How to Interpret Your Field Card

How to Interpret Your Field Card

If you feel the Total Value of your home is over assessed than you will need to do a little research and the first step is to assess and then be able to interpret your Field card. Your Field card is the official detailed record of your home’s history and all of its record features including land values. It is this detailed record that the Assessor’s Office creates and users for purposes of determining the Total Value of your property.

  • Step 1 – Go to the Town of Norwell website. Type in Town of Norwell in Bing or Google or in your browser.
  • Step 2 – Find Assessors Database under the section on the left of the screen entitled Citizens Action Center. (see attached illustration of screen shots)
  • Step 3 – Click on the Assessor’s Database
  • Step 4 – You will be brought to another screen. Look for the tab entitled “Enter Online Database” click on it.
  • Step 5 – Type in your address where it says “search” Once you begin typing in your address it will find your home.
  • Step 6- Hit enter and a Summary Tax Record (This record will indicate your 2021 assessment and many of the features of your home such as, rooms, sheds, pools etc. will not show you the values in many instances or how your assessed value is calculated that is why you need your Field Card). THIS IS NOT YOUR FIELD CARD and will not provide you with the level of detail you need to help you understand how your assessed value is calculated. Your Field Card is obtained by clicking on the Field Card option in the upper right-hand corner of the Summary Tax Record which is highlighted in red.
  • Step 7 – Click on the Field Card tab. (see attached illustration of screen shot).

You’re in. You are now looking at your Field Card which details all the characteristics of your home which are critical to determining the assessed value (Total Value) of your home.

See below a detailed interpretation of how to read and interpret your Field Card. Also, most Field Cards have two sides of different, and critical information, which I will outline below.  Remember each item on your Field Card must be accurate including, amounts, land values, features, the quantity and quality of features and condition of your home, dates and descriptions of features both inside and outside your home like a shed or barn or detached garage etc., they all add value to your assessment. Only you can determine if the information is accurate.

Lets begin.

Side 1 is the legal and historical data about ownership, past sales of the property, previous assessments, inspection history and current land valuation details. An explanation on what of the key areas of the card are as follows:

  • Current owner and record of ownership. This area contains ownership information as of the most recent sale date known to Assessor’s Office. All sales should be reviewed in detail to identify arms-length transactions that can fairly be used to represent the market. The column headed “q/u” will identify whether the transaction was “q” qualified or “u” unqualified.
  • Current assessment. This area summarizes the valuation generated elsewhere on the card for land, structures, outbuildings and extra features. It will also separate the land and residential components of the assessments.
  • Previous Assessments. This section shows the assessment history of the three most recent fiscal years.
  • Notes. These are notes the Assessor’s Office will make regarding your property and are descriptive in manner and usually not part of the calculation. However, if there are obvious errors in these notes or special conditions such as a major sink hole on the property that would affect the value of the property, they should be discussed with the Assessor and corrected.
  • Building Permit Record and Visit/Change History. This section lists the building permit activity and records the visits by a town official or Assessor to your property and the reason why the visit was conducted.
  • Land Line Valuation. The Department of Revenue (“DPR”) requires property to be divided into two parts, building and land. The land is assigned a “use code” according to the various property classifications provided by the DOR. These codes include single family, residence, condos, and multi-family residence, and vacant land, commercial, industrial, open and exempt properties. The value of a building lot is differentiated by location in the town. A market analysis is usually conducted in the valuation of land and to the extent that the market analysis shows variations by location is represented by the “Market Area Adjustment” The Market Area is found in the column labeled “ST. Idx.” And the adjustment factor associated with the market Area is in the column labeled “Adj.” Tables are usually created by Market Area to assign numerical factors. So, depending on where you live can also affect your Assessed Value of your land. Only the Assessor’s Office has access to these tables.

Side 2. The second side of the Field Card shows all of the details used in valuing the structure(s) including style of home, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, outbuildings (e.g., sheds, pools, barns, and extra features (e.g., fireplaces, Jacuzzi). A diagram of the principal structure with the measurements used for the building sub area calculation and often a photo of your home is also shown. There is a lot of information on this card, but there are four (4) elements that can be considered the most important contributors to your Assessed Value.

  1. Effective Area- used for replacement cost of structures on your property.
  2. Style – determines base rate per square foot to build that style of home or property in eastern Massachusetts as adjusted for Norwell based on the market analysis.
  3. Grade – quality of construction.
  4. Dep Code – normal physical depreciation based on the current condition of the structure given the actual year built (AYB).

Now for the major sections on side 2;

  • Construction Detail. Each construction detail has a code and a description. This section identifies the special features of your property with the most important being the style of your home. If the style of your home (Cape, Colonial, split etc.) is incorrect than the foundation for your Adjusted Base Rate could be recorded incorrectly and that would directly impact the Assessed Value of your property. Other categories within this section that could have an effect on your valuations are the number of bedrooms, bathroom, kitchens, etc. 
  •  The principal elements are described below.
  1. Style – For single family structures, there are ten basic styles of house. Each style has a corresponding “base rate” which is the current estimated new construction cost per square foot for this region of the country as reflected in the markets. This information should be obtained from the published construction industry data commonly used for this purpose, modified by Norwell sales analysis and discussion with local builders and architects. The Assessor’s Office should have the table which identifies by style of home the base rate.
  2. Grade - This element is a measure of the construction quality – the types of materials used and the quality of workmanship. The grade of a house generally does not change except as a result of major renovations. Here again a table should exist in the Assessor’s Office which should identify the grades and their corresponding weights which will affect your Assessed Value.
  • Sketch. The diagram of the principal property shows outside dimensions of your property. The different areas are identified by codes that are further described in the bottom left section of the card. In some cases, a diagram will not appear but a box with the code and square foot area will be used.
  • Building Sub-Area Summary. This section contains the greatest value of the detailed components of the property such as first floor, second floor, garage, basement (finished and unfinished), decks, patios, etc. The items in this area are described in terms of square feet and a unit cost is assigned to the item based on a code (also maintained by the Assessor’s Office) that is calculated to make an exact replica of the structure. Each part of the structure identified in the sketch will appear in the bottom left section of the field card, showing the Living Area, Gross Area, and Effective Area. Only the Effective Area is used in the assessment calculation. Primary living areas count as 100% of the gross area; all other spaces count at less than 100%. The principal sub-area types and effective areas percentages are identified in a table that the Assessor’s Office should have.
  • Cost/Market Valuation. This section is in the middle of the card and to the left of the sketch, shows the calculation of the Appraised Building Value (prior to outbuilding and extra features) which is basically the cost to replace the building less depreciation. The Adjusted Base Rate is the most critical component of this valuation section and is the price per square foot for the first floor of living area to replace as new based on the style of your home.  Other adjustments such as the Size Adjustment Factor and Grade Factor are used for certain elements under the Construction Detail section. (We will review the actual calculations in my next article in more detail).

The Base Rate, Size Adjustment Factor and the Grade Factor are tables should be maintained at the Assessor’s Office.

  • Outbuildings (L) and Extra Features (B). Outbuildings (L)= Items not attached to the main property (sheds, pools, barns etc.) and Extra Features (B) = special features within the building (fireplaces, extra kitchens, whirlpools, etc.) will be found in this area. The Units column is either the size in square feet or the quantity of the described features and the Unit Price is either its cost per square foot or the unit value of replacement cost new. For outbuildings, the year (Yr.) is the year the structure was built. For extra features the year is assumed to be the same as the Effective Year Built (EYB) as the primary structure. Here again you must review these features with a close eye to insure they are described correctly, valued reasonably and the year the feature was built is accurate. All the components are this section will be added directly to the Assessed Value of your property. Make sure they exist and the information is accurate. I am also including 2 exhibits to help you interpret your card as follows:
  • Sample Field Card (See below as a separate exhibit)

Please note that this sample field card is not an exact duplicate of our towns card, since I do not have access to a blank card, but this field card did come from another town in Massachusetts and did offer an easy-to-follow definitions and reference guide for the major areas on the card.

  • Reference Guideline to Reading Your Field Card (See below as a separate exhibit)  Please note once again this definitions guide is an example and refers to Sample Field Card which may not have all the items on your card but certainly the key components are addressed and it provides an easy reference guide when viewed with the sample field card.

In summary, once again, if the information on your Field Card is in error that would indicate that the information input into the mass appraisal system (a computer program that helps generate the assessed value) is in error and more than likely YOUR PROPERTY TAX IS INCORRECT. You should report these errors to the Assessor’s Office as soon as possible by either writing, emailing or calling (if you call follow-up with a letter to the assessor confirming the conversation and cc’ing the BOA), as I am confident, they would like to know your concerns.  Our phone number is 781-659-8014. Also please find below a Sample Draft of a Field Card with the areas labelled to correspond with the Sample Draft Unofficial version of definitions

I know this information can be overwhelming and at times difficult to absorb but it is necessary for you to have complete transparency of information in order to make sure the Assessed Value of your home and property is correct.

Remember, the Assessor’s Office is here to serve you and the Town and is always willing to respond to any and all of your questions regarding your tax assessment and the assessing process. Call at 781.659.8014 or email using the convenient dashboard on the Assessors Database once you select your home.