EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 11, 2012

Property values down, taxes up in Lawrence

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — Home values in Lawrence dropped almost across the board last year, led by a 5.1 percent decline in the value of the average single-family home – to $167,771 — according to a recent report by the city’s Board of Assessors.

The average condominium unit lost 2.2 percent of its value, while the value of three-family homes nudged downward about half a percentage point, according to the report.

Among residential properties, only two-family homes increased in value, but barely, inching up about half a percentage point.

Industrial properties also absorbed a blow last year, losing 2.6 percent of their worth, the report said. The value of the average commercial property was largely unchanged.

In all, Lawrence real estate shed $22.6 million in value last year, dropping to a total of $2.7 billion, a decline of 1 percent. The figures are based on property sales.

Meanwhile, owners of the average one-family home in the city will pay $5.40 less in property taxes this year, even as the overall tax rate for all residential properties jumps 5.2 percent, from $14.29 to $15.03 per $1,000 of value, under a schedule the City Council recently approved.

Taxes on condos and two- and three-family homes will go up an average of between $34 and $137 this year, under the schedule.

The increases on residential properties are due in part to the higher tax rates, and also to a vote by the City Council to shift some of the city’s personal and property tax burden from commercial and industrial owners to homeowners.

Residential properties, which account for about three quarters of the city’s $2.7 billion in total personal and real property values, will pay 59 percent of the taxes the city will collect this year.

Commercial and industrial properties, which account for about a quarter of all city property, will pay 41 percent of the tax burden. Although the share of the tax burden for these properties will drop - the amount of the decline was not immediately available - the tax rate will increase, from $31.81 to $33.62 per thousand dollars of assessed value.

In all, the city expecvts to collect $54.7 million in taxes on real and personal property this year, up 2.5 percent, the maximum allowed without an override.

Neighboring communities saw mixed changes in property values. In Methuen, the drop was steep: the city lost 4.6 percent of its property value between last year and this, dropping from a total of $4.3 billion to $4.1 billion. In Andover, the value of all property was unchanged at $8 billion.

In Lawrence, City Councilor Daniel Rivera, who chairs the council’s budget committee, said he expects the city will lag behind other communities as it recovers from a real estate slump that depressed property values nationwide.

“The overall perception of our community, the ranking of our schools, our poverty rate, all those things (have) an effect,” Rivera said. “People think we’re not a good place to own a single-family home.”

Brenda Rossi, president of the Sacred Heart Neighborhood Association in South Lawrence, said the recovery in the housing market hasn’t reached the ranch she owns on Chester Street.

“For what we were appraised at in 2004, to now, we could never sell it because we’d lose so much money,” Rossi said. “It was appraised at $265,000. If I wanted to sell it now, I couldn’t get $200,000.”

For now, Rossi said it doesn’t really matter.

“I’m not going to sell the house,” she said. “I love the neighborhood.”

Average property values and taxes in Lawrence Average value 2012 Average value 2013 Average tax bill 2012 Average tax bill 2013 Single-family homes $176,836 $167,771 $2,527 $2,522 Two-family homes $188,391 $189,725 $2,692 $2,852 Three-family homes $202,696 $201,908 $2,897 $3,035 Condo units $85,553 $83,683 $1,223 $1,258 Industrial properties $962,622 $937,904 $30,621 $31,529 Commercial properties $321,120 $321,939 $10,215 $10,824 Source: Lawrence Board of Assessors