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The short answer is: because we have to. The longer answer is that we can't expect our taxpayers to be confident that their assessment reflects the true cash value of their property if the data for the property is wrong. For that reason, the Department of Revenue has mandated that the assessors (or an authorized representative) for all towns and cities in Massachusetts must physically inspect every parcel of real property, be it taxable or exempt, to ensure the quality and integrity of our property data. Certain events at your property will let the assessors know that we need to do an inspection at your property:
If none of those events happen at your property, we still have to inspect your property at least once every 10 years.
It's possible that we'll end up visiting your property more than once in that 10-year period. For instance, if you purchase your home in April, you should expect that the assessor will be dropping by sometime in early May for an inspection. At that point, if you do nothing else, you won't see the assessor again for quite a while. However, if you pull a building permit in June of that same year to add on a new deck, you should expect another visit from the assessor the following January to see the new work. Every visit resets the 10-year clock on your property.
Inspections are conducted Monday through Friday between 9 am and 3:30 pm. Fieldwork is a year-round enterprise for us and we've tried to instill a sense of regularity with our efforts. The annual fieldwork schedule looks something like this:
Your most recent inspection date can be found on your property's field card, which you can find by visiting our Online Assessment Database. If your property is due for a cyclical inspection, you'll find a notice from our office stuck in your front door 2 weeks before the scheduled date letting you know that we're coming. While we're able to guarantee the day we'll be there, we're unable to guarantee a specific time. If the day on your letter doesn't work for you, please give us a call and we'll try to find a date that works better for you.
Unless physically barred from entering your property, the Assessor will always approach your home from the street it fronts on and knock on your door or ring the bell. If you don't answer, the Assessor will proceed to the exterior portion of the inspection (new photos, measurements, etc.). If the assessor has reason to believe someone is home and not answering the door, he will try other doors he comes across as he makes his way around the property to give you every opportunity to answer. When this is completed, he will leave the property, and that's the end of the process.
If you're home and you answer the door, the Assessor will ask your permission to enter your home for a few minutes to do a very brief interior inspection. 99.9% of the time, he will not photograph the interior of your home at all; the only exceptions are if your home features some rare or unique feature such as a movie theater or wine cellar; in those cases, only that feature will be photographed. The only purpose of the interior inspection is to get a general feel for the interior's quality and its condition relative to the age of the house. Once this is done, the Assessor will exit your home and conduct the exterior inspection before leaving the property.
Whether you live in a cottage or a mansion, a property inspection should be completed no more than 15 minutes after the Assessor steps on your property.
There is no law in Massachusetts that requires you to let an assessor onto your property or into your home. We make every effort to be as courteous, professional and expeditious as we can with these inspections because we're keenly aware of how intrusive they are by nature. However, if you still feel uncomfortable with allowing us into your home, you are entirely within your rights to turn us away. That being said: property owners that refuse a property inspection at any point during the 10-year cycle and then subsequently appeal their assessment will often have their applications denied until such a time as they provide the assessor with access to the property.
In the majority of instances, no... but it can happen from time to time. It should be clarified that the assessor has nothing to do with how high or low your taxes are. The residents of Orleans are the body that decides how high the taxes will be when they vote for the town budget at the annual town meeting. All the assessor is doing on your property is verifying the property data. Ensuring that this data continues to be accurate is how you know that you're shouldering only the portion of the tax levy that is fair to you. The assessor showing up at your property does not mean "The town's looking to get more money out of me." That's just not at all how things work.
The only time your property's value is impacted by an inspection is if the physical data for your property has to be changed due to 1) unpermitted construction work you've done at your property since the last time we inspected or 2) past errors on our part that have not been corrected. So if you added or removed finished space in your basement, added or removed a shed or barn, or redid your kitchen without getting any building permits, the assessor will note the change at the time of the inspection and your value will be impacted. If you deny us entry or access in order to prevent the assessor from seeing updates you've made without permits, the assessor with make his best estimate as to the current quality and condition of the property based on what he is able to observe. We don't like estimating; estimates can be wrong and we don't like being wrong.
15 minutes of cooperation on your part once every 10 years to make sure everyone in town, including you, is being treated fairly is all we're asking for here.
Any questions at all about our mandatory fieldwork program should be directed to the Assessor at 508-240-3700, ext. 2430.