According the the Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services, property taxes went up or stayed even in all but 30 Massachusetts towns last year. Homeowners in Berkley saw their taxes go up over 16%. That’s alarming.
With unemployment causing an erosion of the tax base, state and local governments are forced to compensate for the reduced revenue through increased sales and property taxes. There can be a vast difference depending upon locale, though. For example, the average property tax bill in Rowe, a town on the border near Vermont, is around $1,108. By contrast, the average tax bill in Weston, an affluent Boston suburb, is something in the area of 14 times higher, around $15,500.
If we focus on a single place, we can get a clearer picture of what this means in real dollars for each of us. For example, the residents of Pembroke have seen their property taxes go up a total of around $1,600 in the last ten years. Tax rates have gone up to compensate for depreciating values….and then some.
If you’re on a fixed income, this is a significant increase. Even if you’re not, it can be a tough nut to crack. So what can a taxpayer do to offset the increased cost of home ownership? Admittedly, fighting the good fight can make you weary, but here’s a few ways you can get the upper hand on the tax man:
Check your tax bill for mistakes
Did they get the square footage right? Remember, your basement is not counted as a taxable area unless it has been remodeled into a livable space. Make sure the bathroom count is correct. Far too often 2 1/2 baths become 3 full baths on the assessment and that can make a significant difference in your bill.
Challenge your assessment
I challenged my bill and won…sort of. Every town seems to have it’s own procedure for challenging an assessment so you’ll need to contact the town assessor to find out the proper steps where you live. In my case, I had to produce three comparable recent sales in order to challenge my assessed value. Once I had gathered evidence in the form of comparable recent sales, all I had to do was mail these materials in with a completed form I got off of the town’s website. If I had known a real estate agent this would have been a breeze but unfortunately, I did not. So get out there and make friends with your local Realtor.
In the end, my home assessment was adjusted downward, but not by much. Still, it was a victory, albeit a small one. Most municipalities also have an appeal system if you’re unhappy with the findings of the review board. This usually involves a hearing where you’ll have the opportunity to verbally plead your case. In that event, you’ll likely find the town assessor’s office to be helpful rather than adversarial. They work for you, the tax payer, and they’re not out to get you.
If you have questions on anything pertaining to your assessment or the appeal process, I would strongly suggest contacting the Seekonk tax assessor’s office. Ask for Theodora Gabriel or Lydia Cordeiro.
Look into solar rebates and tax credits
The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) contains a list of rebate programs intended to encourage energy efficiency in Massachusetts. Incentives include a personal tax credit of 15% on the purchase of a solar system and a property tax exemption. in other words, you should see no increase in your tax assessment and/or bill. Learn more about the program here. Over a ten year period you may recoup your $1,600 plus some.
In conclusion, don’t take your assessment as the end all, be all. You have recourse through various tools and a legal system at your disposal.
Don’t be afraid to use them.
[Richard Rossi is a homeowner, blogger, and concerned taxpayer who writes mostly about sports, taxes, and music when not disputing his tax bill.]
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