Principal Assessor Melissa Stamp keeps an eye on property values

by Karina Coombs

[Ed note: This is the first in a new series of interviews with Town Hall employees.]

Principal Assessor Melissa Stamp
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

“If I’m thinking about a house or riding by a house I’ll come back and make a note,” says Principal Accessor Melissa Stamp, describing how she is able to visit the town’s 1,681 residential properties in an effort to assess a fair market value for each. “I’m familiar with most of the homes in this town.”

Stamp is charged not only with assessing individual properties, but also buildable lots, excess unbuildable land, as well as acreage in forestry and agricultural use. Stamp and Administrative Assistant Marianne McInerney also spend their days working with real estate agents and bank appraisers and handling abatements for both properties and automobiles. “There is a lot involved in the office [and it] keeps it interesting,” says a smiling Stamp. “There is a lot of detail to the position.”

A familiar face in Town Hall since 1999, Stamp began working as a part-time administrative assistant for the Board of Assessors until her appointment as principal assessor in 2007. Along with many new responsibilities, the promotion also came with certification requirements. She joined the Massachusetts Association of Accessing Officers and attends week-long annual training and testing at UMASS Amherst.

Assessing a home

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue requests the assessment of each of Carlisle’s 1,658 single-family homes and 23 condominiums once every three years, making Stamp a very busy person. In addition to McInerney, she also has the support of the three-member board comprised of Jim Marchant, Mike Coscia and Kenneth Mostello. Marchant has volunteered on the board since 1998 and is a licensed appraiser. “I call Jim [Marchant] all the time if I have an issue,” she says. “He dedicates a lot of time to the town.”

Stamp explains that each property in Carlisle has a field card used for assessing its value. The card, with photograph and floor plan, details the amount of land, square footage of the home, number of rooms, bathrooms, fireplaces, etc. and the overall condition or grade inside and out. When a home is sold, Stamp contacts the owner for permission to visit, explaining most home owners grant her access. She also sends letters to owners asking to inspect work after a permit has been pulled for construction or renovation and considers the cost of construction when assessing improvements.

A number of additional factors go into determining the value of a property, including the ranking of neighborhoods and style of the home. Properties in a neighborhood with a grade of “excellent” are charged a higher land value compared to properties in “moderate to average” neighborhoods.

Housing styles are ranked, with colonials charged the highest rate per square footage because of their desirability. The age of a home is considered, as its valuation depreciates with age. However, while a historical “antique” home may be charged a lower rate because of its age, substantial interior upgrades and renovations will raise the overall appraisal, Stamp explains. Finally, exterior features such as pools, patios, sheds, hot tubs, gazebos and barns are also noted.

Stamp considers comparable sales data and uses calculation tables to assess a home’s fair market value, noting that she only looks at “arm’s-length” sales and not sales or land transfers within families or other sale anomalies. Given these criteria, Stamp notes that Hanover Hill is currently considered the best neighborhood in Carlisle from the perspective of an assessor, in terms of neighborhood, style of home, age and grade.

Data updated regularly

Working with the board, Stamp recalculates property valuations every three years, making interim adjustments as needed and based on sales. When home sales were sluggish as a result of the economy, Stamp and the board lowered both land and home values. She uses a moving average of sales data, which can cause valuations to lag changes in the real estate market. For 2013, Stamp notes that only land values have been lowered. Lower property values do not necessarily lead to a lower tax bill. The town’s tax rate is adjusted after revaluations, since the town must still raise the funds needed to cover the appropriations approved by Town Meeting.

Special tax programs

While Carlisle has a two-acre minimum lot size for new development, there are a number of much larger properties within town. Stamp explains that the first two acres of larger lots are taxed at the maximum rate while excess land is taxed at a lower late. Residents with at least five acres can also request classification under the state’s Chapter 61 and Chapter 61A tax programs for land in forestry or agricultural use. If an owner decides to remove their land from these categories later, they are responsible for repaying five-year rollback taxes. Other restrictions may apply if the land is sold or developed within one year from the time it is reclassified.

Disagree with a tax bill?

Increasing or decreasing property values, typically the biggest investment for most people, does not make for an easy job says Stamp. “[It’s] not a job [where] you are going to make a lot of people happy.” Homeowners can file abatement requests at Town Hall within 30 days if they feel their property assessments are not correct on their January 1 tax bill. Stamp will inspect the property and bring it before the board for review.

While automobile valuation is set by the Department of Motor Vehicles, excise tax is collected through the town. Excise tax abatements can be applied if a vehicle is taken off the road or is damaged.

Property tax exemptions

Stamp notes that there are a number of property tax exemptions seniors can pursue as long as they fit age, income and asset requirements. For example, the Community Preservation Act (CPA) surcharge can be exempted if residents meet income requirements. Applications must be presented within 90 days of receiving the January 1 tax bill. There is also an exemption for veterans and an elderly tax deferral program. Both have no deadline for filing. More information can be found at the Assessor’s office.

Here to help

While acknowledging that Carlisle is an expensive town with high taxes, Stamp calls it a “hidden gem” and emphasizes the quality of the schools whenever she has a family in asking about properties. “I think building the new schools is really going to help the town,” says Stamp. “I think things are looking up again.” ∆