Looking For Contributors For Connecticut Town Memory Pages

As part of our expansion of our Connecticut town pages, we are going to add town memory pages, with photos, history and memories of their towns submitted by readers. We for quite awhile have been reading the town groups on Facebook  many of which begin “You grew up in” followed by the community, or similar wording. In those groups we have seen some great photos of their towns and some notable memories of the community.

One such conversation sparked this idea for this page. Almost a year ago someone brought up one of my favorite high school teachers and a thread followed with wonderful memories of this man. As things happen in these groups the conversation got pushed further and further down the page until it was lost. A few weeks back someone brought up the teachers name again, and I and a few others chimed in once again, but the vast majority of the memories were not displayed. The same thing happens with some of the wonderful historic photos that people share. They scroll off the page and into history.

The memory pages are designed to provide a place where the information won’t scroll off into obscurity. If you have memories of someone in your town that made a difference in your community, or a place that meant something to the people of the town, or have a memory of a historic event in your town that you would like to share, we want to make a place for it. Here is our first page added to a town, which will be fleshed out more with time.

We are looking for people to share their town memories with others. Those that want to share a person, place, event or photo that was important in your town you can email it to us at memories contact.


School and Crime Rate Links Added to Hartford, New Haven and Fairfield County Towns

Hartford School Districts

Hartford School Districts

Our town resource pages keep growing. We have now added School information and Crime Rate links to the Hartford, New Haven and Fairfield County town pages. These were the two most requested items to add to our site and we researched different sources for the best link to utilize. The links included were chosen as they provide good basic information for free, and allow for those that need more detailed information a subscription that provides very detailed research. You can access on 169 Connecticut town pages from our Connecticut Page.

The school link leads to a great resource that provides information on each towns school districts including total students, schools, districts, rankings versus the state and nationally. There is also more detailed reports for those that wish to subscribe to their services. But whether you subscribe or not, you will find valuable on information on town schools.

Crime Rate statistics included for free include the towns crime index, crimes per 1,000 residents (violent and property) and crime comparisons versus the State at large. Subscribers to their service can get crime information broken down by neighborhood.

These links will continue to be added to the towns in the remaining 5 counties, along with finishing our locational narratives that are already completed for Hartford, New Haven and Fairfield Counties.

We are also looking for more suggestions on what people would like to see on our town resource pages. The idea for school and crime rate links came from our readers and we want to know what else they might want to see added. If you have a suggestion please add it under comments here.


Glamping and Portable hotels

There is a new international trend that hasn’t yet caught on in the U.S. but does offer some interesting possibilities portable hotels and glamping. Glamping which is basically glorified camping, is available in the United States but is handled somewhat differently. Normandy Farms in Massachusetts for example can be classified as glamping as it is an upscale facility with a creative arts center and a fitness center that includes an indoor pool. They even have cabins and Yurts that people can rent if they don’t have their own campers or tents.

However, a company called Pop-up Hotel in England has really transformed glamping. First of all, unlike American facilities that are permanent fixtures with people providing their own tents or campers like Normandy Farms, Pop-up Hotel is very temporary. They can set up for an area, and be gone right after it is over. Also unlike the U.S. versions they supply the tents and all amenities. But these aren’t your boy scout camping tents.  These are custom designed, based upon safari tents, but with wood decks, full size double beds that have hotel spec mattresses, and  are “draped with sumptuous hand printed fabrics.” With amenities like that I might never have quit the Cub Scouts.

pop up hotel tentThe basic units still have some of the rustic nature of camping in that there is communal bathrooms and showers. However, if that is a little too rough for you their suites feature covered decks, king size beds and their own bathrooms.

Pop-up Hotel contracts with events or nearby landowners and have, or are scheduled to appear at events in the United Kingdom such as Carfest, Goodwood Revival and several festivals, along with River Cottage. That gives you an idea of how an enterprising company could utilize them here. Think of Woodstock with a refined English Tea effect. Ok maybe not, but there are plenty of festivals, events and even multi day concerts that could benefit from some refined camping, for us baby boomers that don’t relish driving forever or sleeping on the hard ground to experience things.

You say private bathrooms are nice, but it’s still “freaking camping” as my wife once called it after a real camping outing with her family.  Well don’t worry because another company in England has you covered. Snoozebox has portable hotels that can be set up in 48 hours. They are basically metal shipping containers outfitted with a double bed, single bunk and “wet room” which has a shower area, sink and toilet. These rooms also have air conditioning, wireless internet, a personal safe, flat screen tv and key card entry.

snoozebox interior

Along with its portable hotel that can be uses for such things as music festivals and major sporting events, it is being touted for emergency and disaster relief, temporary military housing, staff housing for film, tv and productions on location, and large private events. They have already been utilized at the Edinborough Festival where they will have a 120 units in the center of Historic Old Town, the Festival of Speed, the British Grand Prix, at Hainault Forest Country Park in Essex for Olympic security personal and the Queens Diamond Jubilee Pageant at Windsor Castle as examples.

The concept seems to have great potential for use in the United States as well. Because it is the standard ISO container size it can be loaded, stacked and transported quickly and efficiently via  ships, airplanes, trains or truck to anyplace in the U.S. Imagine being able to set up emergency housing within a few days after Catrina or having them set up in vacant lots in cities to handle over flow visitors for such events like the Super Bowl, the NCAA Basketball Finals or a Nascar event. Another potential use is to utilize vacant commercial land as an interim use until a more viable Highest and Best Use can be developed and financed.

As a non camper and a commercial appraiser I must confess that the Snoozebox concept excites me more, as I can see it being utilizable in an urban landscape as well as more rural locals, not to mention the units having locks, and air conditioning. But no matter your tastes and interests the Pop-up hotel concept is certainly a movement to watch and see if it takes hold in the United States.


Reverse Mortgages

In a past article we explored a trend for elderly parents living with their children while maintaining separate quarters in our article “Is a Granny Pod In Your Future.” However, there are many parents that don’t want to leave their house. Whether it is a feeling of a loss of freedom, becoming a burden or just being comfortable and happy where they are, they want to stay in their house.

house on moneyWith property taxes, medical expenses and utilities all increasing rapidly, some older home owners find that they need financial help to stay in the home they love. Reverse Mortgages were designed to use the equity build up in a lifetime in a home to help them stay in it.

Reverse Mortgages have been around since the 1960’s, although originally they were available from a few private companies. The Federal Government first got involved with Reverse Mortgages in 1987 when it authorized HECM’s (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage) through HUD. The first HUD insured HECM was processed in 1989. Originally it was set up as a temporary program limited to 2,500 loans. However, in 1998 it was turned into a permanent program.

The growth of reverse mortgages was slow at first and it wasn’t until 2008 that the annual number of these mortgages surpassed 100,000.  There were a total of 493,815 active HECM insured loans by May 2010, which accounts for approximately 90% of all reverse mortgages.

A reverse mortgage is designed for seniors to access the equity in their house to help cover expenses, make upgrades or whatever else funds are needed for while still being able to stay in their homes. Unlike a conventional mortgage or equity loan, there is no monthly payment to the home owner. Instead the loan has to be paid off after the owners no longer occupy the house or if they default on the loan by not paying property taxes and insurance. The homeowner has five different ways they can receive their funds. HUD identifies them as follows:

  • Tenure– equal monthly payments as long as at least one borrower lives and continues to occupy the property as a principal residence.
  • Term– equal monthly payments for a fixed period of months selected.
  • Line of Credit– unscheduled payments or in installments, at times and in an amount of your choosing until the line of credit is exhausted.
  • Modified Tenure– combination of line of credit and scheduled monthly payments for as long as you remain in the home.
  • Modified Term– combination of line of credit plus monthly payments for a fixed period of months selected by the borrower.

The amount of money that a home owner can receive varies based on several factors; The appraised value of the home, the age of the youngest owner, interest rates, and the program you choose HECM Standard or HECM Saver (saver requires lower Initial Mortgage Insurance premium, but has a loan with a lower percentage of the home’s value). The minimum age for this loan is 62 and the older the borrower the higher percentage of equity can be utilized.

As a protection to elderly every person that applies for the loan must first receive consumer information from a HECM counselor prior to obtaining the loan. The counseling is offered for free or at very low-cost. As with any loan there are positives and negatives to the loan, and the counseling is designed to highlight both so homeowners can have a complete understanding of the risks and rewards.

This loan is not for everyone, but it may just help some people stay in their home or allow them to live a more comfortable life for their remaining years.

Here are links to additional reading on the subject:

Frequently Asked Questions on HUD’s Reverse Mortgages

National Council on Aging’s Use Your Home to Stay at Home

AARP’s Are Reverse Mortgages Risky?

AARP’s 10 Things You Should Know About Reverse Mortgages.



Recommendation – Kenneth Barber & Associates LLC Attorneys at Law

We earlier recommended an attorney that we have worked with in the Danbury area. Now we want to share a law firm that services central and eastern Connecticut. I am pleased to say that I have had the honor of working with Attorney Barber on several occasions. He is professional and yet friendly, a tough combination to manage. My experience is that he is willing to fight hard for his clients and that is one of the most important things you want in an attorney.

His office covers a wide range of services from civil litigation to real estate law. Being an appraiser, my experience with him has been in areas involving real estate, where I was impressed with his knowledge and abilities.

Located in East Hampton, Barber and Associates covers Middlesex, Hartford, Tolland and New London Counties.  If you have legal needs in any of those areas, I strongly recommend contacting them at 860-267-2263 or just go to their website here.


How To Appeal Your Assessment

Yesterday we discussed how to challenge your revaluation assessment.  We left it after the informal hearing process as after that point it is the same as a normal assessment appeal. So lets discuss how to get more formal with your appeal.

The State of Connecticut requires each town assessor to post the grand list for their town on or before January 31st of each year. The grand list  contains the assessed values of all property in the town. The Assessor’s office has to mail a written notice of assessment increase to the last-known address of the owner of a property that has had an increase in their assessment since the last grand list.  This letter has to be mailed between October 1st and February 10th provided that the assessor isn’t granted an extension for signing the grand list. Included in the letter is the old and new assessments, the method the assessor developed the value, and the procedure to appeal the assessment.

Many towns will allow for an informal hearing, which may be as little as a phone conversation if there is physical errors. However, this is not a requirement. Assuming they either don’t agree with you on an informal appeal or don’t offer that option a formal appeal has to be filed by February 20th or March 20th if the Assessor has been granted a delay in posting the grand list.

Rather than go through all the information the forms require, we have provided two sample assessment appeal applications. These will give you an idea of what your town will need if they don’t provide online access to appeal applications. If they do of course you should just get familiar with your towns. In any even you do need to fill out your towns specific form to file the appeal.
You will note that besides asking for information on the owner, property information, etc. they ask for a reason for the appeal and also an estimate of what you think the value is.  To fill out that bit of information you may want to consider hiring an appraiser to develop a value, although there is no rule requiring it. One important thing to remember is that the estimate of value must be the value of the property as of October 1st the year of the last revaluation, as property values are locked in as of that date (for example if you are located in Canton the values are set as of October 1st of 2008 until the next revaluation in 2013).
After you file your appeal you will be given a hearing date for some time in April to go before the Board of Assessment Appeal. At that time you or your representative should have all the information you have developed to show why your property value should be reduced. Examples of things to provide are pictures of items that would affect the subject’s property value, comparable sales that better show your property’s value, an appraisal or anything else that would support your claim.
If after all that, the Board of Assessment Appeal still does not agree with your appeal request you still have one more remedy. You may file an appeal with the Superior Court for the district in which your property is located.
There are several factors you should consider, when deciding whether to appeal and how far to carry the process. First of all if there is an obvious physical characteristic error reported for your subject you should always challenge. Often these items can be corrected by just a phone call and possibly an inspection by the Assessor’s office so you can show them their error.
If you feel that your property has been overvalued for other reasons, condition, construction, location, or just that you have more similar sales that show they were wrong, and you have the ability to present that information on your own, it may be worth giving it a try as it only takes your time. I would recommend this method if either you are a real estate professional or if there is only a year or two left until the next revaluation and the value difference isn’t significant, e.g. you would only save a couple of hundred dollars for one or two years. If that is the case then there is no point in hiring an appraiser as the cost of the appraisal doesn’t justify the tax reduction. In addition there is always a chance the appraiser will find the assessment is right or even if he agrees with you the board could still reject the appeal.
If, however, you feel that the taxes are over $300-$400 high and you have two years left until revaluation then it may well be worth getting an appraisal as you could save $600 to $800 (an assessment reduction of $10,000 and a mill rate of 30 will save the home owner $300 per year in taxes).
Anything above $300-$400 per year in potential savings or even a little less for more years left on the revaluation, then you should seriously consider looking into getting an appraisal to better make your argument and increase your chances of succeeding.  An assessment reduction of $20,000 in the first year of a revaluation in a town that has an average mill rate of 25 over the life of the revaluation, would mean a savings of $2,500 over the five-year period until the next revaluation.
Property owners of commercial properties and over improved properties are two groups that often can find even more significant reductions as they are often dealing with higher values with a wider variation in values, and mass appraisal approaches can break down for unique properties.
In conclusion, only you the property owner can decide whether the effort and expense (if you get professional help) of an appeal is worth it. But if you feel that you are being over assessed, you should at least consider the possibility of appealing your assessment.

How to Challenge Your Revaluation

As we have mentioned in a previous article there are 39 towns in Connecticut that are currently going through revaluation. A sampling of the towns websites shows a wide range of information provided by the communities that are in the process, from a one line mention that their last revaluation was in 2007 and their next one is scheduled in 2012, to a very thorough explanation of what revaluation means, why they do it and how to appeal the assessment.

your house as seen byFor those of you that don’t have the advantage of a town that helps you with the process, we are  making this guide. It is important to note that some dates and procedures are locked in by State statute, while others are left up to the discrepancy of the town. We will try to highlight which is which.

Towns that have a revaluation for 2012 are well underway with the process by the writing of this article. Typically they will have started the process last year. There are two types of revaluation, the first is classified as measuring and listing, which is the more thorough of the two, with physical inspection of the properties. The other is more of a statistical update to correct inequities due to market changes.

The effective date of a grand list is set by State mandate as being locked in as of October 1st, so for 2012 revaluations, towns will have those values set by October 1, 2o12. At some point after that, usually some time in November the town’s assessors office will mail out to all property owners revaluation notices showing the new assessment for their properties based on the October 1st market value.

During that time most towns will give property owners their first opportunity to appeal the new assessment. Taxpayers can set up an informal hearing either with the revaluation company or the assessor’s office (the letters should include how to appeal the assessment).

Here is the Cromwell Assessor’s office website detailing their procedures for appeal. Keep in mind that the initial part of the appeal may vary from town to town.

If you believe your appraisal is in excess of fair market value, the first step is to contact the Revaluation Company (following the instruction on your notice) for an informal hearing. This is the proper time and place to correct any clerical errors and/or miscalculations. A member of the Revaluation company staff will review the data that is pertinent to your property. If an error has been made which affect the value of your property adjustment will be made. If there’s a significant difference between the data on your property card then the revaluation personnel will schedule another inspection and review your property to insure accuracy. There are 3 steps available to all property owners who wish to appeal:

  1. An informal hearing with the Revaluation Company. Afterwards, you could request a meeting with the Assessor to review your information.
  2. A formal hearing with the Board of Assessment Appeal. Any evidence you may have that may affect your assessment should be present. The board can either reduce or increase your value based on the evidence provided.
  3. If a disagreement remains as to the appraised value. Then an appeal to the court under section 12-117a is next. Step two must have been taken to file an appeal in court.

Steps 2 and 3 are the same for all appeal procedures and will be discussed in more detail in a later article.

Since the first meeting is an informal hearing and you have a very limited time to prepare, this typically deals with any physical or math calculation errors. An example is if the assessment information has the house listed as having two bathrooms, but there is only one. These are easily verified and corrected. A Connecticut assessor took a survey of homeowners and found that 5% of the responses indicated their town’s revaluation information contained this type of error. One can still try to challenge other areas of the assessment during this meeting, such as providing comparables that you feel are more appropriate that would indicate a lower value. However, such changes require more documentation and may have more success at the formal hearings.

The informal hearing is a good way to address changes in your assessment before the grand list is actually certified, at which point the process is well on its way and the more formal procedure takes over. So if you are in a town that is going through a revaluation this year start looking for those notifications from the town and look it over carefully, it could save you a lot of money over the next five years.

(Our next article will go into more detail about the formal hearing process that is used for all assessment appeals whether during a revaluation year or not).


Understanding Revaluation in a Declining Market

With 48 towns going through revaluation last year and another 39 scheduled for this year, the reality of declining property values and fluctuations in neighborhood and property type values has many taxpayers shaking there had and wondering if they are being unfairly taxed. This article hopefully will shed some light on that.

Property value cartoonThe first thing to understand is that your assessment in and of itself has no effect on the taxes you pay. What really affect’s your real estate taxes is how your assessment relates to other properties both commercial and residential, and how all those assessments as a whole relate to the amount of personal property and motor vehicle values in your town to make up the Grand List.

This is because the taxes you pay is a simple formula of your mill rate times your assessment.    So if your assessment is $100,000 and your mill rate is 50 you are paying the same amount as if your assessment is $1,000,000 and your mill rate is 5.

The question becomes what determines the mill rate? That also is a pretty basic calculation. You take the towns budget divide it into the grand list, then divide by 1,000 and you have your mill rate ( in reality it isn’t that simple as a town has other income such as state and federal subsidies and grants, investment income and possibly reserves if they choose to use them, that would reduce the budget amount that has to be applied against the grand list).

Since the majority of income Connecticut towns receive comes from the grand list (real estate made up typically between 80% and 95%) most of the budget burden falls on it.

Connecticut mandates that properties be assessed at 70% of market value. It further requires that every town perform a revaluation every five years with at least every other one entailing measuring and listing all real property.

The purpose of the revaluation is to not only set property values but to ensure that properties are assessed equitably. Although we often read about how property values have increased or more recently declined at a certain rate, in reality values of different types of real estate fluctuate differently and in some instances different sections of a town’s property values may change at a different rate.  So revaluations are performed to recognize these differences and adjust for them.

If this adjustment was made annually the differences would be more subtle and the individual tax payer would have these fluctuations hit a little bit at a time. But over a 5 year period those changes can multiply leaving the property owner with a tax shock. That is what is happening in Connecticut. As an example most towns in Connecticut found the tax burden of residential properties rise between 2% – 7% or more as compared to other property types between 2006 and 2009 (the most recent year that the Office of Policy and Management published this information online) for towns that had revaluations between that time.

So during that period residential taxes increased between 2-7% in relation to commercial and personal properties for those towns even if the towns did not increase their expenses. Add to that any location pockets that might have increased at a higher rate,  for example possibly waterfront properties or neighborhoods that have become more desirable, and the probable increase in expenses and you can have a major tax shock for home owners.

In the past when property values were increasing sharply, a new revaluation was often met with resistance from property owners and some would challenge the assessment. The current declining values and new assessments often lower than the previous assessment does not mean you should be less vigilant, however. Typically declining values results in a lower grand list and higher mill rates to offset that decline. So just because the assessment is lower doesn’t mean that property taxes won’t increase, nor does it mean that you are paying only your equitable share.

It is important that you be vigilant with your new revaluation assessment to ensure accuracy and fairness. As an example why this is important, the Killingly assessor compared data between the 1974, 1984 and again with the 1994 revaluations. During that period data for the existing properties in town changed by 20% from one revaluation to the next one. Half of the changes involved property improvements without building permits, 90% of which were deemed minor in nature by the assessor that didn’t greatly affect values. However, the remaining half, which affected 10% of the real property in Killingly was a result of data collection errors, with 50% attributed to the 1984 revaluation and the other from data collection or recording errors from the 1994 revaluation. By the assessor’s own estimation 1 in 20 houses had errors from each revaluation.

Another example was the 2002 Somers revaluation. This was a non measurement and inspection revaluation. Yet despite that the First Selectman Dick Jackson, stated that there were “many mistakes in square footage” in the records that determined value. Even though the town itself recognized that there were numerous errors, only 295 real estate owners (5% of the town’s total properties) requested a hearing before the Board of Assessment Appeals.
So it is important that even if your assessment declines that you as a real property owner carefully look over your new assessment to make sure you are not paying more than you rightfully should.

Revaluation Time – 39 Connecticut Towns in 2012

Connecticut’s annual town revaluation watch is under way. This year 39 towns are in the process of going through revaluations with the new Assessments set to go into effect October 1st 2012.

Included in those 39 towns are three that are replacing revaluations over the 5 year state requirement. The champion in this department is Sprague, which last had a reval in 2004, three years over the state mandate. Windham came in second,two years past the requirement with the last revaluation in 2005. Orange completes the late town trio with theirs only being one year over due.

Hartford County leads the way with 9 towns going through revaluation – Berlin, Bristol, East Windsor, Farmington, Glastonbury, Granby, New Britain, Simsbury and South Windsor.  With the Counties second and fourth largest cities setting new assessments this year things will be interesting surrounding Hartford.

Fairfield County comes in second with 8 towns on 2012 schedule – Bethel, Danbury, Newtown Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Stamford and Wilton. This includes 3 cities, with the Counties 2nd, 3rd and 4th largest populations in the mix. Stamford has the prize for the largest city to be going through revaluation in 2012.

Litchfield County trails Fairfield by only one town with 7 going through revaluation –  Bethlehem, Canaan, Goshen, North Canaan, Roxbury, Warren and Winchester. New Haven and New London Counties are tied with 5 towns each – Ansonia, Naugatuck, Orange, Southbury and Waterbury for New Haven County and Bozrah, Preston, Sprague, Stonington and Waterford for New London County.

Windham County only has the 3 towns of Plainfield, Sterling and Windham going through revaluation. While Middlesex has even less with 2 towns, Cromwell and East Haddam updating their assessments.

The quietest county in Connecticut this year is Tolland with no revaluations for 2012. They could use the rest as one-third of their 15 towns went through revaluation last year.

Revaluation time is a very important time for property owners. First of all it is important to make sure that no physical characteristic errors were made by the revaluation company for your house that could cost you extra money over the next five years. Secondly even if no physical characteristics are wrong, it is important that such things as condition, construction, view, and location aren’t over estimated for your property.

Should your property be over assessed it could cost you hundreds of dollars or more in 2013. Multiply that by the five-year period an assessment is good for and your revaluation could cost you thousands of dollars if it isn’t accurate.

If you feel you are being over assessed you can call us at 860-294-9486. We will give you some pointers on how to check your assessment for free, or we can work with you to determine the accuracy of your assessment for a small fee and if needed complete a full appraisal that will could help you reduce your taxes. No matter what you decide a review of your new assessment is a worthwhile endeavor.



Recommendations – Peter C. Hunt Attorney

One of the best parts of this profession is getting to meet and work with other top-notch professionals. Since I have the advantage of working alongside attorneys, Realtors, mortgage brokers and accountants, in the course of my appraisal assignments, I thought I would start sharing information on some of the best ones I have come across.

Peter C. Hunt is an attorney located in Danbury. His approach to his clients is very similar to mine and thus he was an easy choice to start off my recommendations with. It is always a pleasure to talk to a professional that puts his client first and that’s what I have found with Peter. Through our conversations it is very apparent that he takes his duties and responsibilities to his clients very seriously and is looking out for their best interest in all his interactions.

Attorney Hunt has been practicing law since 1976, and is a graduate of the University of Connecticut. From his very early days as an attorney he has been trained extensively in the real estate aspects of the law. In fact for his first four years as an attorney he spent extensive time researching titles giving him an expertise in this area not seen by many today. Along with Real Estate in general his areas of specialization involve wills, foreclosure, estate planning and litigation.

If you need an attorney in Danbury and the surrounding towns you can contact Peter at 203-797-8860. His office is located in Danbury at 193 Main Street.