Getting hit both ways
This story is from BostonGlobe.com, the only place for complete digital access to the Globe.
Bob Ford’s three-bedroom Brockton home was built more than 40 years ago. By today’s standards, the modest raised ranch may be considered a starter house.
In recent years, as stocks tumbled and the housing bubble burst, the property’s value plummeted, from a high of $308,900 in fiscal 2007, when assessments reflected the hot real estate market of 2005, to just $188,300 this fiscal year, a drop of 39 percent. Ford’s annual property tax bill, on the other hand, increased 9.6 percent during the same six-year period, to $3,178 this year, up from $2,900.
“Our tax bills just keep going up, and yet the city claims it’s broke,” said Ford, 69. “Where is all of our money going? No one knows.”
Homeowners throughout Greater Boston’s suburbs are echoing Ford’s frustration. Over the past six years, a period marred by the recession that began in December 2007, the value of most residents’ biggest asset, their home, has diminished. Still, their property tax bills continue to rise, even as Governor Deval Patrick proposes an increase in the state income tax rate.
A Globe review of state Department of Revenue data found that between fiscal 2007 and 2013, average assessed values of single-family houses dropped in more than 90 percent of the area’s communities, even as property taxes spiraled upward. Proposition 2½, the state law that limits increases in property taxes, allows for the annual bills to go up even when values weaken.
North of Boston, homeowners in Lawrence — where the average tax bill grew 18.6 percent, to $2,530, over the six-year period— suffered the sharpest decline in property values, a 27.4 percent drop to an average of $167,771.
In Boston’s western suburbs, the biggest loser was Hudson, where assessments fell 24.3 percent, to an average of $286,966, and the average tax bill ballooned 30.3 percent, to $4,700.
Only six Greater Boston communities — Arlington, Cohasset, Needham, Winchester, Weston, and Wellesley — showed an increase in average value, with most posting modest gains ranging from 2 to 4 percent.
“Your assessed value can go down, but because the levy goes up 2.5 percent every year, your tax bill is going to go up,” said Carolyn C. Ryan, a policy analyst for the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, an independent watchdog group. Any tax revenue attributable to new growth can also be factored into the annual rate.
The average assessed value for a house in Boston’s suburbs this fiscal year is $424,094, down 12.8 percent from fiscal 2007. Meanwhile, the average property tax bill is $6,239, up from $5,088, an increase of 22.6 percent.
In 81 of the 158 communities covered by the Globe’s survey, values dropped by more than 14 percent during the six-year period. The southern suburbs were the hardest hit; of the 10 communities that suffered the biggest decrease in value, eight lie south of Boston. Brockton led the list with a 36.7 percent drop. The assessed value of Ford’s home is slightly above the $184,364 city average.
Needham — where the average assessment climbed 9.2 percent, to $744,764 — led all suburban communities in bucking the market trend.
The reason: Many people want to settle in Needham, but there are few lots available. Buyers are snapping up older houses and razing them to make way for minimansions. On average, there are 75 to 100 new houses built in Needham each year, almost all of them tear-down replacements, according to Chip Davis, the town’s administrative assessor.
“Needham has four commuter rail stops and easy access to the Mass. Pike and Route 128,” said Davis. “It’s a very desirable, very stable market. We’ve continued to grow throughout the crash. It’s been high and very consistent over the past three or four years,’’ generating $1.5 million to $1.8 million in new tax revenue each year, he said.
Needham’s average single-family tax bill is $8,416 in fiscal 2013, which runs through June 30. Overall, 13 area communities have average bills above $10,000. All but one, Manchester-by-the-Sea ($10,522), are in the western suburbs, led by Weston, where the average bill is $16,921. In all 13 communities, the average tax bill rose by at least 10 percent between fiscal 2007 and 2013.
Statewide, the average property tax rate increase has remained steady over the past three fiscal years, between 3 and 4 percent, according to a recent report by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. The relatively small growth reflects sluggishness in new construction, tougher mortgage qualification, and voter reluctance to approve higher taxes through Proposition 2½ overrides.Continued...