About the Assessor's Office

The Assessing Department maintains a database of commercial, industrial, and residential property values in the City of Somerville, as well as managing personal property (business) values and motor vehicle excise tax.

Under the provisions of Massachusetts General Laws, Chapters fifty-eight to sixty-five C, the Board of Assessors fall under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Revenue who may revise rules, regulations, and guidelines, as deemed necessary to establish minimum standards of assessment performance.

In Massachusetts, the property tax is an ad valorem (based on value) tax. In the late 1970s, the Massachusetts Supreme Court in the Sudbury Decision ruled that property values would be based upon 100% full fair cash market value. Full and fair cash value is the amount a willing buyer would pay a willing seller under no special circumstances and given a reasonable exposure to the market. Assessors must use accepted Massachusetts’ appraisal techniques to value property.

In order to determine market value, a sales verification process is started by members of the assessing staff. Letters are sent to buyers and sellers to attest to the Arms Length Nature of the sale to determine if there were special circumstances involved and to determine the condition of the property on the date of sale. Property measurements and current conditions of property are then updated on all sales. A complete statistical analysis is performed and must meet Department of Revenue standards to satisfy the Commissioners Standards of Performance in order to meet annual and triennial certifications before tax bills may be mailed.

The property tax levy is the revenue a community can raise through real and personal property taxes. Under Proposition 2 ½, there are limits on the amount of the levy raised by a city or town and on how much the levy can be increased from year to year.

Assessors annually classify all real property into one of four real property classes either residential, commercial, industrial, or open space. The City may then allocate the tax levy among the classes of real property within prescribed statutory limits. The tax rate applicable to commercial, industrial and personal property may be higher than applied to residential properties. Approximately 100 communities in Massachusetts opt each year to shift the tax burden from residential to commercial, industrial, and personal property classes rather than to apply the same rate to all classes of property.

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Important Dates

12/31/16 FY17 Q3 actual tax bills mailed
12/31/16 to
2/1/17
Appeal period to request FY17 value changes
2/1/17 Q3 actual tax bill due
4/3/17 Deadline to apply for FY17 Residential and Statutory Exemption (4:30 p.m. sharp)

 

 

FY17 Assessment Changes for 1, 2 & 3 Family Properties

Background

Every three (3) years, each Assessing office in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must undergo a required State Department of Revenue (DOR) revaluation or certification. This process includes a comprehensive and intensive review or audit of assessments and methods used to derive assessments. Fiscal year 2017 is a certification year for the City of Somerville. Going forward, it should be noted that the State has adopted the Massachusetts Municipal Finance and Government Modernization Bill that will change the DOR certification requirement from once every three years to once every five years. 

In non-certification years, the Assessors are still required to submit assessments to the DOR for their review and approval although without the level of scrutiny of a certification year. Whether a certification or non-certification year (known as an interim year adjustment), Assessors must react to market changes and determine values accordingly. In addition, assessments must meet minimum DOR standards before the actual tax bills can be mailed.

DOR Standards

Of the many DOR standards, one of the most basic and important is called the assessment to

sale ratio known as the ASR. The DOR requires that the median assessment for each residential use must be no less than 90% of the median sale price. The ASR is calculated for each use including one, two, and three family parcels. For example, if the median sale price of all single family properties was $400,000, then the median assessed value could not be less than $360,000 or an ASR of 90%. Testing for an acceptable ASR is also performed on a number of variables such as neighborhood (see attached neighborhood assessment district map) and construction style. 

Fiscal year 2017 requires that assessed value must be established as of January 1, 2016. To determine market value as of that date, calendar year 2015 sales were analyzed. Note that an additional year of sales must be included if the number of market sales (valid, arms-length transactions, not family, foreclosure, etc., etc.) for each use group (single, two and three family) is less than 2% of the total parcel count for that use. While there were a sufficient number of single family sales requiring an analysis of only calendar 2015 sales, the pool of sales reviewed had to include calendar 2014 sales as well for two and three family properties.

Neighborhood impact

For residential valuation purposes, the City is divided into eight (8) different neighborhood assessment districts. These districts were established when the City completed its first 100% revaluation in FY 1986. The districts were created based upon sales prices, the number and pattern of sales in a given area, and generally defined neighborhood areas separated by major roadways and/or rail lines. The establishment of multiple districts is based upon the fact that the same house in one part of the City will sell for a different amount in another part of the City. (Note that prior to FY 1986, values were set at only a portion of actual market value but State law changed several years before to require all cities and towns to assess at full market value or 100%).

Sales in calendar 2014 and especially calendar 2015 continued their dramatic upswing as bidding wars became the norm and it was rare that a property sold for less than list price. Many homes sold for 10 to 25% over asking price. On average, assessments in fiscal year 2017 increased 11% on a city-wide basis due to market changes. The increase varied by neighborhood and in some cases, differences were significant, see below (also see “Neighborhood Assessment Districts” map on next page). Changes from the previous fiscal year 2016 are included as well.

Assessment District

% Change FY17 from Previous Year

% Change FY16 from Previous Year

1001-W. Somerville South 8% 8%
2001-Ward 2, Union Square South 6% 7%
4001-West Somerville 11% 6%
5001-Winter Hill North 16% 3%
6001-Ten Hills 6% 8%
7001-Winter Hill/Magoun Square 14% 7%
8001-Central, Spring, & Prospect Hill 12% 2%
9001-East Somerville 21% 2%

It should be noted that the neighborhoods (assessment districts) that increased the most in FY 2017 (East Somerville and Winter Hill North) have land values that lag behind other areas in the City. While they experienced a big jump in assessment, other areas continue to have much higher values and sale prices overall. See expanded discussion beginning on the last page (“Other Neighborhood Impact”).

Reasons for Higher Than Average Increase

Assessing staff regularly attempts to inspect all properties that are sold, that include building permits to improve the property, or that have not been visited in more than 5 or 6 years, (known as “remeasure/relist). Any taxpayer whose property we inspected or attempted to inspect may have a valuation increase due to changes or estimated changes (when we fail to gain access) made by the Assessors such as a higher condition factor, a sketch or measurement change or correction, or a change in other variables or features such as central air, number of baths, or finished basement. These adjustments can be considered routine and are data driven not impacted by the market but can have a major effect on your valuation.

In addition, within each larger neighborhood assessment district, there are pocket or sub neighborhoods with different land values based upon market factors, (known as site index-the higher the site index, the greater the land value). Based upon changes in the market, it is sometimes necessary to change an area site index. This occurs when sale prices run too far ahead of assessed values resulting in non compliance with required DOR standards including the assessment to sales ratio (ASR). It should be noted that to increase the pool of sales, the Assessors included sales prior to calendar 2014 as well as calendar 2016 for the site index analysis.

For FY 2017, the Assessors made site index changes in a number of sub neighborhoods and in many instances these neighborhoods adjoined areas that had been adjusted to a higher site index in a prior revaluation, see discussion below and attached spreadsheet.

West Somerville/Paulina St.

In prior revaluations both in FY 2014 and FY 2010, Simpson Ave., Corinthian Rd. and Cady Ave. were all adjusted upward to site index 4 (SI). The properties along Paulina Street are simply rising to the level where their neighbors have been for some time now. Without the higher land value, DOR standards would not be met as can be observed in the attached spreadsheet.

West Somerville/Highland Ave.

Highland Ave., including both even and odd sides, numbers 290 to 345 changes to SI 3. It should be noted that surrounding side streets were all changed to SI 3 in a prior revaluation. Please note the impact of with and without change in the attached spreadsheet.

Porter Sq. Area/(South of Summer St., North of Elm St. Between Banks and Cherry St.)

There were numerous sales in the area north of Porter Square requiring an upgrade to SI 4. It includes the area south of Summer St. and north of Elm St. including Banks St., Burnside Ave., Hancock St., and Cherry St. An area just to the west of Willow Ave. changed to SI 4 in a prior revaluation. The impact of making no site index change versus changing the SI can be viewed in the spreadsheet.

Magoun Sq. Area South

There was a flurry of sales activity in the area south of Magoun Sq. to the east of Charles Ryan Rd., west of Lowell St. and to the north of Wilton St. High sales in this pocket area required a site index adjustment from 2 to 3. The results of this change can be observed in the spreadsheet as well as the impact of making no change.

Crocker St., Crown St. & Brastow Ave.

These streets had a handful of sales, one listing, and adjoin an area that already was changed to site index 3 in a prior revaluation. See spreadsheet for impact.

Central Hill Area to the East of Spring St. and West of Central St.

Five sales plus one on the market have propelled this area to site index 3 status, (south of Summer St. and north of Somerville Ave.). The area abuts an area that changed to site index 3 in an earlier revaluation. See spreadsheet for impact.

Central Hill Area to the East of Central St. and West of School St.

This section adjoins the Central Hill area described above. There were five sales and one sale pending that necessitated a change to site index 3, (south of Summer St. and north of Somerville Ave.). The spreadsheet demonstrates the before and after effect.

Union Square, South

This area was affected by five sales and includes Springfield St., Webster Ave., Tremont St. and Norfolk St. The site index for these streets changes from 2 to 3 and the impact can be viewed in the spreadsheet. The area to the west of Springfield St. was raised in a prior revaluation.

Other Neighborhood Impact

Aside from site index changes, two neighborhoods will experience particularly high valuation increases, including neighborhood assessment district 5001, Winter Hill North and neighborhood 9001, East Somerville. As stated earlier, although these neighborhoods will see the largest increases, assessments in these areas remain well below other parts of the City. As Somerville, more and more becomes a desirable place to live, these neighborhoods due to their relative affordability are increasing in value. When the assessments lag too far behind the sales prices, we are compelled to increase the value according to DOR standards.

The table below demonstrates that in spite of these large valuation increases, assessments are still well below those in our “average” neighborhood district, 8001, Central, Spring, & Prospect Hill and our highest neighborhood 4001, West Somerville.

NBHD

Avg. Single Family Value

Avg. Two Family Value

Avg. Three Family Home

5001-Winter Hill North

$435,900

$470,500

$658,000

9001-East Somerville

$441,100

504,700

$625,600

8001-Central, Spring & Prospect Hill

$635,900

$659,600

$792,000

4001-West Somerville

$902,000

$814,450

$935,700

Abatement

Any taxpayer who feels their FY 2017 assessment or value is too high and not a reflection of market value as of January 1, 2016, has the right to question their value and request changes during the public disclosure period between November 9 and November 18, 2016. 

Whether questions are raised during the public disclosure period or not, all taxpayers have the right to appeal by filing an abatement application with the Board of Assessors after the mailing of the third quarter bill (on or about December 31, 2016) by no later than Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 4:30 pm sharp. Any application received after this date and time will be considered late and the Board will take no action for the fiscal year in question per Massachusetts General Law. Note however, that any application received in the mail after this date with a U. S. post office post mark of no later than February 1, 2017 will be accepted.

City of Somerville Deputy Tax Collector (Auto Excise)

Telephone Numbers:
508-473-9241, 508-478-4235
800-491-9788

 

Locations and Directions to Deputy Collector Offices

Wilmington Kiosk
355 Middlesex Avenue, Wilmington

Beverly Office
8:30 - 4:30 Mon., Tues., Wed., 8:30 - 6:30 Thurs. 8:30 - 4:00 Friday
Route 128 to exit 22 East (route 62). Follow route 62 to the end take a right onto Cabot Street. Follow Cabot Street to the intersection of Broadway. The Deputy Collector's Office is located at 2 Broadway in the rear of the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Building at the corner of Cabot St. and Broadway.

Lawrence Office
8:30 - 4:30 Mon. - Thurs. 8:30 - 4:00 Friday
Route 495 to exit 41B (route 28) Take a right over the bridge and follow S. Union St. to the River Cross over the Duck Bridge and take a left onto Essex St. Take a right on Lawrence and a right onto Common. City Hall is at 200 Common St.

Brockton Office
8:30 - 4:30 Mon. - Friday
Route 24 to Route 123 East. Follow 123 to Main Street. Take a left onto Main Street. Then first right. Collector's Office located in City Hall, 45 School St. Room #B4.

Taunton Office
9:00 - 5:00 Mon. - Thurs. 9:00 - 4:30 Friday
Route 495 to exit 9 (Bay Street). Follow Bay Street to Stop sign at the intersection of Route 138 take a right at stop sign. Straight to the Rotary (Taunton Green). ¼ around rotary will be Main St., Deputy Collector's Office is located at 105 Main St., on the right next to City Hall.

Springfield Office
9:00 - 4:00 Mon., Wed., Fri. 9:00 - 6:00 Thursday
City Hall Deputy Collector's Office is located in City Hall at 36 Court Street, Room 108.

Springfield Office
9:00 - 4:00 Mon. - Fri.
Tarpley Street From I-291 take exit 4 (St. James Ave/Chicopee Falls) to Page Blvd. Left on St. James and left onto Tarpley St.

Hopedale Office
8:30 - 5:00 Mon. - Fri.
Route 495 to exit 18, end of ramp turn left. Go straight through multiple lights for approx. 2 miles. Straight through lights (intersection of Route 140). Take 2nd right (Plain St.). Take first right into Hopedale Industrial Park. Take right at stop sign, Deputy Collector is the 6th building on the right. #13 Airport Drive