Real Estate FAQ
- How do I change my billing address?
Please fill out an address change form (PDF). We require either a homeowner, business owner or trustee of the trust to sign the form.
- Why is the previous owner's name on the Tax Bill?
M.G.L. Chapter 59 Section 11 states the name of the owner of the record as of January 1 will appear on the tax bill for the next fiscal year. The "C/O" in front of your name means Current Owner.
For example: if the property was sold on September 1, 2022, the previous owner's (known as the owner of record) name will appear on the top line of the actual bill that is issued on January 1, 2023. C/O will appear next to the new owner's name on the second line of the bill. The prior owner's name would be removed from the tax bill with the new fiscal year which starts on July 1, 2024.
- How does the Assessors’ Office determine the value of my house?
Massachusetts law requires that all municipalities establish the full and fair cash value of all real estate as of January 1 of each year. FY2019 values are determined as of January 1, 2018. To determine FY19 values, the Assessing Department reviewed all valid sales that occurred between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. A "Mass Appraisal" computer software model is used to calculate property values based on this market activity as well as certain property-specific attributes such as location, size, construction quality, style, and condition. The Town uses Paul Kapinos and Associates (PK) as its software program.
- What does 100% of full and fair cash value mean?
The courts have defined this phrase to mean "current market value"; the price arrived at by a willing buyer and a willing seller, each with a good knowledge of the market and each acting without undue pressure or compulsion. Thus, in determining value, Assessors seek to approximate what property would sell for on the open market, within an acceptable range of error.
- How is Mass Appraisal different from a Fee Appraisal?
A revaluation uses mass appraisal methods and techniques, meaning many properties are appraised at once. Mass appraisal is typically done for property tax purposes and the effective valuation date for all mass appraisals in Massachusetts is January 1 of the revaluation year. Meanwhile, a fee appraiser appraises only one property at a time. The appraisal is done for a specific reason, such as purchase, refinance, estate valuation, etc. The date of the fee appraisal is typically the day it is appraised.
- What is the basis for determining residential property values?
- Sales of vacant and improved properties are the primary source of data
- Land values are set using all available land sales
- Analysis of new construction is done to establish construction costs
- Analysis of older homes establish the amount of depreciation indicated by the current market
- Costs of outbuildings from building permits and advertised prices are used to indicate outbuilding values
- Why do land values change at different rates from building values?
Land values change at a different rate than improvement (structures) values. Since building costs and values have not changed at the same rate as land values, the bulk of any total change may be attributable to land. This makes good economic sense, as it is land that is in limited supply.
- Who verifies that the assessing model used by the Town and the resulting property values are accurate?
Annually, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) performs a statistical analysis of the Town's proposed assessments. Additionally, every four to five years, the DOR conducts a Revaluation, which is a comprehensive analysis of the Town's appraisal process, and reviews property values in great detail to ensure that the assessments represent full and fair market values. The last Revaluation for the Town of Dennis was in 2017, when the values were certified by the DOR after a rigorous review. The next Revaluation is 2021, and then every 5 years following the 2021 Revaluation.
- How do I dispute my assessed value if I think it is too high?
A property valuation (assessment) may be disputed via the Real Estate Abatement Process. The Abatement Application is available in January at the Assessors' Office in Town Hall or under Downloadable Forms and may be filed after the Town has mailed the Third Quarter tax bill on or about December 31. The application for abatement must be received by the Assessors' Office no later than the close of business on the last day of the abatement filing period, which is generally the first workday in February (February 1st). If submitted via USP, the envelope must be postmarked no later than that same February 1st/first workday date.
Once submitted, the Board of Assessors has 90 days from the date the application was received to act on the appeal. Each and every appeal will receive written notification of the Assessors' action.
Filing an abatement does not put your tax payment on hold. Tax payments need to be rendered in a timely manner in order to protect further appeal rights to the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board.
If you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Board of Assessors regarding your abatement request, you may file an appeal to the Appellate Tax Board (ATB). This must be done within three months of the Assessors' decision.
- What do the assessors look at when determining an assessment?
The assessors look at a property the same way a potential buyer would look at a property. Assessors consider the same factors that a potential buyer considers. Examples of important factors are the following: location, interior condition, house size, kitchen quality, and bath quality. The assessors examine many qualities and conditions and then look for comparable properties that have sold in the neighborhood. Since no two houses are identical, adjustments are made for differing characteristics to determine the assessment. Thus the assessment is an estimate of market value.
- Why should I let the Town Assessing Department into my house for an inspection?
Interior inspections are an important part of the Town's assessment process. Just as a potential buyer of real estate inspects the interior of a home before making an offer, the Town tries to make a better determination of the overall property value based on accurate data using interior inspections. Examples of data reviewed include dwelling type, condition, land area, living area, number of bathrooms, fireplaces, and whether attics and basements are finished or unfinished. If the field appraisers are not allowed into the houses, certain judgments are made in accordance with other similar houses in the area.
- How are Real Estate taxes calculated?
It is the responsibility of the Assessors' Office to establish the taxable valuation of each individual piece of property in the Town. However, the Assessors do not create value. Buyers and sellers create value via their transactions in the marketplace. The Assessor analyzes the data and makes adjustments accordingly. At Town Meeting each year, a budget is voted on by Town Meeting Members taking into account the limits of Proposition 2 ½, and how much money will be needed to meet all appropriations and other expenses.
The difference between the amount approved and the money received from other revenue sources (i.e., state aid, local receipts, and available funds) must be raised by property taxation.
The valuation assessments are developed independently from the budget and are used only in the last step of the budgeting process to distribute the Tax Levy. Changing property values does not affect the overall Tax Levy, but it may result in the redistribution of the tax levy burden among all taxable properties in town. Annually, the Board of Selectmen establishes the fiscal year real estate and personal property tax rates. These rates represent a tax per thousand dollars of assessed value, which, when applied to each property's assessed valuation, yields that property's annual tax bill.
- How is the town able to raise my taxes by more than the 2 ½ % limit prescribed by Proposition 2 ½?
Proposition 2 ½ pertains to the total amount of monies raised by taxation also known as the tax levy. Generally speaking, the tax levy may not increase greater than 2.5% over the prior year's levy plus a factor referred to as new growth which captures the increase in valuation and the tax levy attributable to new construction. However, this limitation does not pertain to individual tax bills. Your bills may increase or decrease by any amount in any given year.
- What if I cannot afford to pay my Real Estate taxes?
Pursuant to State Law, there are multiple programs that offer tax relief to qualifying property owners including state and local tax relief. A description of these programs can be found on the Property Tax Exemptions page.
Applications for these programs can be obtained by contacting the Town of Dennis Assessor's Office at 508-760-6139 or by going to the Assessors' Office at 685 Route 134, South Dennis, MA, or on the Property Tax Exemptions page. Applications must be filed annually with the Board of Assessors within three months of the mailing of the Third Quarter Tax Bill (January 1st of each year).
As a reminder, the mere filing of an application does not mean you can postpone the payment of your tax. It is important to note that tax deferral may be used in conjunction with other exemption programs.
- Why has my tax bill gone up more than 2.5%? Doesn’t Proposition 2 ½ limit the tax increase?
Proposition 2 ½ limits the Town of Dennis, and all other Massachusetts communities, the amount of town-wide taxes that can be raised (tax levy). Proposition 2 ½ limits a community to raising town-wide taxes by 2.5% from the previous year's levy limit. Allowing for new growth can then increase this levy limit. New growth consists of property tax increases caused by new construction, renovations, or land use changes. Proposition 2 ½ does not limit any individual property tax increase or decrease.
- My assessment increased more than 2.5%. Doesn’t Proposition 2 ½ limit the amount my assessment can increase?
Proposition 2 ½ limits the amount of taxes a community can raise from property tax. The assessment is an estimate of market value. Since the real estate market changes are based on the buyers' and sellers' needs, there is no limit to the amount an assessment can increase or decrease. Assessment changes are always based on the real estate market. For example, if a property sells for $500,000 in a calendar year, there is no limit or minimum price it would sell for in ensuing calendar years. It could sell for $600,000, $700,000, $1,000,000, or $400,000. The sale price would be based on the real estate market at that time. The assessments do not predict market value. The assessments reflect market value based on the sales from the previous year.
- My neighbor told me not to let a representative from the assessors’ office into my house. Do I have to let the assessors into my house?
You do not have to allow the assessors into your home. We only request the inspection in order to be as fair and accurate as possible. However, if an assessor is denied entrance, property owners give up their ability to challenge the assessed value. It is impossible to question an assessment if a property owner refuses to allow the assessors a view of the entire property. In instances where the assessors do not get into a property, estimates are made about the condition of the interior of the property, the kitchen and bath qualities, and whether there is finished attic space and finished basement space.
- My neighbor does not allow the assessors in and I do. Am I being penalized?
As stated above, you do not have to allow the assessors into your home. We only request the inspection so we can be as fair and accurate as possible. Accurate assessments are based on accurate information. By allowing the assessors to view the interior and exterior of your property, your assessed value is based on accurate information. If a person does not allow the assessors to view the interior and exterior of a property, estimates are made about the condition of the interior of the property, the kitchen and bath qualities, and whether there is finished attic space and finished basement space. If the estimates are overstated, property owners may contact the assessor's office to arrange an interior and exterior inspection of their property.
- Why do the assessors want to see the interior and exterior of my property?
Just as a potential buyer wants to see the interior and exterior of the property before determining a purchase price, the assessors want to see the interior and exterior of the property to make an accurate determination about the market value of the property. The interior information of a property is essential in determining the estimate of market value. Without the actual information, estimates of the interior information have to be made.
- Why did my assessed value increase when I did not do anything to the property in 5 years and I am not selling the property?
The assessed value represents the estimate of the market value of the property. The real estate market changes constantly. The assessment for Fiscal Year 2022 represents the estimate of market value as of January 1, 2021. This estimate of market value is determined by examining sales of properties from late calendar year 2019, calendar year 2020, and early calendar year 2021. Although there may not have been any physical changes to the property, buyers may be paying more or less for properties than they were in previous years. The assessment changes reflect the changes in the purchase prices of similar homes in the neighborhood. The assessments do not predict market value. The assessments reflect (or report) market value. The real estate market can change dramatically from year to year. It is not limited to 1, 5, 10, or 25-year intervals. The buyers and sellers determine the market value of properties. The assessments reflect what the buyers and sellers are doing as of the assessment date.
- What percentage of market value are the assessed values?
Assessments represent 100% of market value as required by Massachusetts General Laws. The assessments for Fiscal Year 2022 represent the estimate of market value as of January 1, 2021.
- Why did my assessment change a different percentage than the assessment on my neighbor’s house?
Market value changes occur in many forms. Buyers have different requirements and these requirements sometimes change from year to year. Also, sometimes renovations have been performed on a property that would cause a change in assessed value different from a similar property that did not undergo renovations. A recent inspection by the assessor's office also may have contributed to a change in assessed value. Perhaps the property had not been inspected in several years and the property information has now been updated to more accurately reflect the condition of the property.
- My assessment increased 20%. Does that mean my taxes will increase 20%?
No. The valuation change will not be indicative of the tax change. There are two components that help determine the tax rate. The first is the budgetary requirements of the town to run the town. The second is the overall value of the property within the town. For example, if the budget increases 5%, then the tax increase throughout the town would be approximately 5%, regardless of what happened to the overall assessed values. For example, if the budget increased 5% and all the assessments in the town went up 20%, the average tax increase would still be 5%. The tax rate, which is calculated simply by dividing the budget by the value of the property, would decrease approximately 15%. In another example, if the budget increased 5% and all the assessments went down 20%, the average tax increase would still be 5%. The tax rate, which is calculated simply by dividing the budget by the value of the property, would increase approximately 25%.
- I think my assessment is out of line with my neighbors’ property, whose property is assessed lower. I want my assessment to be as low as theirs.
The first step in comparing properties is to examine the factual components of each property. Many times properties that appear larger are in fact much smaller than people think. Quality characteristics should also be examined when making comparisons. For example, a property with a newer kitchen would sell for more than a property with a much older, unimproved kitchen with all other factors being comparable. Ultimately, the assessors have to determine if the assessment represents the market value on the subject property and also if the assessed value on the neighbor's property represents market value. If a neighboring property is too low in relation to surrounding properties, the assessors cannot compound their low assessment by also lowering surrounding properties. The resolution may be that the assessors have to raise the neighboring property's assessed value to make it more in line with the surrounding properties. The most important criterion the assessors examine in an abatement request is the market value of the property of the person filing the abatement and the market value of any property that the person filing the abatement mentions on the application. For example, if there were 5 identical houses on a street and 4 were assessed for $500,000 and one was assessed for $100,000, and there were three sales on the street at $500,000 each, then the assessors could not lower the 4 properties to $100,000. Based on the sales, the market value would be very close to $500,000. The correct action for the assessors would be to raise the property assessed from $100,000 to $500,000.
- There is an item on my tax bill called “CPA Charge”. What is that?
The term "CPA Charge" refers to The Community Preservation Act surcharge approved by the voters of the Town of Dennis beginning in Fiscal Year 2006. This surcharge is 3% of the total property tax due for the parcel. This surcharge, approved by a majority of Town of Dennis voters, is for the acquisition and preservation of open space, recreational land, affordable housing, and historic properties. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts will match the amount collected by the Town of Dennis up to but not to exceed 100% of the total surcharge money collected. There is a committee set up to review requests for the use of the Community Preservation Act money collected. The Committee's name is the Community Preservation Committee. This committee then makes recommendations to the Select Board. The Select Board has the final say as to how the Community Preservation Act funds are distributed and utilized. For more information on the Community Preservation Act, please visit Dennis's Community Preservation Program website here.
- There is an item on my tax bill called “WIIF Charge”. What is that?
The Town of Dennis accepted section 39M of chapter 40 of the General Laws of Massachusetts and established a special "Municipal Water Infrastructure Investment Fund" with a dedicated funding source that may be spent on maintenance, improvements, and investments to municipal drinking, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure assets. The funding source is a 1% surcharge on your annual real property taxes and was approved by voters during the Annual Town Election on June 30, 2020 to be effective for Fiscal Year 2021. This surcharge has been added to your third and fourth quarterly tax bills.