, square
Town Hall offices are open Mondays until 7 p.m. The Feb. 2 deadline falls on a Monday.
Private websites and YouTube offer video of a Dec. 8 Board of Assessors meeting and consultant Harald Scheid's report on anomalies in Wayland valuations.
Windows Media Player
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor