Revaluation boosts city property values by 16 percent

Revaluation boosts city property values by 16 percent

Some questioning its validity

WOONSOCKET – Property values in the city increased an average of 16 percent after Northeast Revaluation Group, LLC, completed its 2017 property revaluation in February and finished analyzing the collected data this week.

The full revaluation, required by state law every nine years, was the first to take place in the city since 2008. According to City Tax Assessor Elyse Pare, the increase reflects a gradual return to pre-housing market crash values, though the market has not yet returned to the level of the 2008 revaluation, which incorporated market data from 2007 and reflected values at the height of the housing bubble.

“We haven’t gotten back to that pre-crash number yet, but we’re getting there,” she said. “Some communities are now in 2018 getting to their 2008 values, and unfortunately distressed communities tend to be a little slower with recovery.”

Since letters were mailed to property owners in March, 227 property owners, residents representing 2 percent of the approximately 11,000 assessed properties have visited the office to informally appeal their assessments. While Pare said the number is low compared with the 3 percent of appeals typically expected after any full property revaluation, several property owners still expressed concern with the process and said they planned to appeal their assessments when they receive their tax bills in the coming weeks.

Former City Council President Albert Brien said at the May 7 City Council meeting he’s been contacted by several property owners who were unhappy with their assessments and claimed the company had not conducted a full inspection of their properties.

“I was contacted by several people, some commercial, some industrial, some residential, who just felt more comfortable in my accompanying them to the informal hearings that were conducted by Northeast Revaluation,” he told The Valley Breeze by phone. “It was during that process that I asked them, did they inspect your property or when did they inspect it?”

According to Pare, state law requires the revaluation company to conduct a full exterior inspection, including measuring each property, and present the property owner with the opportunity for an interior inspection. During the interior inspection, she said, evaluators make note of the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and any renovations and details such as a finished basement, but do not conduct full measurements of the space.

“I think there was some confusion in the community that they were going to be inside measuring bedrooms,” she said. “No interior measurements are ever made, it’s always made by the exterior of the home.”

According to Pare, the revaluation company makes two attempts to contact each property owner at the site before mailing a “callback letter” inviting the property owner to schedule an appointment for an interior inspection. This year, 6,270 callback letters were mailed and received 1,881 responses.

In total, 5,005 properties, or 45 percent, had interior inspections as part of their 2017 revaluation. A total of 697 property owners were contacted and refused the opportunity for an interior inspection.

Brien said several of the property owners he spoke with did not receive an interior inspection or did not think the results adequately measured the value of their property. The Breeze spoke with two commercial property owners who said their properties had not received interior inspections and they were concerned about the impact on their tax bills. One of the property owners, who asked not to be identified, said he was never contacted by Northeast Revaluation by either phone or letter to schedule an interior inspection and had spoken with other property owners in similar situations.

“Quite frankly, I was really shocked that they were promulgating values when in fact they had not inspected the properties,” said Brien.

He also expressed concern with the use of pre-existing data from Vision Appraisal taken from past revaluations. Pare confirmed the database imported information from previous revaluations but said the existing data did not impact current values.

According to Pare, the revaluation relies significantly on market data to determine housing values, accounting for increases in value even when no changes to a home have been made. Each neighborhood starts with a “land rate” based on recent sales of area homes that can drive up market value of any properties in the vicinity. Next, the revaluation examines homes grouped by housing type, accounting for differences in the increase in value of homes within a single neighborhood.

“You’re not going to value a Colonial the same way you value a Victorian if the market data says they sell at different prices,” she explained. “That’s one thing I think people struggle to understand is that my Cape is not going to be assessed in the same manner as the Colonial next door.”

Pare said the city saw an especially high increase in the dollar-per-square-foot value of smaller single-family homes. The increase, she said, likely indicates large numbers of families looking to downsize or an increase in first-time homebuyers coming into the market.

“Typically a first-time homebuyer coming into the market, they’re not going to start off with that 3,000-square-foot home,” she said. “So we saw very strong sales with our smaller, modest homes.”

Following the 227 informal hearings with the revaluation company, Pare said 144 properties received an adjustment on their assessment. Any property owners who still wish to appeal their property assessment can make a formal appeal to Pare’s office after receiving their tax bills in June or July. If they are not satisfied with the results of their appeal, they can make a formal appeal to the Board of Assessment Review.

On a separate matter, Pare also confirmed the city mailed motor vehicle tax refund checks to recipients on May 4, after receiving a final $1.337 million payment from the state on May 1. The payment came after previous controversy between Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and City Council members after the council passed a resolution instructing her to issue refunds in early April rather than wait until the city received the full portion of state funds in May.

According to Pare, the average reimbursement was $75.16. Individual reimbursement rates, she said, should match the amount listed on a letter received by taxpayers in the fall. In July, taxpayers should see a further reduction of their tax rates as the state continues to phase out the motor vehicle tax. Owners of 2003 vehicles and older will also be added to the exemption this year and will pay no taxes on these vehicles.