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Keep eye on your valuation.

Byline: Joan Crowell


Massachusetts law requires property assessments to be based on fair-market value. "Fair-market value" is generally defined as the price a willing buyer would pay a willing seller, for a property in its present condition, without restrictions or special considerations, and neither buyer nor seller are under pressure to act. The actual sales price of a home is not set by an assessor or real estate agent. It is set by both the buyer and the seller, and their perception of the property.

The state now requires that adjustments to property assessments be made on an annual basis. This adjustment is done to assure that taxes are distributed equitably and uniformly. Some of the adjustments in property values in Worcester, for fiscal year 2010, varied considerably from last year's values. Any residential property assessment value that was reduced by at least 11 percent resulted in a reduction in taxes from the previous year.

After reviewing some of Worcester's 48,586 property valuation data sheets, it appears that some properties contain questionable data:

Hope Cemetery is considerably larger than the (Old) Swedish Cemetery on Webster Street, yet for many years the assessors have placed a higher value on (Old) Swedish Cemetery. Last year, the assessors added an invisible, bogus building, valued at nearly $11 million, to the (Old) Swedish Cemetery property valuation data sheet.

The assessors increased the value of a narrow strip of land by 560 percent. The land, measuring 2 feet by 110 feet, has a value of $9,900, or $45 per square foot.

There is an assessed value of $44,800 on approximately 2.5 acres of developable land, in an RL-7 zone.

A pie-shaped parcel near the Auburn line has a total land area of 1,387 sq ft, and the assessors have valued the land at $48,000.

All data sheets should represent realistic values, whether properties are taxable or tax-exempt.

Property values fluctuate within different neighborhoods, but many properties appear to have unfair assessed valuations. Depending upon the placement of a house on a lot, some properties are identified as having excess land, with the assumption that they can be subdivided. Excess land has been valued at approximately 40 percent higher than surplus land.

Many of these properties, affected by this exorbitant increase, are less than one-half acre in size, and the highest and best use for these properties, in most cases, is its current use. Assessors should not speculate if a property can be subdivided, without regard to the negative impact that subdividing may have upon the original real estate. The current methodology is flawed. How can assessors determine if it is legally permissible, physically possible, and financially feasible to subdivide a property?

Residential property owners may want to review their property valuation data sheets. In addition to checking building value and land value, owners should also verify the accuracy of the category, value accessory improvements (out buildings, decks, etc.). Property valuation data sheets can be viewed at Worcester City Hall's Assessor's Office, or online at

Also, sometimes fuzzy math has been used by the assessors, when adding the building, land, and the accessory improvement values. The sum of these three categories may not correspond to the total assessed value that is on your property data sheet and tax bill.

Due to lag time in property assessments, the values do not necessarily represent the current market value of a property. The fiscal year 2010 assessments were based on property values as of Jan. 1, 2009, and reflected sales during calendar year 2008.

The preliminary real estate tax bill, received in July, was for the first quarter of fiscal 2011. The first and second quarter bills are based on fiscal 2010 valuations. The tax rate, or the amount of taxes per $1,000 of assessed value, determines your tax bill. The third quarter tax bill is the first one that is based on the actual assessment and tax rate, for any given fiscal year.

Depending upon the assessors' adjustments to property values, for fiscal 2011, some homeowners will probably pay more than their fair share of taxes.

Joan Crowell is a Massachusetts licensed real estate broker and approved instructor.
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 31, 2010
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