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By John F. Muscarella | Broker in Plymouth, MA
  • the "Real Realtor" Assessed Value, Market Value & Tax Rates

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Plymouth County  |  April 11, 2012 5:31 PM  |  232 views  |  No comments

    Plymouth and Cape Cod real estate is doing okay by most standards. But It’s time to have an open discussion on property Assessed Values, Market Values and Tax Rates. Many buyers and sellers seem to put a lot of weight on assessed value. Well in the current market and with the need of municipalities to balance their budgets, the data are not
    always what they seem. Or better yet, the data are the data and how they are used can differ by who are using the data. I’m trying to be politically correct here. My point is buyers and sellers must find the true value of their property and cannot use just the assessed value.

    ASSESSED VALUE. Cities and towns have an Assessors Department whose job is to assess all real estate in their geography as to current market value. The term 100% valuation means they assess the property at 100% of what they believe the property to be worth and can be sold for at the time of assessment. They then multiply their current tax rate – typically $3.00 to $20.00 per thousand dollars of assessed value – by the assessed value of each property. Example: if you have a home assessed at $200,000 and your local tax rate is $3.00, your taxes are $600.00 per year. If your tax rate increases to $4.00 your annual taxes are increased to $800.00 per year.

    Hopefully once this is done annually for each property, there is enough income to satisfy the current year budget for the municipality. If not, the tax rate is either raised or lowered or property assessments are adjusted up or down. Are you starting to get the picture? This can be complicated by local referendums voted on and calling for minimum increases in taxes or rates. Heard of Proposition 2.5%?

    MARKET VALUE. In 30 years of real estate investing, development and hundreds of transactions as a Realtor, I’ve learned a few things by surviving several bad and some great markets. In a healthy housing market, generally assessed value will be between 80%-90% of its current market value. Market value being defined as what someone will actually pay you for your property today. Some municipalities assess only every 3 years and/or there is a lag between assessments getting on the books and what is happening in the market. Markets are dynamic and wait for no one. Though many make the same argument regarding taxes. But now is not a healthy market. Many market values are below their assessed values and/or the market value is less than the current mortgage on the property.. Thus the term “underwater.” This of course has created a problem with the budgets and income for municipalities who must balance a budget while paying for a new school, senior center, roadwork and other infrastructure needs, some of which are critical. It is also affecting sellers and buyers of property and their lenders.

    TAX RATES. I’m not certain whether this is an art or a science but municipalities set their tax rates based on many criteria. Bottom line is anyone choosing to live in a particular municipality must weigh what that city or town provides in terms of services and standard of living vs. the cost to the residents/owners. If you’re looking for a great school system, parks, access to transportation and detail to maintenance and updating – you will pay for this. Simply put, a municipality looks at its costs and the income from its tax base. Shortfalls have to be covered or taken from reserve funds or borrowed. Inevitably costs have to be covered or cut. Changing tax rates is a tool that is used as necessary.

    Those who work for a municipality are either voted into office, hired by someone who is voted into office or a volunteer. Like most they want to keep their jobs and they want to be seen and recognized for doing a good job. So raising taxes is not a popular move. But rising assessed values makes owners happy as they see the American dream before their eyes.

    Ideally, assessed values continue to climb and tax rates remain flat or even decease. Well that was then and this is now. All bets are off. Municipalities are cutting services, raising tax rates to cover decreased property values and assessments where increases are tough to find or justify. Top cities and towns usually survive due to financially healthy owners and good management, but no one is sacred.

    So when you get your next tax bill look into where the rate change may be coming from and ask if you are taking advantage of what services are provided. Are you getting what you pay for? Are you confident in management? Can you help? Can you afford to cover your costs of ownership? If not then you may decide to vote with your feet.

    Each city or town is different and each has its own situation. What is yours? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

    John F. Muscarella
    Website:  http://RiverFarmProperties.com
    Email:      johnm@riverfarmproperties.com

  • the "Real Realtor" Plymouth MA & Cape Cod Real Estate - Where Are The Sellers?

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Plymouth County  |  April 2, 2012 5:08 AM  |  234 views  |  2 comments

    It’s been an interesting start to the spring market for Plymouth MA and Cape Cod real estate. I have numerous buyers waiting and looking to buy all but for the lack of inventory. For some time now inventory has not been the issue. What with foreclosures and short sales adding to normal resale’s of homes, I have generally been able to find suitable properties for clients.

    Since January of 2012 I have found a change in my market. I thought perhaps sellers are just too beat up to stay in this market and have let their listings expire or have decided to wait for a better market. But with interest rates still at historic lows and signs of an economy that is starting some form of a recovery, I think now is a great time to buy. Prices seem to be bouncing on and off the bottom of the market and credit, though a bit tighter, is still there for most of my clients. So where has inventory gone? Or is it something else such as a lack of confidence in the economy or employment and buyers really hesitant to pull the trigger. Maybe sellers are just digging in their heels and not willing to negotiate on price.

    Realtors use a tool to monitor the health and basic supply and demand for housing inventory called the Absorption Rate. Briefly it is a snapshot of the number of months it would take to sell off all the current homes in a specific area at the current rate of sales in the same area. So divide total sales in Plymouth County or Cape Cod for the past six months by six. Then look at total number of listings currently on market and divide this by the monthly number of sales. In a healthy market this typically gives you an absorption rate between six to nine months.

    When I look at February data for Plymouth County I find the current absorption rate at 11.8 and for Cape Cod at 16.7. You could further narrow this by price range and specific location but as an indication it appears both Cape Cod and Plymouth County contain more inventory and it should be easier to satisfy buyers. I looked at data for various price points but did not find large differences in the absorption rate. There are likely seasonal adjustments to account for and less distressed properties coming on market due to national litigation, but I am keeping this simple.

    From my perspective it has to do with the quality of the inventory. My first sentence should contain a qualifier in that what is lacking is “good” inventory. There appear to be a lot of homes in need of work, updating, and general repair. And there is also a great deal of junk. – homes only a builder can love. Trouble is can a builder buy for the right price, rehab and make enough of a profit to take on the task?

    So if you’re a seller you want to make certain your listing price vs. condition of your home presents value to a buyer. Buyers are doing their homework and using the Internet to find out anything that is a public record. If your house is not getting a lot of activity it may be that buyers do not see the value and thus don’t waste their time. A good Realtor will provide you this data and help you position your home for sale in the current market.

    So where are the sellers in Plymouth MA and Cape Cod? Better yet, where are the sellers with good homes to sell?

    If you need assistance please call me: 617.671.5711

  • the "Real Realtor" Plymouth MA, Cape Cod Real Estate - A Housing Affordability Record!

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Plymouth, Home Selling in Plymouth  |  March 12, 2012 8:27 AM  |  303 views  |  No comments

    Since 1970 the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has tracked home affordability providing an index based on percentage for the current affordability of housing across the country. With an index of 100 percent, a family with median income has exactly the income level to qualify for a median-priced home with a down payment of 20 percent and then 25 percent of their gross income to carry a mortgage. This does not include homeowners insurance or taxes.

    Recent data has the index at its highest level since the record keeping began at 206.1. It has never exceeded the 200 percent level and indicates that the median-income family or household has twice the income needed to qualify under the terms outlined above. Still a volatile market, NAR has said it expects the index to remain at this level through 2012.

    I am still finding inventory flat in the Plymouth MA and Cape Cod markets and finding homes for key client buyers has been a matter of checking the market daily for any new listings. The indication is that we are getting back to a healthy market mix of inventory vs. sales but no one I talk to will really believe this yet. If credit approvals increase and rates remain where they are – we might just see some signs of a more stable market. Nationally jobs will be a key factor as well. In Plymouth and Cape Cod the job market is a bit better than nationally.

    Here’s hoping for a robust spring market for buyers and sellers.

      FREE valuable information reports for Buyers/Sellers or contact me with any questions.

    John F. Muscarella

    River Farm Properties, LLC

  • the "Real Realtor" Plymouth MA, Cape Cod Real Estate - Credit & Housing Prices, Some Good News!

    Posted Under: Market Conditions in Plymouth, Home Buying in Plymouth, Home Selling in Plymouth  |  March 6, 2012 8:54 AM  |  398 views  |  No comments

    The only thing that should matter to home sellers/buyers is how is the local market in Plymouth MA and Cape Cod and what are the trends. Some recent reports for both credit and pricing are indicating an emergence of the housing market and some signs that we are finally headed in the right direction. To be certain there are caveats and it is a slow turn around. But data from Clear Capital, Equifax and Moody’s Analytics point to welcome news. The key is sustainability and continued growth.

    Clear Capital’s Home Data Index (HDI) points to slowing home price declines nationally but in the Northeast we have actually seen an increase year-over-year of .5% to housing prices. It indicates that stability may be making its way back into the housing market The other part of this though is the increase saturation of REO (Bank-owned) real estate in the market. Other than the last quarter, the past year REO levels have declined indicating banks may have held off releasing REOs in anticipation of the settlement with Attorneys General across the U.S.

    Notwithstanding this, the Northeast continues with small, positive growth in annual and 6-month values, along with low REO saturation. Realtors anticipate an uptick in REO activity for 2012 following the settlement. But this should help clear out the “shadow inventory” and add to the positive growth moving forward.

    CreditForecast.com, a joint product of Equifax and Moody’s, reports credit data seem to indicate a return to pre-recession totals and consumers in general should see steady economic growth for major credit sectors which include: auto, bankcard and consumer finance.

    The report seems to portend the end of the housing downturn. Though housing is still working through high delinquency rates, mortgage rates remain at historic lows and refinances are high. And the majority of new loan applications are with those with credit scores of 700 or better. It this incremental progress that is noticeable and provides some good news nationally and the Northeast seems to be faring well and this is welcome news for Plymouth MA and Cape Cod real estate.

    To read Clear Capital’s HDI: http://www.clearcapital.com/company/MarketReport.cfm?month=March&year=2012

    John F. Muscarella
    Website:  http://RiverFarmProperties.com
    Email:      johnm@riverfarmproperties.com

  • the "Real Realtor" Plymouth MA, Cape Cod Real Estate - Hyper-Local Is Best

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Plymouth, Home Selling in Plymouth, Property Q&A in Plymouth  |  January 3, 2012 9:52 AM  |  432 views  |  No comments

    Plymouth MA and Cape Cod real estate continued to move forward in 2011 in spite of national housing news.  Though recent news indicates we may be seeing a turnaround in 2012, confidence in this is tentative at best or at least mixed.  I’ve read several articles recently touting the importance of looking at hyper-local data when comparing housing data.  This in the wake of stories of inaccurate data from NAR (National Association of Realtors) and Case-Schiller data who looks at national data.  I must agree.  After a year in which MA continues to run contrary to other areas of the country, I looked at data on Cape Cod in relation to Plymouth County real estate and found some noted differences though the two are close in proximity.  Data is from both state MLS’ (MLS PIN and CC&IMLS) for the past three (3) months ending November 2011 vs. the same period in 2010 for single family homes (SFR).

    It certainly appears buyers have seen the value and timing of buying their second home on the Cape.  Unit sales increased 1.5% to 802 sales, while Plymouth County unit sales increased 14.7% to 962 units sold.  A striking difference is the average sale price on Cape of $504,843, a +7.7% increase vs. Plymouth of $326,718, a -9.1% decrease. Median sale prices are $335 and $273 respectively. I can say that business on Cape has been steady and many of the lower end homes, which may have been a bargain, seem to have disappeared.  And I am seeing more buyers now coming to the Cape from out of state where they will now see price increases.  Whether or not this trend continues we shall see.

    The average discount or sales to listing price ratio is similar to other time periods in that the Cape is 6 to 7% where Plymouth County is 5%.  This slightly down less than 1% on Cape while up the same in Plymouth.  Inventory continues to be a problem as far as I’m concerned.  I am having trouble finding suitable houses for several clients.  The data indicate inventories declined 2.5% in Plymouth while increasing 1.2% on Cape.  And sellers continue to wait out the market for a sale in that the average days on market for the Cape increased to 162 or 7.3% while Plymouth went to 138 or an increase of 9.5%.

    I have looked at individual towns as well and the data can again be very different.  So I encourage anyone looking at Plymouth and Cape Cod real estate to ask about hyper-local data.  It never hurts to be informed.   


    To ask questions or for information on a particular town please contact me at:

    johnm@riverfarmproperties.com or go to:  http://riverfarmproperties.com/?p=2907

  • the "Real Realtor" Plymouth MA, Cape Cod Real Estate - Tis The Spirit

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Plymouth County, Home Selling in Plymouth County, Foreclosure in Plymouth County  |  December 22, 2011 7:54 AM  |  429 views  |  2 comments

    At this point in the year I tend to subjectively reflect back over the year and measure myself against the plan and objectives I had set for myself in my real estate practice in Plymouth MA and Cape Cod.  I say subjectively as I cut myself a bit of slack allowing for the spirit of the Holiday Season and just being human.  We all earn this at least once per year.  There will be plenty of time for more stringent review and a healthy objective look at performance in the 2012 plan.

    In a world seemingly moving from one debacle to another, economic uncertainty, widespread unemployment and a struggling housing market, I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate on several fronts.  I live and work in an area that, for the most part, has run contrary to all but four other markets across the country in terms of real estate. So while the South Shore and Cape Cod has had some issues, I had plenty of business.

    Secondly, I launched a new company that has had a very successful first year, in fact it has been the most successful year I have had in the real estate business!  I hired three agents and will likely add two more in 2012.  I wish to manage growth and I’m not looking to build a huge franchise here.  Rather, it’s working with great people and having the personal freedom of your own business.

    Lastly, it’s all about the clients…  While I have always enjoyed working directly with clients and people in general, this year brought a rich diversity of clients and each in their own way challenged me and taught me lessons that I thought I had known.

    was not a usual year in real estate. 

    The year began with a short sale that tore at my heart as I watched an entire family come apart.  Thankfully the children were older and could be of some help to the parents.  But watching them move out of the family home they had built on the shore and seeing them struggle with being totally unsettled was painful.  The only saving grace was the buyer was all cash and we were successful in getting the transaction closed within two weeks.  A record for a short sale to be sure. 

    I helped two recently retired couples find their last home, knowing how important this was and what they had left behind and what the future looked like for them.  Both had taken over a year to find just the right location and I’m pleased to say they are happy and looking forward to their new lives.  One client, following a conversation on fly-fishing surprised me with a rod and reel as a gift post closing.  I was very touched by this.

    It’s always challenging working with first time buyers.  What with financing issues, finding properties in their price range and helping with the nerves and fear of such a large purchase.  I had several of these this year but one was interesting in that the home they first bought was found to be part of the foreclosure documentation mess. Their seller actually did not own the home.  So we simply found them another (totally renovated) home that turned out to be even better than their first choice. 

    Then there was the beach home that had been built by the buyer’s grandfather and had been sold out of the family.  The buyer had dutifully watched sales in the area for several years waiting/hoping for the property to come on market.  I’m happy to say it’s back in the family.

    I met new Realtors and made new friends this year.  And I lost several friends this year due to cancer.  I am fortunate to have a vibrant and loving family that enjoys life, plays hard, works hard and knows the value of family.  Tis indeed the Spirit not necessarily the season. 

    I’ll see you in and around Plymouth MA and Cape Cod real estate soon enough.

    Warm wishes to you and your family this Holiday Season.    
  • Plymouth MA Real Estate - Plymouth Rock Studios, Is It Over?

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Plymouth, Home Selling in Plymouth  |  December 14, 2011 11:54 AM  |  432 views  |  No comments

    Those of us who sell Plymouth MA real estate have news this week of the long running plan to bring a $550 million movie studio complex to Plymouth.  I seem to be hearing a final bell as I read stories from Christine Legere of the Boston Globe and another from The Patriot Ledger.  It would have been a tremendous opportunity for the South Shore in terms of jobs, tourism and real estate.

    The project begun in 2007/8 has lost all but one executive in Scituate resident Joe DiLorenzo now working from his home office.  Gone are the Hollywood executives David Kirkparick, Earl Lestz and Thom Black, Kirkpatrick supposedly bowed out due to negative publicity over unsuccessful past financial projects.  And even the local developer Bill Wynne, who was to secure the site for the project at Waverly Oaks Country Club has left the team but remains an investor.

    DiLorenzo said to The Globe that he wants to see “a few options play out” before he throws in the towel.  And Mark Ridder of Waverly Oaks has been quietly shopping an older housing proposal for the 242 acre golf course.  DiLorenzo admitted to no agreement in place securing Waverly Oaks for the project.  Should he get the needed capital he hopes Ridder will want to move forward. 

    The former money guy behind the proposed complex, Michael F. Burgess was just sentenced to 15 years in prison for defrauding the studio and others out of some $94 million.  According to court records and The Patriot Ledger on December 1st, Burgess failed to return a $3.5 million deposit to Plymouth Rock Studios.  He was indicted in June of 2010 on 42 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy. 

    In November of 2009 studio management severed its relationship with Burgess’ company, Prosperity International, after it could not produce documentation showing it could follow through on the transaction of $550 million for Hollywood East.  A story in last Thursdays Boston Globe said Burgess was ordered by a Florida court to pay restitution to his victims.

    It has been a long process for many Plymouth residents, engineers, architects, and those hoping for a good local job.  We all were excited over the prospects of a strong local economy from real estate to employment to just living in an area home to movie production. Plymouth MA real estate may never be the same but we will survive.  Timing is everything.

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