In accordance with Connecticut General Statutes, the Town of Westport is conducting a real property “Full inspection” revaluation as required for the Grand List of October 1, 2015. This revaluation will correspond to the tax bills that will be due beginning in July 2016. The project is starting in the summer of 2014 due to the 8,300 residential properties and 300 commercial properties requiring physical inspection and data analysis.
The Purpose of a Revaluation
The main purpose of a revaluation is to develop accurate and uniform assessments among real estate, based on fair market value. This, in turn, will generate an equitable tax base throughout the town to ensure that the tax burden will be fairly distributed among Westport taxpayers. Revaluation is a revenue neutral process. This means that the total amount of taxes the town will need to collect will be about the same, regardless of whether or not a revaluation takes place. What is likely to change is the amount of taxes individual taxpayers pay, which can go down, up, or stay the same. July 2016 will be the first tax payments that are reflected by this revaluation.
The Revaluation Process
Revaluation is a long process required by state law, one that will take almost two years to complete between the start of the process and the payment of the first tax bills after the revaluation. The Town of Westport asks for patience during this process.
This process began in the spring of 2014 when the Town of Westport undertook a Request for Proposal to solicit proposals from state certified revaluation firms. The company selected was Vision Government Solutions Inc. (Vision) of Northboro, Massachusetts. Vision also performed Westport’s revaluations in 2005 and 2010, has been in business for over 30 years, and has performed over one hundred Connecticut revaluations. Some of Vision’s senior-most staff will be involved in Westport’s 2015 revaluation.
There are five major phases to a municipal revaluation: 1) Data Collection, 2) Market Analysis, 3) Valuation, 4) Field Review, and 5) Informal and Formal Appeal Hearings. Many tasks will be implemented during these phases in order to successfully complete the revaluation.
Phase 1 - Data Collection
Westport’s 2015 revaluation will be a “Full inspection” type revaluation. Westport’s last revaluation in 2010 was a “limited data verification” type revaluation in which historic data was used and data verification was limited to the sales. The 2015 revaluation involves revaluation staff visiting most properties in the town to verify exterior structural data and conduct interior inspections.
Prior to inspections, property owners will receive an introduction letter in the mail informing them that the revaluation is underway and that a Vision data collector will be in their neighborhood in the upcoming weeks.
Commencing September 2014, Vision personnel will begin property inspections in various sections of town working between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. This first phase will last for approximately a year. Data collectors will wear safety vests with the Vision logo and carry badges identifying them as Vision employees and will carry written documentation from the town stating their affiliation with the project. The employees and their vehicles will also be registered with the Westport Police Department and the Assessor’s Office. Homeowners are encouraged to ask for this identification prior to admitting anyone into their homes.
If homeowners have a question as to the identity of a data collector, they may call the Westport Police Department’s non-emergency number (203-341-6000). They may also contact the Vision Office in Town Hall (203-341-1164), Vision’s Westport Project Manager (1-800-628-1013, Ext. 3621) or the Town of Westport Assessor’s Office (203-341-1070) with any questions or concerns.
Data collectors will go to each property, measure the exterior of each building, and physically inspect the interior if provided access. They will note a building’s size, age, quality of construction, condition of improvements, land topography, utilities, and numerous other characteristics both inside and out. To ensure that a home was inspected, the homeowner will be asked to sign the data collection form to verify that the inspection took place. The entire process will take approximately 15 minutes for most properties.
While it is not mandatory for residents to allow inspectors interior access, the data is vitally important to the accuracy and uniformity of the assessments, and your cooperation is greatly appreciated. The Town of Westport and Vision fully understand the sensitivities of the interior inspection process. We realize that there will also be many cases where homeowners are not at home during the day due to their work schedule and other reasons. Thus, data collectors will measure the exterior of the home, make one more attempt to visit each property, and will be available to set up appointments to visit each property if their first “cold call” attempts are unsuccessful. Vision will send a “call back letter” to property owners whose properties they were unable to inspect asking them to contact Vision and set up an appointment for inspection.
With an understanding of security and privacy matters in today’s world, both the Town of Westport and Vision wish to make the inspection process as unobtrusive as possible. If someone other than the owner is home, the data collector will not inspect the interior of the home without the owner's permission. It is to everyone’s advantage if the town’s real estate database is as accurate as possible. Updating exterior images will also be part of this project.
Homeowners are reminded that specific questions regarding their current assessment and taxes due should be directed to the Westport Assessor’s Office. Vision data collectors are not prepared to answer questions concerning current values or town laws. The Vision data collector's sole purpose at the initial property inspection visit is to gather information. Actual assessed values and taxes based on those assessed values from this revaluation will be determined later, during the market analysis and valuation phases of this project.
Phase 2 - Market Analysis
A variety of resources are used to analyze the real estate market. Appraisal personnel will be analyzing property sales over the course of the past two years to determine which market factors influence property values. Once all the data has been collected and reviewed for accuracy, appraisers will determine land values and define neighborhoods, which rate the valuation levels of locations throughout the town as determined by actual market activity.
Phase 3 - Valuation
Valuation is done using three recognized appraisal methods: the Cost Approach, the Income Approach and the Sales Comparison Approach. During this phase, individual characteristics of buildings are analyzed using information gathered in both phases 1 and 2. Each property is compared to other comparable properties with similar characteristics. The contributory market value of improvements is added to the previously determined land values. This value is the final estimate for each parcel of property, including building and land.
Phase 4 - Field Review
Field Review is the method of checking and re-checking both the values that have been determined and the data that has been collected. During this review, properties are viewed in the field by experienced appraisers who double-check uniformity and accuracy of information.
Phase 5- Informal and Formal Appeal Hearings
In mid to late November 2015, property owners will receive a notice of their new assessment. All assessments will be available online to allow taxpayers to view surrounding properties. Taxpayers will be invited to participate in an informal hearing with Vision staff members if they wish to discuss their new assessments. The informal hearing is the first step in the appeal process if the property owner feels their assessment is inaccurate. The informal hearings will take place in late November and during December 2015. A follow-up notice will be mailed to owners who participate in an informal hearing, showing any change to the assessment.
All owners will receive another assessment notice in early 2016. Owners who wish to formally appeal their assessment will have the opportunity to do so at Board of Assessment Appeals hearings. This formal appeal process is undertaken annually by state statute.
After all five phases are completed, all data, files, records, etc. used in the revaluation will be turned over to the Assessor’s Office. This will allow the town to maintain the data collected and values determined during the revaluation on a continual basis.