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Property tax bills add to cost of living in the suburbs

Ryan and Beth DeCoste purchased a home in Burlington in part because the town offers a significant number of services while keeping the property tax bills reasonably affordable.
Ryan and Beth DeCoste purchased a home in Burlington in part because the town offers a significant number of services while keeping the property tax bills reasonably affordable. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)

When they begin their house hunt, potential home buyers weigh several factors, from schools and green space to the ease of their commute. But as they become more educated, another key element comes into play.

“I find as buyers move closer to the high end of their budget, what the property taxes are and what they get for that money becomes more important,” said Sonia Rollins, a sales manager at Exit Premier Real Estate in Burlington. “They’re forced to consider what they’ll have to spend outside of their mortgage.”

For those looking for good schools, easy access to Boston, safe neighborhoods, and property tax bills that will not break the bank, housing experts said communities that are close to the urban core and have a strong commercial base are often good places to look because local businesses help offset the cost of municipal services. Those towns, realtors say, include Braintree, Burlington, and Natick.

Not surprisingly, the highest average tax bills in fiscal 2015 (July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015) are paid in towns where homes often command prices of at least $1 million. All but three — Manchester-by-the-Sea ($11,137 average tax bill), Winchester ($10,588), and Cohasset ($11,114) — are in the western suburbs. At the top is Weston, where the average property tax bill is $18,059, the highest in the state.

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In many of those communities, voters consistently have given local officials the green light to raise their property taxes beyond the limits set by Proposition 2½ to support their public schools, finance infrastructure improvements, or to purchase needed equipment. Yet in some upscale towns — including Wellesley, Weston, and Winchester — there is no curbside trash pickup, and residents must either hire a service company or haul their trash to the dump.

“In more affluent communities, buyers go in with their eyes open,” said Rollins, who oversees a staff of 30 in Burlington. “If they’re buying in Winchester, for example, they know that folks in that town are going to vote for an override to maintain the characteristics of the community. They have to be willing to resign themselves to the fact that they’re going to pay more.”

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In return, buyers who can afford high-priced real estate get top-notch schools and neighborhoods with quintessential New England charm. In these tony suburbs, well-manicured parks and upscale shops are common, while crime — particularly violent crime — is low, according to statistics released by the FBI. For example, in Wellesley, only 46 burglaries and 12 violent crimes were reported in 2012.

“It’s a good place to raise a family, convenient to everything, and within walking distance of the commuter rail,” said Carleen Vantine, 64, of Wellesley, her hometown. She and her husband, Dave, 64, plan to put their four-bedroom, 3,032-square-foot Wellesley Farms home back on the market this spring. It had been listed at $1,225,000 in the fall, but the couple decided to take it off the market for the holidays.

Sitting on the sidelines during the winter months is not likely to affect the Vantines’ bottom line. In Greater Boston, towns with the highest property tax bills have stable real estate values, even during tough economic times.

Between fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2013 — a period marred by tumbling stocks and plummeting housing prices — only six area communities enjoyed an increase in average value, with most posting modest gains ranging from 2 to 4 percent. Weston and Wellesley were among them. The others were Arlington, Cohasset, Needham, and Winchester.

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A Globe review of state Department of Revenue data found that 15 of 158 cities and towns in the suburbs have average single-family property tax bills above $10,000. The statewide average is $5,232.

“It’s really the assessed value that brings up the tax bills,” said Teri Adler, a broker with Pinnacle Residential Properties in Wellesley. “And that’s because our real estate is expensive.”

Town records show the assessed value of the Vantines’ home inched over $1 million in fiscal 2012 and stands at $1,123,000 today. That translates into a property tax bill of $12,982.

The average value of a single-family home in Wellesley is $1,152,000; in Greater Boston, only single-family homes in Weston have a higher average value: $1,470,602.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Globe analysis found that the lowest tax bills in the region can be found south and north of the city. Of the 15 municipalities with average tax bills under $4,000, only two are west of Boston: Ayer ($3,982) and Bellingham ($3,772). Wareham has an average single-family tax bill of $2,582, making it the lowest in the suburbs.

In those less affluent communities, voters have been far less likely to approve tax hikes that exceed the annual 2.5 percent increase the state law allows officials to assess without putting the question on the ballot.

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On the South Shore, homeowners in Braintree — just 10 miles south of Boston — have easy access to Routes 3 and 128 and good access to public transportation, with a subway stop on the Red Line and another on commuter rail. Many people are attracted to the town for its solid schools and strong recreation and parks programs, according to Mike Marella, owner-broker of Century 21 Marella Realty, with offices in Braintree and Abington.

“It’s a vibrant community with one of the lowest residential tax rates in the state because of all the commercial and industry here,” Marella said, noting that the town also runs its own light department, which helps to keep utility costs down.

Single-family homes in Braintree go for as little as $280,000, though many starter homes sell in the mid-to-high $300,000s. Low inventory is driving housing costs up, Marella said, noting that prices are highest in Braintree Hills, where ranches and bungalows are being transformed into expansive homes with vaulted ceilings.

After extensive work, a contemporary home in that neighborhood, at 21 Braemore Road, recently sold for $665,000. Once a 700-square-foot bungalow, a 2,000-plus square-foot addition opened up the space, flooding it with natural light.

Still, Braintree remains a bargain when compared with other South Shore communities. The same home in Cohasset would command 30 to 50 percent more, depending on location. “If it were on the water, it could easily go for over $900,000,” Marella said.

“We moved to Braintree because we heard the school system is good,” said Elaine Huang, 26, who, with her husband, Alwen Chen, 26, purchased a two-story, three-bedroom home in East Braintree for $341,000 in September. The tax bill on their home is $2,941 this fiscal year, according to town tax records.

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In Metrowest, realtors say Natick offers a good balance between reasonable housing prices and the services homeowners receive for their hard-earned dollars. Natick students have good MCAS scores , while the town boasts a low crime rate, miles of walking trails, and upscale shops at the Natick Mall.

Surrounded by many communities where homes command much heftier prices, Natick is the first affordable town a buyer will hit heading west out of Boston, according to Mark Galante, a broker and owner of Exit First Choice Professional Realty in Framingham. The average property tax bill for a single-family home in Natick is $6,630; in surrounding communities other than Framingham — including Weston, Wellesley, Dover, Sherborn, and Wayland — the average annual bill for a single-family home exceeds $12,000.

North of Boston, Burlington is considered a good buy. The town has low residential property taxes, good schools, nicely maintained parks, and the 3rd Avenue retail boulevard, which is expected to add significantly to the town’s $1.3 million meal tax revenue.

“When people are trying to decide where to buy, and where they grew up is not a factor, they look at quality-of-life issues, and that includes property taxes,” said Rollins, who added that she thinks Burlington is one of the best values in the region, in part because “elected officials, for a number of years, have opted to include whatever services they can in the tax dollar. There aren’t a lot of fees.”

The strong commercial tax flow enables Burlington to fund a broad range of services and programs, from iPads for every high school student to a Recreation Department that offers a variety of programs throughout the year. The town does not charge for trash pickup, school bus transportation, or high school athletics.

Homes in Burlington run from the mid $300,000s for a small ranch to the low $800,000s for a newly built Colonial, Rollins said. The average assessed value of a single-family home is $420,117, with an average tax bill of $4,768.

“Finding a home here was very competitive, but definitely worth it,” said Ryan DeCoste, 25, who with his wife, Beth, 28, bought a 1950s ranch on a half-acre for $390,000. The couple passed papers on the home last month, attracted to the area in part by the services they get for their tax dollars. The assessed value of the couple’s home is $338,800. They will pay $3,845 in property taxes this fiscal year, Burlington records show.

“We had been looking in Woburn, Wilmington, Billerica, and Tewksbury, too,” said DeCoste. “We decided to buy in Burlington because, overall, we felt it offered more. Billerica taxes were so much higher, and it was the same with Woburn and Wilmington.

“Here, we have better access to the main highways and we were able to find a house with gas and sewer. In other communities, the homes were on septic and oil.”

Added Rollins, who helped the DeCostes through the home-buying process: “At the end of the day, there are certain communities that just offer more. Burlington is one.”

Statewide property taxes
A look at property taxes in effect to June 30, 2015, in communities around Massachusetts
Property taxes around the state
What the owner of a single-family home of average value will pay in property taxes in the current fiscal year (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015).
City/town Average value Tax rate Average bill
Abington $295,431 $17.00 $5,022
Acton $531,639 $19.05 $10,128
Acushnet $251,490 $14.28 $3,591
Agawam $209,119 $15.74 $3,292
Alford $714,950 $4.30 $3,074
Amesbury $311,061 $20.54 $6,389
Amherst $333,126 $20.54 $6,842
Andover $577,689 $14.97 $8,648
Arlington $539,199 $13.55 $7,306
Ashburnham $201,657 $22.28 $4,493
Ashby $199,459 $19.68 $3,925
Ashfield $237,407 $15.97 $3,791
Ashland $378,924 $17.30 $6,555
Athol $128,822 $19.03 $2,451
Attleboro $253,671 $14.71 $3,732
Auburn $227,977 $17.26 $3,935
Avon $265,610 $16.37 $4,348
Ayer $272,368 $14.62 $3,982
Barnstable
Barre $176,963 $18.64 $3,299
Becket $231,784 $10.45 $2,422
Bedford $588,699 $14.62 $8,607
Belchertown $248,462 $17.89 $4,445
Bellingham $264,700 $14.25 $3,772
Belmont $847,928 $12.90 $10,938
Berkley $300,729 $13.91 $4,183
Berlin $347,069 $16.09 $5,584
Bernardston $205,984 $18.58 $3,827
Beverly $422,887 $14.11 $5,967
Billerica $325,027 $14.04 $4,563
Blackstone $235,803 $19.48 $4,593
Blandford $210,653 $15.44 $3,252
Bolton $458,636 $20.98 $9,622
Boston
Bourne $388,796 $10.07 $3,915
Boxborough $531,407 $16.65 $8,848
Boxford $574,415 $15.99 $9,185
Boylston $338,700 $17.41 $5,897
Braintree $378,077 $11.07 $4,185
Brewster $456,490 $8.26 $3,771
Bridgewater $310,416 $16.24 $5,041
Brimfield $223,765 $16.79 $3,757
Brockton $183,374 $18.15 $3,328
Brookfield $199,343 $19.15 $3,817
Brookline
Buckland $208,318 $16.80 $3,500
Burlington $420,117 $11.35 $4,768
Cambridge
Canton $473,171 $12.82 $6,066
Carlisle $690,884 $19.00 $13,127
Carver $259,066 $17.01 $4,407
Charlemont $184,317 $17.88 $3,296
Charlton $253,300 $13.42 $3,399
Chatham $806,384 $4.99 $4,024
Chelmsford $338,435 $18.70 $6,329
Chelsea
Cheshire $201,621 $11.94 $2,407
Chester $159,976 $19.30 $3,088
Chesterfield $212,902 $19.09 $4,064
Chicopee $169,606 $17.54 $2,975
Clarksburg $167,946 $14.09 $2,366
Clinton $217,976 $16.66 $3,631
Cohasset $874,408 $12.71 $11,114
Colrain $174,802 $18.09 $3,162
Concord $902,043 $14.29 $12,890
Conway $283,593 $16.17 $4,586
Cummington $230,746 $12.97 $2,993
Dalton $201,423 $19.47 $3,922
Danvers $358,838 $14.91 $5,350
Dartmouth $353,622 $9.81 $3,469
Dedham $401,728 $15.87 $6,375
Deerfield $270,823 $14.94 $4,046
Dennis $406,505 $6.40 $2,602
Dighton $276,926 $14.80 $4,099
Douglas $264,804 $16.46 $4,359
Dover $1,079,957 $12.70 $13,715
Dracut $278,542 $14.93 $4,159
Dudley $214,457 $12.26 $2,629
Dunstable $391,063 $16.73 $6,542
Duxbury $609,240 $15.60 $9,504
East Bridgewater $299,275 $17.76 $5,315
East Brookfield $197,140 $17.36 $3,422
East Longmeadow $250,992 $20.72 $5,201
Eastham $445,957 $7.10 $3,166
Easthampton $230,810 $15.15 $3,497
Easton $372,840 $16.78 $6,256
Edgartown $1,180,422 $3.47 $4,096
Egremont $373,119 $8.88 $3,313
Erving $185,198 $8.62 $1,596
Essex $486,820 $15.42 $7,507
Everett
Fairhaven $246,911 $12.15 $3,000
Fall River $206,812 $13.08 $2,705
Falmouth $488,518 $8.19 $4,001
Fitchburg $155,826 $20.68 $3,222
Foxborough $379,754 $15.19 $5,768
Framingham $334,033 $17.82 $5,952
Franklin $381,223 $14.84 $5,657
Freetown $284,499 $12.90 $3,670
Gardner $159,132 $19.98 $3,179
Georgetown $379,312 $16.03 $6,080
Gill $191,954 $16.85 $3,234
Gloucester $471,289 $13.65 $6,433
Goshen $217,769 $14.74 $3,210
Grafton $340,581 $16.50 $5,620
Granby $226,829 $18.31 $4,153
Granville $237,632 $12.68 $3,013
Great Barrington $374,519 $13.72 $5,138
Greenfield $174,609 $22.51 $3,930
Groton $398,416 $18.27 $7,279
Groveland $352,861 $14.61 $5,155
Hadley $309,814 $10.86 $3,365
Halifax $274,774 $18.99 $5,218
Hamilton $492,497 $17.09 $8,417
Hampden $259,069 $18.98 $4,917
Hancock $232,387 $2.84 $660
Hanover $435,797 $16.15 $7,038
Hanson $286,159 $15.92 $4,556
Hardwick $195,718 $15.90 $3,112
Harvard $522,835 $17.79 $9,301
Harwich $450,362 $8.97 $4,040
Hatfield $286,413 $13.17 $3,772
Haverhill $268,005 $15.35 $4,114
Hawley $229,016 $15.75 $3,607
Heath $174,598 $19.96 $3,485
Hingham $692,686 $12.53 $8,679
Hinsdale $240,582 $11.82 $2,844
Holbrook $241,274 $19.08 $4,604
Holden $266,093 $18.12 $4,822
Holland $195,075 $16.23 $3,166
Holliston $386,757 $19.38 $7,495
Holyoke $179,340 $19.04 $3,415
Hopedale $297,212 $16.58 $4,928
Hopkinton $494,685 $17.96 $8,885
Hubbardston $226,863 $14.92 $3,385
Hudson $294,159 $17.27 $5,080
Hull $369,506 $13.94 $5,151
Huntington $191,991 $17.22 $3,306
Ipswich $457,356 $13.51 $6,179
Kingston $328,652 $16.94 $5,567
Lakeville $290,964 $14.25 $4,146
Lancaster $291,504 $18.76 $5,469
Lanesborough $216,926 $18.98 $4,117
Lawrence $177,748 $15.12 $2,688
Lee $251,553 $14.08 $3,542
Leicester $212,193 $14.54 $3,085
Lenox $372,098 $12.33 $4,588
Leominster $214,069 $19.44 $4,161
Leverett $304,152 $19.88 $6,047
Lexington $820,366 $14.86 $12,191
Leyden $220,343 $17.17 $3,783
Lincoln $1,015,326 $14.15 $14,367
Littleton $371,489 $18.10 $6,724
Longmeadow $326,744 $23.62 $7,718
Lowell $224,817 $15.48 $3,480
Ludlow $213,146 $17.29 $3,685
Lunenburg $246,347 $18.32 $4,513
Lynn $234,567 $16.75 $3,929
Lynnfield $553,557 $14.49 $8,021
Malden
Manchester By The Sea $1,027,424 $10.84 $11,137
Mansfield $375,254 $15.50 $5,816
Marblehead $692,165 $11.08 $7,669
Marion $541,511 $11.11 $6,016
Marlborough $303,953 $15.76 $4,790
Marshfield $386,705 $13.29 $5,139
Mashpee $460,975 $9.11 $4,199
Mattapoisett $439,880 $13.00 $5,718
Maynard $299,411 $22.31 $6,680
Medfield $595,638 $16.04 $9,554
Medford $394,473 $11.70 $4,615
Medway $362,402 $18.24 $6,610
Melrose $428,146 $12.96 $5,549
Mendon $351,055 $16.01 $5,620
Merrimac $324,117 $16.25 $5,267
Methuen $270,859 $14.60 $3,955
Middleborough $261,491 $15.78 $4,126
Middlefield $190,873 $17.44 $3,329
Middleton $505,974 $13.78 $6,972
Milford $265,062 $17.55 $4,652
Millbury $233,728 $16.46 $3,847
Millis $354,534 $17.00 $6,027
Millville $235,807 $17.24 $4,065
Milton $565,278 $13.94 $7,880
Monson $213,519 $16.67 $3,559
Montague $182,004 $16.96 $3,087
Monterey $532,673 $5.92 $3,153
Montgomery $258,399 $14.37 $3,713
Mount Washington $425,555 $5.73 $2,438
Nahant $545,730 $10.92 $5,959
Nantucket
Natick $479,759 $13.82 $6,630
Needham $818,436 $11.29 $9,240
New Ashford $268,615 $7.90 $2,122
New Bedford $185,499 $15.73 $2,918
New Braintree $253,373 $16.24 $4,115
New Marlborough $382,826 $9.44 $3,614
New Salem $205,493 $16.48 $3,387
Newbury $421,347 $11.52 $4,854
Newburyport $501,768 $13.34 $6,694
Newton $869,141 $11.61 $10,091
Norfolk $430,517 $17.66 $7,603
North Adams $136,292 $16.69 $2,275
North Andover $476,092 $14.39 $6,851
North Attleborough $336,053 $13.14 $4,416
North Brookfield $204,326 $15.59 $3,185
North Reading $482,670 $16.62 $8,022
Northampton $301,078 $15.80 $4,757
Northborough $387,617 $16.73 $6,485
Northbridge $266,463 $13.38 $3,565
Northfield $207,808 $16.65 $3,460
Norton $297,798 $15.39 $4,583
Norwell $556,544 $16.50 $9,183
Norwood $381,519 $11.47 $4,376
Oak Bluffs $569,299 $7.96 $4,532
Oakham $240,495 $13.68 $3,290
Orleans $716,270 $6.42 $4,598
Otis $319,677 $7.53 $2,407
Palmer $173,199 $19.33 $3,348
Paxton $259,276 $20.79 $5,390
Peabody $321,912 $12.30 $3,960
Pelham $306,370 $20.79 $6,369
Pembroke $333,432 $14.74 $4,915
Pepperell $278,576 $15.95 $4,443
Peru $179,562 $18.36 $3,297
Petersham $236,337 $16.99 $4,015
Phillipston $195,564 $15.70 $3,070
Pittsfield $176,065 $18.06 $3,180
Plainville $318,353 $15.42 $4,909
Plymouth $307,733 $15.54 $4,782
Plympton $322,197 $16.95 $5,461
Princeton $303,461 $17.30 $5,250
Provincetown $815,038 $7.38 $6,015
Quincy $341,158 $14.60 $4,981
Randolph $243,501 $18.10 $4,407
Raynham $309,755 $15.24 $4,721
Reading $464,251 $14.70 $6,824
Rehoboth $339,932 $12.31 $4,185
Revere $265,038 $14.80 $3,923
Richmond $405,512 $10.98 $4,453
Rockland $254,487 $19.03 $4,843
Rockport $518,820 $11.00 $5,707
Rowley $398,746 $14.24 $5,678
Rutland $239,954 $17.65 $4,235
Salem $304,368 $16.41 $4,995
Salisbury $321,964 $11.75 $3,783
Sandisfield $245,523 $13.00 $3,192
Sandwich $349,524 $14.82 $5,180
Saugus $330,346 $12.02 $3,971
Savoy $154,675 $16.25 $2,513
Scituate $492,691 $13.10 $6,454
Seekonk $296,259 $13.23 $3,920
Sharon $473,760 $20.30 $9,617
Sheffield $305,031 $14.49 $4,420
Shelburne $239,758 $13.89 $3,330
Sherborn $724,431 $20.32 $14,720
Shirley $256,376 $17.31 $4,438
Shrewsbury $381,043 $13.20 $5,030
Shutesbury $243,661 $21.53 $5,246
Somerset
South Hadley $224,815 $17.08 $3,840
Southampton $263,708 $15.71 $4,143
Southborough $557,337 $16.02 $8,929
Southbridge $158,949 $20.36 $3,236
Southwick $241,170 $16.94 $4,085
Spencer $205,667 $13.67 $2,811
Springfield $131,495 $19.67 $2,587
Sterling $287,237 $17.29 $4,966
Stockbridge $499,922 $8.67 $4,334
Stoneham $417,488 $12.96 $5,411
Stoughton $297,767 $15.13 $4,505
Stow $428,160 $19.98 $8,555
Sturbridge $255,625 $19.24 $4,918
Sudbury $658,974 $17.60 $11,598
Sunderland $276,089 $14.31 $3,951
Sutton $313,688 $16.68 $5,232
Swampscott $522,531 $17.15 $8,961
Swansea $251,561 $13.13 $3,303
Taunton $229,271 $15.01 $3,441
Templeton $172,403 $16.64 $2,869
Tewksbury $327,145 $16.37 $5,355
Tisbury
Tolland $295,720 $6.95 $2,055
Topsfield $518,568 $16.45 $8,530
Townsend $225,578 $19.11 $4,311
Truro $722,643 $6.63 $4,791
Tyngsborough $319,259 $16.96 $5,415
Tyringham $497,897 $6.66 $3,316
Upton $365,783 $16.95 $6,200
Uxbridge $273,923 $17.40 $4,766
Wakefield $416,013 $13.48 $5,608
Wales $169,719 $17.61 $2,989
Walpole $426,329 $15.70 $6,693
Waltham
Ware $172,322 $19.65 $3,386
Wareham $233,836 $11.04 $2,582
Warren $156,998 $18.75 $2,944
Warwick $172,064 $19.92 $3,428
Washington $223,291 $13.41 $2,994
Watertown
Wayland $655,211 $18.39 $12,049
Webster $220,609 $14.68 $3,239
Wellesley $1,152,734 $11.56 $13,326
Wellfleet $565,170 $6.78 $3,832
Wendell $164,067 $18.96 $3,111
Wenham $601,458 $16.25 $9,774
West Boylston $257,111 $18.34 $4,715
West Bridgewater $285,759 $17.81 $5,089
West Brookfield $202,567 $14.98 $3,034
West Newbury $476,242 $15.69 $7,472
West Springfield $223,562 $16.99 $3,798
West Stockbridge $411,539 $11.84 $4,873
Westborough $432,745 $18.59 $8,045
Westfield $224,655 $18.54 $4,165
Westford $464,442 $16.24 $7,543
Westhampton $271,635 $18.25 $4,957
Westminster $230,638 $18.95 $4,371
Weston $1,470,602 $12.28 $18,059
Westport $376,090 $7.93 $2,982
Westwood $656,097 $15.24 $9,999
Weymouth $302,008 $12.90 $3,896
Whately $274,560 $16.17 $4,440
Whitman $262,770 $15.61 $4,102
Wilbraham $272,161 $20.88 $5,683
Williamsburg $266,405 $17.99 $4,793
Williamstown $355,677 $15.61 $5,552
Wilmington $380,374 $14.37 $5,466
Winchester $872,118 $12.14 $10,588
Windsor $189,862 $13.31 $2,527
Winthrop $343,740 $14.34 $4,929
Woburn $366,597 $10.17 $3,728
Worcester $187,123 $20.07 $3,756
Worthington $233,260 $13.94 $3,252
Wrentham $390,162 $14.98 $5,845
Yarmouth $318,013 $10.04 $3,193
Data for some communities is not included because they have owner-occupied exemptions. The tax rate for Rochester has not yet been approved by the state.
Source: Massachusetts Department of Revenue
DATA: Sources
Globe Staff

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.