Twenty Questions with Marblehead’s Assessor

The FY2020 (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020) tax rate has been set at $10.39, down from $10.74 in FY2019. While the median single family (SFH) assessment increased 7.0%, or $44,000, to $674,000, the median SFH tax bill increased by half that – 3.5% – or $236, to $7,003. The commercial rate has once again been set at the same level as the residential rate.

Note that the tax rate includes the cost of debt exclusions (mainly for school construction and items like the new transfer station) voted by residents. Debt service accounts for $0.98 of the 2020 tax rate, down from $1.02 in 2019. Excluding the cost of debt service, the tax rate fell from $9.72 to $9.41.

Marblehead’s 2020 tax rate will again be the second lowest of the 34 cities and towns in Essex County. The highest rate in Essex County belongs to Wenham at $18.94; the lowest Rockport at $10.10; and the median is $13.68.

Approximately 75% of Marblehead’s revenue comes from property taxes.

Real-estate assessments for Fiscal Year 2020 were mailed at the end of last year. Assessor Mike Tumulty answered questions about the process.

1. What is the timeframe upon which assessments are based?
MT. For FY2020, assessments are based upon values as of January 2019, using sales data for calendar year 2018. Sales that took place in calendar year 2019, therefore, will be the basis for the assessment for FY 2021.

2. What percentage of properties sells each year?
MT. In 2019 there were 263 sales of SFHs, or 4.2% of the stock of 6,223 houses, and 86 sales of condos, representing 8.7% percent of the stock of 986 units.

AO. While it is hard to get an accurate read on national statistics, it is certainly true that we stay in our houses longer than do people elsewhere. No surprise there: Marblehead is not only a great place to live, but it is also extremely well run, as demonstrated by our low tax rate.

3. Is there a minimum requirement for assessment purposes?
MT. The assessment process requirement is 2 % for each property class, or a minimum of 20 units. Where there are fewer than 20 sales, as in categories such as multi-families and commercial, data for 24 months is used. For FY 2020 that period is July 2017 to June 2019.

4. Can I appeal my assessment?
MT. Yes, provided the appeal is based upon data for the relevant year. More information and directions for filing an application are available at

5. What is the process for appealing my assessment?
MT. An appeal for abatement can be made after receipt of the third quarter tax bill mailed in December and no later than Feb. 1. The appeal, which must be based upon valuation during the relevant period (i.e., 2018 calendar year sales for the current assessment), must specify the reason for the complaint. A current appraisal is not relevant. The assessor’s office will analyze the property and the information provided. If the data is incorrect or there is evidence provided that the valuation is wrong, the assessor’s office will change the valuation.

6. Does the assessment process include all transactions that occur?
MT. The process includes all arms-length transactions. Excluded are non-arms-length transactions, such as those involving foreclosure, bankruptcy, estate sales, divorce and the purchase and sale following remodeling.

7. What is the authority under which assessments are made?
MT. Chapter 59 of the Massachusetts General Laws. The process is overseen by the Department of Revenue.

8. How does Prop 2 1/2 affect assessments?
MT. The tax levy on all property in Marblehead in aggregate (not on individual properties) can be increased by no more than 2 1/2 percent per annum. To this total is added the tax on new growth (such as new construction, condo conversions, any improvements/parcels taxed for first time) and any overrides or debt exclusions, to calculate the new tax levy.

9. What are the measurements used in the assessment process?
MT. An assessment-sales ratio (ASR) is calculated for each property sold by dividing the current assessed valuation by the sales price. A property assessed at $100,000 that sold for $100,000 would have an ASR of 100%. If that property sold for $110,000, the ASR would be 91% ($100,000/110,000). If the property sold for $90,000, the ASR would be 111% ($110,000/90,000).
AO. Remember that the assessment is based upon data from earlier years, not the current year. A property that sells in 2020, for example, will be assessed based upon data for the year 2018. If the market had risen in the last two years it would be reasonable to expect that the current market price would be higher than that on which the assessment was based.
MT. A second factor is the “coefficient of dispersion,” which indicates how tightly the ratios are clustered around the median ratio. The lower the COD, the greater the uniformity in appraised values.

10. What are the state requirements for assessment values?
MT. The ASR for residential property must be in a range of 90-100 percent, and the COD must be no more than 10 percent. The ASR must be consistent throughout town for all types of property, both by classification – e.g. residential or commercial – and by price range. The purpose is to prevent one class of property subsidizing others.

11. What are Marblehead’s goals?
MT. An ASR of 95 percent. With a COD of 10 percent, that means that the range of ASRs should be 90-100 percent. Bear in mind that these are the values at the time the assessments are made. The actual ASRs at the time of sale will vary depending upon market conditions.

12. How did Marblehead do last year?
MT. For both Single Family Homes (SFH) and Condos the ASR was 98% and the COD for both less than 6%.
AO. These numbers apply to the entire stock of housing and are medians, but the results speak to the overall accuracy of assessments.

13. How big is Marblehead?
MT. 4.2 square miles with 14 miles of coastline and 30 residential neighborhoods.

14. What happens when property changes hands — what does the assessor’s office do?
MT. The assessor’s office receives data on all sales and sends out a questionnaire (which is completed by 80 percent of buyers) to the new owner. This data provides background information and is taken into account for subsequent assessments.

15. What happens when improvements are made?
MT. The assessor’s office receives copies of all building permits and visits every site for which a permit is pulled. The assessor’s office determines the progress of work as of July 1, regardless of the status at the building department.

16. Which improvements have the greatest/least impact on assessed values?
MT. The greatest: new construction, additions, bathroom and kitchens. The least: those that minimize deferred maintenance: siding/roofing/windows — items that are expected and integral to functionality and habitation

17. How does Marblehead tax commercial property?
MT. Each year, the assessor’s office presents to the Board of Selectmen a schedule showing the impact of implementing a commercial rate that is allowed, by law, to be higher than the residential rate. In Marblehead, 95 percent of property is residential, so the imposition of a separate, higher commercial rate would have a disproportionate impact on commercial taxes. Indeed, if the share of the tax bill paid by commercial owners were increased by the maximum 50 percent, the reduction in the tax paid by the median homeowner would be just $189 per annum, while the increase on a similarly assessed commercial property would be $3,505.

18. Are there exemptions available?
MT. Statutory exemptions, for which the town is reimbursed by the state, are available for eligible taxpayers and include exemptions for the elderly, veterans, the blind and widows. More information on exemptions is available from the assessor’s office, 781-631-0236, or e-mail, Please take advantage of those for which you are eligible.

19. How does the senior work-off program work?
MT. Opportunities for duties such as filing, phone coverage and light clerical work are available for senior citizens through the Senior Work-off Program. Seniors over 60 who meet certain income guidelines can earn a rebate on their taxes of up to $750. Applications for this program go through the Council on Aging office on Humphrey Street, 781-631-6737.

20. What is the outlook for FY 2021 assessments and tax rates?
AO. The FY 2021 assessments will be based upon sales in 2019, when the median price of SFH sales reported in MLS increased 4.1% to $717,500.
It is likely, therefore, that residential assessed values will be going up again in FY2021. Debt service costs, however, will be increasing quite sharply largely reflecting increased debt to fund the new Gerry school. Overall, my preliminary estimate is that the tax rate in FY 2021 will be similar to the $10.39 of FY 2019.

How is Marblehead’s 2020 Property Tax rate calculated?
Will house prices continue to rise in 2020?
Are You Thinking of Selling in 2020?

Andrew Oliver is the Market Analyst for Team Harborside, a Realtor with Sagan Harborside Sotheby’s International Realty and author of, a real estate blog covering Essex County.