By Joseph Popiolkowski and Dan Kirchberger | Published: Mon, June 26, 2017
Russell Dye thinks the old assessment on his home in the Town of Amherst was low but the new one is too high.
Because of the Amherst townwide reassessment of properties this year, Dye is facing a 31 percent increase, bumping his Brittania Road home's assessment from $163,800 to $215,000. He has plenty of company. Ninety-six percent of homeowners in the town saw their assessments increase this year.
Dye hired an appraiser to challenge the assessment during the town's informal review process, and the assessment was lowered to $204,000, which was still higher than what he thinks is fair.
Because of the assessment change, his tax bill is likely to increase several hundred dollars above the $4,159 he paid last year.
Dye's assessment battle is one that will be replicated all year across Amherst as the town seeks to fairly distribute the tax burden. A red-hot Amherst real estate market means increases for many homes, from condos to duplexes to mansions. So far, property owners seeking lower assessments filed grievances on about 4,500 properties with the town's Board of Assessment Review. Others will challenge assessments in court.
The Buffalo News analyzed a database containing the new assessments on 44,000 Amherst properties to identify which residential neighborhoods saw the biggest increases and which saw the biggest decreases.
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Median residential assessment in 2017: $196,000
Median change: Increase of 17 percent or $28,300
There are two main reasons assessments in Amherst have increased as much as they have, said Don Griebner, a real estate appraiser and president of Real Property Services in Amherst.
The primary reason is that it has been eight years since the last revaluation 2009, which is longer than it should have been, he said. The second reason is that the real estate market has been very strong the past few years, and values have increased significantly.
"These two factors, when combined, have resulted in increases that at first glance appear unreasonable," he said. "However, if you get caught up in the percentage increase outrage, you are missing the whole point: What could your property sell for today? That is the issue to focus on."
A change in a property's assessment does not necessarily result in a change in the owner's tax bill. But if your Amherst home assessment went up significantly, you are likely to get a higher tax bill and if it went down significantly you are likely to get a lower tax bill.
A reassessment does not raise more tax dollars. Only a School Board, Town Board or Village Board can do that by raising the tax levy.
"If there's a big pie that represents the tax levy for the village, the town or the school, my job is to put the right market value on your property so you get your fair share of the pie," Town Assessor Dave Marrano said earlier this year. "I don't control the size of the pie."
Median residential assessment in 2017: $210,000
Median change: Increase of 23 percent or $38,300
Three-fourths of the homes in Dana Heights, a development between Maple Road and Sheridan Drive, saw assessment increases higher than the town median of 17 percent.
On the streets there, 646 of the 771 residences received assessment increases over 15 percent. Nine homes received increases over 50 percent.
Peter Martino, who lives in Dana Heights at 262 Teakwood Terrace, organizes the annual August block party there, which includes fire trucks, magicians and a police K-9. The Marine Corps veteran received a 24 percent increase on his home, bringing the assessment up by $40,300 to $210,000.
"I'm not happy with the assessment," he said. "It's too high."
Homes in this neighborhood recently have sold for around $220,000. During a reassessment, property owners are often asked if their assessment matches what it would sell for on the open market. If so, the home is assessed fairly.
Median residential assessment in 2017: $94,000
Median change: Increase of 6 percent or $6,200
Percentage of homes that decreased in value: 42 percent
Niagara Falls Boulevard had more residences with decreases in their assessments than any other street in Amherst.
The stretch between Kenmore Avenue and Longmeadow Road accounts for 90 percent of the homes on the boulevard, which forms the western border of the town. In this Eggertsville neighborhood, 33 of the 79 homes saw decreases, some as high as 29 percent.
Along the entire boulevard, 35 of the 88 homes received a decrease in their assessments.
While homeowners may celebrate a reduction in assessments because it may result in a lower tax bill, it's not necessarily good news that the town thinks their homes are worth less.
These homes were built in the late 1940s, are mostly modest and measure under 1,200 square feet. They're also located on a busy roadway.
Streets immediately to the east saw fairly large increases in assessments. The 98 homes on Allenhurst Road averaged a 25 percent increase in assessments, making the average assessment $148,989. The 198 homes on Capen Boulevard averaged a 28 percent increase, up to $143,907.
Median residential assessment in 2017: $180,000
Median change: Increase of 64 percent or $70,000
Owners of a circle of 19 duplexes, off South Forest Road and just north of the Thruway, may have cringed when they received their new property assessments from Amherst.
The assessments on the duplexes all increased by nearly two-thirds. Townwide, that was among the biggest percentage increases.
The duplexes were built in the mid-1960s and measure just under 2,200 square feet.
Don Griebner, a real estate appraiser and president of Real Property Services in Amherst, represented the owners in front of the Board of Assessment Review.
He presented information to the board such as rent levels, expense ratios and interior condition issues that the town was not aware of. In addition, neighborhood issues such as traffic congestion and Thruway noise may not have been factored in the valuation model utilized by the town, he said.
"That is why the assessment review process is in place, and hopefully the final assessment roll following the review process will correct these inequities," he said.
That review process gives a homeowner the chance to bring interior issues to the town's attention, said Assessor David Marrano.
"There's a lot of internal factors," he said. "We know many things about interior conditions on homes that are confidential between us and the homeowner."
As a result, the reasons why any given assessment in the town went up or down are not always obvious, he said.
"If I know that your house had a termite infestation -- and that certainly is going to have an impact on your value -- you probably wouldn't want me sharing that with your neighbors, nor would I," Marrano said.
Median residential assessment in 2017: $177,900
Median change: Increase of 54 percent or $62,000
A street of 39 condominiums in East Amherst had the biggest average increase in assessment of any street in the town with at least 20 homes.
In fact, condos were on the top four streets in the town where assessments increased by the largest percentage.
The two-bedroom condos on French Oaks Lane were built in the early 2000s. Rosemarie Burdi, 80, bought hers in 2005 and likes being close to shopping on Transit Road.
"The people are nice. We keep everything up," she said, pointing to the recently paved street. "I cannot complain. I love it here."
Another street of condos, Hidden Creek Court, saw a median increase of 64 percent on assessments on its 25 homes. These condos all have a tentative assessment of $346,300.
The increases for condos at Union Common (49 percent) and Woodpointe Run (47 percent) round out the top 4 streets with the largest assessment increases by percentage.
Condominiums were involved in 2,000 of the 4,500 grievances filed last month before the town's Board of Assessment Review. Those grievances seeking lower assessments came from 32 condo associations across the town, including French Oaks.
"We feel it's kind of ridiculous," Burdi said of her condo's assessment. "We're trying to fight it."
The Board of Assessment Review rulings should be issued in late June, before the town's final assessment roll is set on July 1.
Other streets with at least 20 homes and an average assessment increase of at least 30 percent were: Blacksmith Drive, North Cayuga Road, Haverford Lane, Eagle Street, Hampton Hill Drive, Gordon Street, Rinewalt Street, Le Brun Road, Howard Avenue and Oakview Drive.
Median residential assessment in 2017: $295,000
Median change: Increase of 33 percent or $71,000
Many homes on Brittania Drive have been selling for $300,000 or more. A colonial was recently listed at $330,000.
Amherst increased the assessments on all 71 of the homes on the street during its townwide reassessment this year. Fifty-one homes saw increases over 30 percent.
All but one of the 182 homes in the neighborhood that includes Brittania Drive were assessed upward.
Brittania Drive resident Russell Dye said the higher assessments are unfair because residents' quality of life has suffered with construction all summer on new athletic fields at Williamsville East High School.
At Williamsville East, the district is adding two multipurpose synthetic fields for soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, baseball and football to allow for two games to be going on at the same time. Other improvements include a new portable sound system and press box, bleachers, scoreboards and a storm water-management system for the turf fields.
"It's nonstop noise from morning to night some days," Dye said. "We just think this is going to have a real negative impact on the neighborhood."
Median residential assessment in 2017: $191,000
Median change: Increase of 25 percent or $37,600
The Village of Williamsville is the epicenter for assessment hikes under the townwide reassessment this year in Amherst.
Of the village's 1,619 residences, 9.5 percent increased by more than 50 percent, nearly three times the townwide percentage of 3.4 percent. Also, 29 percent of village residences increased by more than one-third. Townwide, 12 percent of residences increased by one-third.
The median increase was 25 percent, meaning half of all residences are above and below that percentage.
Those figures are well above the townwide mark.
Townwide, the median increase in assessments among 35,838 residential properties was 17 percent, for a median value of $196,000. The median value of village homes is $191,000.
Assessor David Marrano told the Village Board earlier this year that Williamsville has become a walkable community with nice parks, a place where people want to move. As a result, homes there are in demand and the values are increasing faster than the rest of the town.
Median residential assessment in 2017: $181,000
Median change: Increase of 19 percent or $29,200
The bedroom community of Snyder, where about one tenth of Amherst's population resides, is largely representative of how the entire town fared in the reassessment, although assessments there rose slightly more than the rest of the town.
Ninety-six percent of Snyder's 3,578 residences were assessed upward by the town, which was also true for the town as a whole.
In Snyder, the median tentative residential assessment is $181,000, meaning half of all values are above and below that figure. The median change was a 19.4 percent increase, or $29,200.
In the rest of the town of Amherst, the median tentative residential assessment is $199,000. The median change was a 16.8 percent increase, or $28,200.
"Williamsville and Snyder, generally the values in those neighborhoods saw a bigger increase," said Town Assessor David Marrano. "It varies a lot by property type, age and location. But that's where we saw bigger increases and saw a good chunk of our challenges."
Median residential assessment in 2017: $109,500 (Spicebush Lane)
Median change: 5 percent increase or $5,000
Percentage of homes that decreased in value: 38 percent
Among the 287 streets in the town with at least 20 homes, three saw assessment reductions on at least one-third of their residences.
At the Forest Condos on Spicebush Lane, off Hopkins Road, 20 of the 52 homes (38 percent) received decreases in their assessments. The 2-bedroom condos were built in the late 1980s and measure about 1,300 square feet.
The new assessments on Spicebush were all set at $109,500. Homes on that street have recently sold for $220,000 and $235,000.
On Old Oak Post Road in East Amherst, 13 of the 36 homes on that street (36 percent) saw reductions. These single-family homes in the town's Ransom Oaks neighborhood were mostly built in the mid 1970s. The average tentative assessment on that street increased $11,556 to $192,889.
And on Niagara Falls Boulevard, assessments on 35 of 88 homes (40 percent) were reduced.