2010-03-18 / Front Page

Islanders get chance to learn about property revaluations tonight

By Phil Zahodiakin

Jamestown property owners will have an opportunity to prepare themselves for the results of the island’s 2009 property reassessment at a workshop tonight at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

The reassessed values will be mailed to property owners during the first week of April. The values, along with the data underlying the values, will also be available online.

Tonight’s workshop on the statistical revaluation will be hosted by Tax Assessor Ken Gray and Steve Ferreira, a senior appraiser and project manager for Vision Appraisal – which performed the mass appraisal of all the properties on the island.

In a mass appraisal, properties are assigned values through the use of a model based on a sales data analysis, along with other data gathered without entering any properties.

“Because we’re revaluing an entire community,” Ferreira told the Press, “we build a model with an analysis of the sales data we have, and we use the model to value the rest of the properties” that weren’t involved in sales transactions.

Gray also told the Press that, “first and foremost, we want to be fair to everybody. But mass appraisals provide ‘broad brush’ revaluations. They cost $15 a parcel, as opposed to $300 a parcel for a full appraisal.”

According to Gray, Jamestown has 2,696 residential properties, 85 condominium units, 33 mixeduse properties, seven apartment buildings, 69 commercial properties with structures on the lots and five vacant commercial properties.

Rhode Island towns are required to perform property-byproperty revaluations every three years, and Jamestown is due for a “full” revaluation in 2012.

The preliminary results of the latest mass appraisal indicate that “the majority of the properties will see a decrease in their valuations,” Ferreira said.

“There will be properties that do see some type of increase and those will tend to be the more high-end properties,” he continued. “We’re still working on [the revaluations] and the results aren’t quite final. But there’s no doubt that the majority of property owners will see a decrease, and those decreases are more likely to be in the moderately-priced housing.”

Ferreira noted that the statistical model is tested against known sales data.

“We don’t apply it to the rest of the town until we’re satisfied that [the model] is working,” he said.

In addition to sales data, “We have schedules for the quality of the houses, and we take their condition into account when we grade them. The conditions of the houses vary, and we look at our depreciations to make sure we’ve applied them consistently.

“When it comes to land,” Ferreira continued, “different locations have different values: if your land is on the shore, it is worth more than [the same lot] would be worth downtown. We look at different parts of the island and assign different weights to them, based on our land schedules.”

Said Gray, “Vision Appraisal is new to Jamestown, but I would like to offer my full confidence in them. They are the largest appraisal company in New England, and very well established.”

Ferreira pointed out that “our conclusions on values are opinions. We look at what the sales have been, and what we see in the field, and those are the only guides for our opinions of value. Once we release those values to the public, they are subject to review.”

Property owners with concerns about their revaluations are encouraged to request informal meetings with Vision Appraisal for the purpose of:

• Pointing out such factual errors as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in a house, or its age, or the number of fireplaces it has, and so forth. “If our data is wrong,” Ferreira said, “bring it to our attention and we’ll make the corrections.”

• Pointing out revaluation differences for virtually identical houses that are near, or adjacent to, each other. “If the valuations aren’t similar, bring it to our attention and we will investigate,” Ferreira said.

• Pointing out the difference between a revaluation and a bank appraisal or an asking price, if the house has been listed for sale. “All opinions are valuable,” Ferreira said. “So bring a copy of your appraisal or any information you have from your real estate agent and we will look at the basis for those opinions and see if we can make any adjustments.”

Once the town votes on its budget, which will occur at the town fi- nancial meeting in June, the islandwide property tax rate will be set. The first of the quarterly property tax bills will be mailed around the end of July – and will be payable on Sept. 12. If a property owner still has differences with the Vision Appraisal revaluation, he or she will have 90 days from Sept. 12 to request a meeting with Gray.

“We would say to the public, if there is still an issue, and you have documentation for your concerns, let’s have a meeting and try to nip the problem in the bud so [the disputed revaluation] doesn’t get on the tax rolls and end up reflected in your bill,” Gray said.

If the meeting with the tax assessor’s office fails to resolve the issue, property owners can lodge an appeal with the Tax Assessment Board of Review.

“The board is made up of volunteers who work here in the fall and usually into the winter,” Gray said. “They hear appeals when property owners feel their valuations weren’t corrected by me or Vision Appraisal, and the appeals are heard independently of me.”

If the board decides against the property owner, he or she has one last course of action: An appeal to R.I. Superior Court.

The revaluation workshop will start at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

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