What it’s all worth, 2010


Whether you are a year-round or seasonal property owner, you should know what Vineyard real estate is worth and how the towns compare. The national decline in real estate values is not uniform, and neither are the changes in value among the Island towns. Nationally, there are badly hurt regions, but there are also others where values have proven more durable. The six Vineyard towns fall into the latter category. Using the most recent assessed values, real estate in the six Island towns is worth $18.5 billion, down about $500 million or three percent from 2009 values of 19.03. The fiscal 2009 total declined about 6.7 percent from the total value in the prior fiscal year. These 2010 assessed values have been updated since the last Tax List was published, a year ago. The towns will use these values, updated by the prices in actual sales, to determine the tax rate for the 2012 fiscal year, whose fate will be determined at spring 2010 annual town meetings. Compared with real estate values elsewhere in the country, Island values, at least in some towns, have held up during the housing bust that began at the end of 2007. As Pam Bunker, the Chilmark assessor told the town selectmen, in a report last spring on the assessed values for the current fiscal year, “The median assessment for a single family residence in FY10 is $1,259,150. In FY2009, the median assessment was $1,241,200. The tax rate for FY 2010 is projected to be $2.03. Last year’s tax rate was $1.98. Based on the single family residence’s median assessment, the median tax bill is expected to increase from $2,457 in FY09 to $2,536 in FY10 an increase of $79 on the annual tax bill.” The FY2011 rate will be $2.13 per thousand. Drastic changes in real estate values nationwide, and particularly in highflying parts of the country, don’t necessarily lead to corresponding calamity in small, desirable Martha’s Vineyard communities. Edgartown, worth $6.8 billion a year ago, is worth roughly $6.7 billion today, a decline of 1.5 percent. The county seat is the richest Island town. Indeed, each Island town except Chilmark, whose value rose slightly, and Oak Bluffs, which saw little change, recorded a decrease in overall value, sometimes tiny, in the last year. Chilmark, the Island’s second richest town, is valued for the purpose of this report at $3.08 billion. West Tisbury, worth $2.6 billion last year, is now worth $2.5 billion. Tisbury’s real estate value, $3 billion when we last reported, is now $2.7 billion. Aquinnah, at $718 million last year, remains the Island’s least valuable town, at $710 million today. Of course, not all the real estate in the six towns is taxable. Of the nearly $19 billion total value of property in the six Vineyard towns, $1.8 billion, or 10 percent, is tax exempt, so that tax revenue lost to the six towns, based on the tax rates reported here, adds up to more than $7 million. Edgartown has $651 million of tax-exempt property, about 12 percent of the total, West Tisbury ($490 million) a whopping 19 percent, Oak Bluffs ($252 million) nine percent, Tisbury ($180 million) six percent, Aquinnah ($86 million) 12 percent, and Chilmark ($182 million) about six percent. How much a town’s real estate is worth is one measure of its borrowing ability, and that means whether a new school, police station, or town hall may be financed. Vineyard towns, flush with real estate value, have built all of these municipal improvements in the last few years. Real estate values are also at the heart of home ownership, stimulating the Island’s largest industry. Typically, a little more than $500 million of Vineyard real estate changes hands in arm’s length transactions each year, much less in the last three years. Although that is a tiny fraction of total real estate value on the Island, it is nevertheless a great deal of money, and it marks the starting point for a spiral of expenditures which contribute hugely to the Island economy. Real estate brokers, lawyers, Island banks, builders, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, architects, landscapers, and excavators all participate in the whirl of buying and selling that has real estate value at its core. You should know that these values are more art than science. They are derived by examination of sales prices as they are revealed in house and property transactions recorded for your neighborhood at the registry of deeds. These comparable values, together with measurements of square footage of house and land, and quality of finish materials and workmanship, are used to estimate value. Often, the location and nature of the land accounts for the largest part of total assessed value. But, because so little real estate changes hands each year, in 500 to 1,000 transactions, changes in assessed value, however carefully developed, rest upon a narrow base. And, if what smitten buyers pay for their dream house or building site – or, on the other hand, sharp pencil, bottom fishing buyers in this period of declining values and increased inventory of property for sale – is at the root of the calculation, then it is indeed an artful calculation. That’s why this list, for taxpayers and voters, is an important data resource. Note: The Tax List includes the owner’s name and the assessed value of each Vineyard property, sorted by town. For some towns, especially large ones such as Edgartown, we have, in the interest of conciseness, listed the name of the first owner of record, according to the registries maintained by town assessors, and the additional owners names only where there is space. The names of second and subsequent owners may be found in town records, which are public. Ampersands, where included, indicate multiple owners in the Edgartown and West Tisbury listings.