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Your Home is Not Your Castle

The good news is that real estate values are going up, up, up, especially in Back Bay and the South End. The bad news is that your tax bill is too. A glance at your recent tax bill will convince you that the City of Boston has determined that your humble condo is really a castle. You may disagree with that assessment, and this time there are ways to fight City Hall. These urban guerilla tactics are known as abatements and exemptions. Here's how they work.

An abatement is a reduction in your property tax bill based upon a showing that your home is over-assessed, disproportionately assessed, improperly classified or exempt from taxation. The City's determination of your home's value is based upon the sales of similar properties during the last calendar year, not the price you paid. If you think your home has been over-valued, file an abatement application immediately! Applications must be received and time-stamped at the Assessing Department no later than 5 P.M. on January 30th. Once filed, you'll have 30 more days to back up your application with "comps", sales of comparable properties in the same neighborhood. So, if you think you've been overassessed, your best bet is file for an abatement and then do your homework.

You'll only get an abatement if you can point to recent sales of homes in your neighborhood. Be prepared to explain in detail why you believe your home was over-valued. Not all space is created equal, so a condominium home with parking, a balcony, and penthouse views will be worth considerably more than the same sized condo without these amenities. Two good sources of information on home sales is the Registry of Deeds and a local real estate broker.

Don't fail to pay your taxes just because you've got an abatement application pending. Not only will interest continue to accrue, you could lose your right to appeal an adverse decision. Generally, the Assessing Dept. will act on your abatement application within 3 months, at which time you'll receive a notice of approval or denial. Don't be daunted. If you do a little homework, the payoff can be big.

Even if you don't qualify for an abatement, you might be eligible for a Residential or Personal Exemption. All you have to do is ask. The City offers Personal Exemptions to owner-occupants who are elderly, blind, surviving spouses, veterans, or children of deceased parents. Each exemption has its own requirements, including income restrictions. You're only allowed only one exemption, but if you fit into more than one category the City will give you the exemption that saves you the most money. Applications for residential and personal exemptions must be received by March 31. After that date the window of opportunity is shut for another year.

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