Falmouth assessor fielding more abatement requests

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FALMOUTH — The town assessing office is dealing with a rising number of abatement requests from people buying or refinancing homes.

Assessor Anne Gregory said her office received five abatement requests on March 26, the final day to file an appeal. With those last-minute applications, she estimates she will process an estimated 46 abatement requests for the year.

In 2008-2009 fiscal year, the year of the town’s last revaluation, the town received 50 abatement requests, including 30 formal appeals and 10 cases that went before the Board of Assessment Review. A year later, 87 abatement requests were made, including eight formal appeals and two board reviews.

In 2010-2011, Falmouth received 32 abatement requests, including six formal appeals and two board reviews. To date this year, Gregory has received 37 abatement requests, including 12 formal appeals and two board reviews.

Gregory expects the number of requests to reach 46, including some cases that may end with a board review.

Gregory said she deals with two types of abatement requests: formal and informal. With formal requests, property owners fill out an application for an abatement and, by state law, must receive a response from Gregory within 60 days. Property owners then have 60 days to appeal her decision to the Board of Assessment Review.

If a residential property owner is ultimately unhappy with how the board rules, the decision can be appealed to superior court. Commercial appeals are heard by a state board.

Since 2008, Gregory has seen an increase in the number of informal abatements processed in her office. In these cases, property owners come into the office – often with a home appraisal in hand – to question why the appraised value is less than the town’s assessed value.

When people purchase a home for less than the assessed value, they are often encouraged by their real estate appraiser to ask the assessor about the difference, she said.

The difference, Gregory said, often is because all homes in town are assessed based on the town’s 2008 revaluation, not the current market.

“I think people have been used to having the market value go up since 1997. We have a whole generation of buyers who are used to the market going up always,” she said. “They automatically assume a lower assessed value means a lower tax bill.”

One appeal to the Board of Assessment Review – for the 200 Woodville Road estate formerly owned by Shaw’s Supermarkets heiress Mary Alice Davis – was settled this month when the property owner failed to show up at the hearing.

Gregory had adjusted the assessment of the property from $1.9 million to $1.5 million following an abatement request by Andrew Preston, who lived at the estate. Falmouth tax records show the estate is owned by Mile Properties LLC of Chatham, N.J.

After the abatement request was filed, Gregory was able to get into the home for the first time since it was under construction. The inspection revealed errors in measurements and bathroom count, which resulted in the adjustment, she said.The property owners further appealed her decision.

Gregory said those types of errors are bound to happen, especially in homes the town has not had access to for an accurate assessment. There are 4,324 residential and 215 commercial properties in town.

“We encourage people to check their property cards. Even if we get an A-plus, there are probably 450 properties with mistakes,” she said. “… There are some homes we’ve never been in. I’m finding the ones that are extremely over assessed are the ones we haven’t been in. We’re inspecting a lot more homes now.”

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.