Thursday, March 29, 2012

Worcester Magazine's Rosen Report takes City Assessor Ford to task

This article is courtesy of Worcester Magazine.

During the hot real estate market of 2002, my wife and I paid $220,000 for our modest home in the June-Chandler streets area of Worcester. We like the house, the neighborhood and the many services that this city has to offer. That’s why we stay.

While we’ve discussed moving to Maine, now is the wrong time to sell because it’s a buyer’s real estate market. And our house really needs some upgrades so we probably couldn’t even sell it for the price we paid 10 years ago.

However, Worcester assessor, Bill Ford, believes that we could sell our house for its new assessed value of $281,000. Now Ford is a throwback to the days when City Hall personnel acted like they were doing you a favor just by talking to you. But arrogance and sarcasm are not what shocked homeowners need when they question inaccurate and unreasonable property assessments.

The assessed value of a home represents the amount a willing buyer would pay a willing seller on the open market. So, in this depressed housing market, the $281,000 assessment on my 60-year-old, 1700-square-foot house is more inflated than Bill Ford’s ego.

A year ago, after our 2010 assessment of $261,000 climbed to $272,000 for 2011, I filed for an abatement. Mr. Ford’s response was that satellite photos alerted the city to a bedroom that a previous owner had added on to our house 30 years ago. Like many Worcester homeowners of today, evidently he chose not to take out required remodeling and construction permits to avoid paying higher property taxes.

While the assessed value of my land has decreased by $27,000, that’s really just a tease. The city immediately took back that relief by raising our house value by almost $36,000. It was even worse for a neighbor whose building value for no apparent reason was increased by more than $60,000.

Last week I attended the District 5 revaluation public meeting. The more than 100 angry homeowners present couldn’t believe that local residential assessments have decreased on average by 3.8 percent. The assessor responded to dozens of questions but failed to provide these homeowners with plausible reasons why their assessments have skyrocketed.

Before that meeting started, I sought a decrease in my home’s new assessment by asking Bill Ford to lower its grade (condition) from “Average to Good” to Average. But he said they would have to inspect the interior of my house to do that. So in order to rectify their over-assessment of my property, I’ll have to submit to an entirely different process than the drive-by method used to appraise the property of all other city homeowners.

After the City Council sets the new and painful residential tax rate, my annual property taxes on Herbert Road will be around $5,000. If inflated assessments and unreasonable property taxes become the norm in Worcester, middle- and upperincome families won’t see our city as an appealing place to live. What a blow that losing them will be to our schools, businesses and economy.

Once again, my wife and I will pay our tax bill and then file for an abatement. We’ll check off “overvaluation” on the form. Unfortunately, we can’t assess our own property. After Bill Ford bought his house on Salisbury Street, its 2010 assessed value plummeted from $897,600 to $687,200 in 2011. And now in 2012, it’s down to $620,000. But that’s what happens when the fox is allowed to guard the hen house.