EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 9, 2013

Lawrence home prices rebound after 6-year slump

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — Atop the gate to Don Silva’s Victorian home on Franklin Avenue, just beyond the garden where he grows Concord grapes to make wine and flowering trees to attract hummingbirds, there’s a barbed-wire reminder of how much his Arlington neighborhood has changed since he bought the house as a newlywed 35 years ago.

“Just enough to aggravate them,” Silva said, referring to the wire he installed to keep out the burglars he said he’s confronted inside his home, along with the drug dealers and prostitutes outside. “Spend a few hours out here, you’ll see a few drug dealers. Another thing that kills a neighborhood — there’s too many rooming houses.”

Across the Merrimack River on Chester Street in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, there are no boarding houses, drug busts are rare and a barbed-wire fence would seem out of place where most homes have lawns and trees out front.

“I love it here. The neighbors are great,” said Brenda Rozzi, describing the cozy suburban feel of the street where she and her husband, John, bought a ranch-style home in 1999 and added a second floor when their daughter, Amy, moved back home.

“And the neighborhood’s safe,” John Rozzi interjected.

These two Lawrences — one barbed-wired and littered, the other comfortable and trim — played out between the numbers in a report the Board of Assessors released last week detailing shifting home values in the city and how they will impact property taxes in the upcoming fiscal year.

The good news for the Silva, a retired city water plant worker, and his wife, Gladys, is that property taxes for single-family homes like their’s in the Arlington neighborhood — the city’s poorest — will be the lowest in the city next year, and among the lowest in Massachusetts. The new tax bill on the average single-family home there will be $2,003 based on the report Chief Assessor Breda Daou delivered to the City Council Tuesday.

In the Mount Vernon neighborhood — the city’s wealthiest — property taxes on single-family homes like the Rozzi’s will be the highest in the city in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. Single-family homeowners there will pay an average of $3,071, which is 54 percent more than similar homes in Arlington.

The figure may be high for Lawrence, but it’s more than $1,300 less than the statewide average of $4,390 in 2010, the last year for which numbers are available.

The tax bill for specific properties will range depending on how the value of each has changed. But the tax rate on the average home will increase 53 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, to $15.61, in July. For commercial and industrial properties, the tax rate per $1,000 of value also will increase 27 cents, to $33.70.

On average, the value of single-family homes nudged up $447, to $168,218, last year compared to the year before, according to the assessors’ report. The three-tenths of a percent increase was not nearly enough to regain the $9,000 in value the average single-family home lost the year before, but it may signal that residential property values have bottomed out and begun a tentative rebound from the nationwide collapse of home prices that began in 2008. The numbers are based on actual sales.

The value of two- and three family homes in Lawrence rebounded more dramatically last year.

The average two-family home gained $14,183 in value, to $203,908, Daou reported. The increase is 7.4 percent.

The average three-family home gained $26,038, to $227,946, an increase of 12.9 percent.

Only condominium units lost value. The average lost $3,097, and is now worth $80,586.

Combined, home values in Lawrence jumped an average of 4.8 percent last year, Daou reported.

Like residential properties, business properties in the city also had a mixed year.

The average industrial property added $46,153 in value, to $983,957, a 4.9 percent increase.

The average commercial property lost $11,881 in value, to $310,058, a 3.4 percent drop.

In all, the total value of property in Lawrence increased 3.4 percent, to $2.9 billion, the assessors’ report said. The number includes real estate and personal property.

Residential properties account for $2.6 billion of the total, equal to 77 percent, a lopsided number that reflects industry’s flight from Lawrence over much of the last century. Commercial properties are worth $297.2 billion, industrial properties are worth $204.7 billion and personal property is worth $158.4 billion.

Although residential properties account for more than three-quarters of the city’s property value, they will carry only about 61 percent of the tax burden beginning July 1.

That number could increase next year if home values continue their rebound and commercial and industrial properties put in another mixed year. Brenda Rozzi said she sees the residential market picking up steam in Mount Vernon, where she says the value of her own four-bedroom ranch has increased $15,000 since the housing bust of 2008, to $223,000.

“More houses are being sold — it’s wonderful,” Rozzi said, pointing from her dining room toward homes on her block and rattling off their selling prices. “$227,000 — sold. $218,000 — sold. $219,000 — on the market. The economy is bouncing back. People are willing to buy in Lawrence.”