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Groton Board of Assessors

Part three in a series

The board of assessors and the assessors office have seen considerable restructuring in the last 35 years.

Since this affects everyone’s pocketbook, the following is a profile of change and how standards came about, and how your property is appraised for taxation. It is a sincere effort to give insight to the influencing factors and how they are computed today.

The computer software program in the assessors office averages, sorts out and identifies various factors with assigned values, through a process which also includes additional input from the principal assessor. Some of the factors are the condition of the property, age, neighborhood, etc. The value of each factor (also used by banks and real estate agents) is determined by what a buyer is willing to pay to have it; for example, air conditioning, hardwood floors, garages, etc. However, unlike real estate, in tax assessment such intangibles as “curb appeal” and landscaping are too arbitrary to be included.

The computerization is based on cost appraisal manuals; locally we use the Marshall & Swift Cost Tables, Northeast Division. This is sales analysis done with statistical mathematics and also used by many mortgage companies, banks and real estate sellers across the country, as well as cities and towns for appraisal. These assessed values are expected to be within 10 percent of market value average. This computation is factual and indifferent (therefore, fair-minded) for our very diverse market and population.

Only properties that are sold at “arms-length agreement” (buyer and seller freely negotiate a price in an open market) are averaged in; properties sold under duress, auction, to family, etc., are not included, as they do not represent true market value.

Here is how it works: If a particular style is in heavy demand and selling “high” in the marketplace, (say, contemporary colonials) these sales will drive up the assessment value for all in the contemporary colonial classification, as long as the demand exists. Conversely, if a style is not favored at a given time, (say, split levels) and not commanding a high sale price, the assessed values will remain constant or may even drop in that classification.

The principal assessor is required to visit all sold properties to confirm the sale and send a sales report to the DOR. These sales are recorded into the computer software programs designed for appraisal, for further analysis. It should be noted that all software is authorized and monitored by the DOR; also, all towns and their statistics are logged into the DOR computer systems for regular oversight.

Regulations also demand that towns have a revaluation every three years. This requires that every property in town must be visited, photographed, measured and listed, thus ensuring that all information contained in the assessors records is accurate and up to date. Again, this confirms that assessments and taxes are apportioned equally and fairly according to law. Although it is an expensive procedure, all selectmen and finance committees are legally required to finance the assessors for this task. This obligation further underscores the taxpayers’ right to a fair tax assessment. This funding has been tested and upheld by the courts in what is now known as the Andover decision.

Because real estate sales have fluctuated so drastically in recent years, the assessors are now required by the DOR to do an additional recertification every year. Recertification requires that the computer software be recalibrated to reflect the sales as they change each year so that the assessed values remain current, with usually a gradual rise or decline. This procedure is to alleviate the “sticker shock” that used to occur when revaluation came around every three years and taxpayers saw a sudden jump in valuation.

Problems do arise with changes, and the DOR with its extended power still makes continual adjustments, often working in close collaboration with the Massachusetts Association of Assessing Officers (MAAO). This association is sensitive to the cost burden that these regulations place on towns and often works with the DOR and Legislature (as a lobby) to make some compromises so the towns can cooperate without increasing budget costs. There is awareness that a balance must be struck between the effort to protect the taxpayer and the actual cost to the taxpayer (town budgets) for this service.

To be continued