Home values in Mass. fall 3.2%
Average is $361,629; taxes increase 3.3%
The value of an average single-family home dropped in more than three-quarters of the state’s cities and towns over the past year, even as taxes continued to climb.
The average assessed value for a home in Massachusetts in fiscal 2011 was $361,629, down 3.2 percent, according to a report published last week in City and Town, a publication of the state Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services.
That drop continues a trend that began in 2008, after home prices peaked at $406,673 the year before.
Prices were down in 78 percent of Massachusetts communities.
Boylston had the largest drop, at 14.1 percent; the largest increase was in the tiny Berkshires town of Mount Washington, with fewer than 200 residents, where the average assessment climbed nearly 32 percent to $423,382.
Only nine communities - including Middleton, Reading, and Sherborn - showed increases greater than 2 percent.
Taxes, on the other hand, continued to climb as steadily as fiscal kudzu.
The average property tax hit $4,537, up about $147, or 3.3 percent. The average rate increase over the past four years has hovered between 3 and 4 percent, according to the report.
Bob Bliss, a spokesman for the Department of Revenue, noted that the tax increase was relatively low because Proposition 2 1/2 limits the overall increase of a town’s tax levy to 2 1/2 percent, plus additional tax revenue from new growth. The drop in home prices was also modest, compared with other areas of the country, such as parts of California and Florida.
Falling home values are cause for overall concern, said Geoffrey C. Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents the state’s cities and towns.
“Since a home is the average person’s largest asset, the fact that home values have declined is a matter of economic worry for everyone,’’ he said.
Others saw the issue as more nuanced.
The drop in housing prices can be viewed as a positive or a negative, said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
Homeowners are not happy because they are losing equity in what might be their biggest investment, he said, but people moving here from other states might view it exactly the opposite.
“The high cost of housing has always been an economic obstacle for recruiting people to the area,’’ noted Widmer.
The relatively small growth in average taxes, Widmer said, reflects few tax overrides being passed by town residents.
“That is a marginally good development,’’ he said.
As the economy has tumbled, people feel less generous about approving tax overrides, he added. Climbing unemployment and dropping home values do not improve voters’ moods about higher taxes.
Some have been hit harder by tax bills than others. Consider the exclusive club of communities with average bills above $10,000, which this year increased by one - Lexington - to 10. Lexington’s average bill was $10,032.
All the communities are in the western suburbs, and Weston leads the pack with the highest average tax bill: $15,535. Sherborn, Lincoln, Dover, Carlisle, Wayland, Wellesley, Concord, and Sudbury make up the rest of the list.
Of course, those communities are among the leaders in value, too. Nine towns have assessed values of more than $1 million, led by Chilmark, at $1.8 million, with Weston second at $1.4 million.
Average prices fell in seven of the top nine communities.
Western Massachusetts communities dominate the list of those with the lowest average taxes, led by Hancock (population: 717; taxes: $757) and Rowe (population: 393; taxes: $1,108).
The data does not include information from 13 communities - including Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline - that adopted a residential exemption because their information does not match information collected from the other communities.
Beckwith, of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said the relatively small rise in taxes is an indication of the fiscal struggles facing communities.
“Their costs are rising more than 3 percent,’’ he said, leading to cuts in services. He hoped the bottom has been hit, noting that state aid was level funded for the upcoming year, after being cut last year.
Some people are confused because taxes go up even as their home value goes down, he said. But the amount of money a town can raise in property taxes is independent of the value of property.