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How could this be? Taxes rise as prices fall

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 28, 2013 09:20 AM

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If you are wondering why your property taxes just keep on going up, even as the value of your castle just keeps on falling, you are definitely not alone.

Here's a great piece in the Globe West that looks at how suburban homeowners in Greater Boston have seen their real estate taxes march relentlessly upwards, even as the value of their homes has sunk.

The story leads with some poor bloke in Brockton, who has seen his tax bill rise to $3,178, or a nearly 10 percent jump since 2007. Yet the assessed value of his modest ranch has plunged from $308,900 at the peak of the housing bubble to $188,300, a decline of more than 39 percent.

The average suburban tax bill in the Boston area leaped 22.6 percent since 2007, to $6,239, even as the average assessed value fell 12.8 percent, to $424,094, the Globe reports.

Ouch!

Hudson homeowners were among the hardest hit, slammed with a more than 30 percent increase in the average tax bill, to $4,700, even as the average property assessment fell by nearly a quarter to $286,966. Ditto for Lawrence homeowners, who saw their tax bills rise by more than 18 percent, even as assessed home values fell over 27 percent.

This is a great argument for doing a little research into how different communities manage their affairs before you put money down for a home and effectively buy a stake in a town for decades to come.

Maybe the prices are significantly lower in town A as opposed to town B, but if town A is plagued by financial mismanagement and petty politics, you could wind up paying the price down the line with big tax increases.

Or maybe town A has more bucolic fields and farms than town B, which has a big shopping strip, but what town B lacks in beauty may be more than made up by the tax stability a large commercial base brings to it.

One thing I was left wondering after reading the piece is what exactly is driving all these tax bill increases.

Basically, what in the world is going on here?

These sorts of stories get pretty complicated fast - it was a great work of reporting and research.

Still, trying to sort it all out and figure out exactly why homeowners are paying more, even as their real estate is worth less, can be difficult.

My sense is that we have two things going on here. One is that towns are continuing to try and raise more money each year, even as they are limited by Proposition 2 to no more than a 2.5 percent annual increase. While the economy has been down, the cost of health insurance and pensions for public employees has soared and school costs never seem to go down.

The other factors at work is that the overall value of all residential real estate, from one bedroom condos to mansions, has shrunk significantly over the past half decade. That has left suburban communities trying to raise the same amount of money from a tax base that has just contracted.

My grandmother, a stately Victorian matron now long since passed away, once offered this piece of advice to my older brother on choosing a mate: "Choose wisely and choose well."

Home buyers looking at what community to invest in would be well advised to consider this advice.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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