Twenty Question with Marblehead’s Assessor

Twenty Questions with Marblehead’s Town Assessor, 2014
The FY2014 tax rate has been set at $11.09, up from $10.85 in FY2013. The median single family assessment increased 1.1% to $481,500, and the median single family tax bill increased 3.4%, or $175, to $5,340. The commercial rate has once again been set at the same rate as the residential rate.

Note that the tax rate includes the cost of overrides voted at Town Meeting. These account for $0.85 of the 2014 tax rate, up from $0.81 in 2013.

Marblehead’s 2014 tax rate will be the third lowest of the 17 North Shore cities and towns and also the third lowest of 34 Essex County communities. The highest rate in Essex County belongs to Amesbury at $20.97.

Approximately 70% of Marblehead’s revenue comes from property taxes.

Between September 2013 and June 2014 the Assessors’ office will physically measure and inspect every property in Marblehead.

Real-estate assessments for Fiscal Year 2014 were mailed at the end of last year. Assistant Assessor Mike Tumulty answered questions about the process.

1. What is the timeframe upon which assessments are based?
A: For 2014, assessments are based upon values as of January 2013, using sales data for calendar year 2012. Sales that took place in calendar year 2013 will be the basis for the assessment for FY 2015.

2. Can I appeal my assessment?
A: Yes, provided the appeal is based upon data for the relevant year. More information and directions for filing an application are available at www.marblehead.org/assessors.

3. What is the process for appealing my assessment?
A: An appeal for abatement can be made after receipt of the third quarter tax bill mailed in December and no later than Feb. 1. The appeal, which must be based upon valuation during the relevant period (i.e., 2012 calendar year sales for the current assessment), must specify the reason for the complaint. A current appraisal is not relevant. The assessor’s office will analyze the property and the information provided. If the data is incorrect or there is evidence provided that the valuation is wrong, the assessor’s office will change the valuation.

 4. Does the assessment process include all transactions that occur?
A. The process includes all arms-length transactions. Excluded are non-arms-length transactions, such as those involving foreclosure, bankruptcy, estate sales, divorce and the purchase and sale following remodeling.

5. What is the authority under which assessments are made?
A. Chapter 59 of the Massachusetts General Laws. The process is overseen by the Department of Revenue.

6. How does Prop 2 1/2 affect assessments?
A. The tax levy on all property in Marblehead in aggregate (not on individual properties) can be increased by no more than 2 1/2 percent per annum. To this total is added the tax on new growth (such as new construction, condo conversions, any improvements/parcels taxed for first time) and any overrides or debt exclusions, to calculate the new tax levy.

7. What are the measurements used in the assessment process?
A. An assessment-sales ratio (ASR) is calculated for each property sold by dividing the current assessed valuation by the sales price. A property assessed at $100,000 that sold for $100,000 would have an ASR of 100 percent. If that property sold for $110,000, the ASR would be 91 percent. If the property sold for $90,000, the ASR would be 111 percent.

Remember that the assessment is based upon data from earlier years, not the current year. A property that sold in January 2013, for example, would be assessed based upon data for the year 2011. If the market had risen in the last two years it would be reasonable to expect that the current market price would be higher than that on which the assessment was based. Thus in a rising market, the median ASR is likely to be less than 100 percent. Conversely, in a falling market, the median ASR is likely to be above 100 percent.

A second factor is the “coefficient of dispersion,” which reflects the average absolute deviation from the median.

8. What are the state requirements for assessment values?
A. The ASR for residential property must be in a range of 90-100 percent, and the COD must be no more than 10 percent. The ASR must be consistent throughout town for all types of property.

9. What are Marblehead’s goals?
A. An ASR of 95 percent. With a COD of 10 percent, that means that the range of ASRs should be 90-100 percent. Bear in mind that these are the values at the time the assessments are made. The actual ASRs at the time of sale will vary depending upon market conditions.

10. How did Marblehead do last year?
For Single Family Homes (SFH) the ASR was 97% and COD less than 6%.

For condos the ASR was 97% and the COD less than 5%.

Remember that these numbers apply to the entire stock of housing and are medians, but the results speak to the overall accuracy of assessments.

11. What percentage of properties sells each year? Is there a minimum requirement for assessment purposes?
A. In 2013 there were 227 sales of single-family homes in the MLS, or 3.7 percent of the stock of 6,194, and 46 sales of condos, representing 4.7 percent of the stock of 975 units. While it is hard to get an accurate read on national statistics, it is certainly true that we stay in our houses longer than do people elsewhere. No surprise there: Marblehead is not only a great place to live, but it is also extremely well run, as demonstrated by our tax rate.

The assessment process requirement is 2 % for each property class, or a minimum of 20 units.

12. What happens if there are fewer than 20 units sold?
A. That happens in Marblehead in categories such as multi-families, in which case data for 24 months is used. The period is July 2011 to June 203.

13. How big is Marblehead?
A. 4.2 square miles with 14 miles of coastline and 30 residential neighborhoods.

14. What happens when property changes hands — what does the assessor’s office do?
A. The assessor’s office receives data on all sales and sends out a questionnaire (which is completed by 80 percent of buyers) to the new owner. This data provides background information and is taken into account for subsequent assessments.

15. Do assessments automatically increase when improvements are made?
A. The assessor’s office receives copies of all building permits and visits every site for which a permit is pulled. The assessor’s office determines the progress of work as of July 1, regardless of the status at the building department.

16. Which improvements have the greatest/least impact on assessed values?
A. The greatest: new construction, additions, bathroom and kitchens. The least: those that minimize deferred maintenance: siding/roofing/windows — items that are expected and integral to functionality and habitation

17. How does Marblehead tax commercial property?
A. Each year, the assessor’s office presents to the Board of Selectmen a schedule showing the impact of implementing a commercial rate that is allowed, by law, to be up to 50 percent higher than the residential rate. In Marblehead, 95 percent of property is residential, so the imposition of a separate, higher commercial rate would have a disproportionate impact on commercial taxes. Indeed, if the commercial rate were increased by the maximum 50 percent, the reduction in the tax paid by the median homeowner would be just $154 per annum, while the increase on a similarly assessed commercial property would be $2,667.

18. Are there exemptions available?
A. Statutory exemptions, for which the town is reimbursed by the state, are available for eligible taxpayers and include exemptions for the elderly, veterans, the blind and widows. More information on exemptions is available from the assessor’s office, 781-631-0236, or e-mail, assessors@marblehead.org. Please call for more details.

19. How does the senior work-off program work?
A. Opportunities for duties such as filing, phone coverage and light clerical work are available for senior citizens through the Senior Work-off Program. Seniors over 60 who meet certain income guidelines can earn a rebate on their taxes of up to $750. Applications for this program go through the Council on Aging office on Humphrey Street, 781-631-6737.

20. How does Marblehead’s tax rate compare with other towns and cities?
A.Marblehead’s rate of $11.09 is the third lowest of 17 North Shore communities and also the third lowest of the 34 cities and towns in Essex County. By way of comparison, Swampscott’s rate is $18.70 (and its commercial rate $34.79).

What is the outlook for 2015 assessments and tax rates?
The 2015 assessments will be based upon 2013 sales. While overall sales held steady in 2013, the median price increased 5%. As significantly, the ASR dropped from 99% to just 90.5%, meaning that the median house sold for 10% more than its assessed value.

I would assume, therefore, that assessed values will be going up in FY2015, and it seems probable that the tax rate will fall.

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