367 Main Street, Hyannis, MA. 02601

Frequently Asked Questions


What does the Assessing Division do? | Top

A primary responsibility of the assessing division is the continuous discovery and listing of new and additional construction. Building permit information is received monthly from the Building Department and data collectors are sent out daily to list and measure all new construction, additions and remodeling that occurs during the year. After being entered into the mass appraisal system, these structures and additions become new sources of tax revenue for the town, since they did not previously exist, and are reported to the Department of Revenue every year as new growth. This new growth generally increases the value of the tax base in Barnstable.

The core responsibility of the assessing division is the yearly revaluation of property. Assessors are required by Massachusetts law to value all real and personal property within the town. The legal standard is that all real property, from the smallest vacant piece of land to the largest commercial property, is assessed at its “full and fair market value”, or what it should sell for as of the valuation date of January 1 every year. Personal property is assessed at a standardized purchase price less reasonable depreciation. This is done to ensure that all taxpayers pay their fair share of the cost of local government.

Every year, for 30 days after the actual tax bill is issued, taxpayers have the right to contest their assessed values by filing an abatement request with the Board of Assessors. The assessing staff must review these applications to determine whether the request has merit and then recommend to the Board of Assessors whether to deny the application or reduce the taxable value to a level established by some data error on the property or by market sales evidence. The assessor’s tax values are presumed to be correct until proven otherwise by the owner or his agent. If the taxpayer is unhappy with the Board of Assessor’s decision, they may file with the Appellate Tax Board in Boston for further review. Assessors must prepare, present and defend the Board of Assessor’s decisions before the Appellate Tax Board in these cases.

Assessors also have the responsibility of issuing motor vehicle excise tax bills, with the information supplied by the State Registry of Motor Vehicles, and boat excise tax bills, which are generated at the local level from a list supplied by the Department of Environmental Police. Assessors also administer water, street and sewer betterments voted for by the Town Council. Also, assessors must review and process personal exemptions which are a type of tax credit for qualified taxpayers, and qualify the applications of charitable organizations and agricultural/forest/recreational properties.

Assessors have a major role in promoting effective financial management in the town. Real estate and motor vehicle excise tax levies account for a majority of the funds available to the municipality to provide necessary local services. Efficient and effective assessment practices result in reliable tax levies for the town and equitable distribution of the tax burden among its property owners.

How do Assessors determine value? | Top

Assessors are required by Massachusetts law to value all real and personal property at its “full and fair market value”, the amount a knowledgeable, willing buyer would pay a knowledgeable, willing seller on an open market. Assessors first inspect each property to record specific features of the land and buildings that contribute to the property’s overall value. Living area, construction style, year built, quality of construction, number of rooms, baths, fireplaces, type of heating – all are examples of the data listed on individual property record cards. By state regulation, each structure in town must be inspected at least once every nine years to verify the data on the record cards.

Finding the “full and fair market value” of a property involves discovering what similar properties are selling for on the open market. Assessors make an effort to physically inspect all properties that sell to ensure that the data used to assess the properties is correct. The assessed values are compared to the validated sale prices of the properties and then, if required, adjustments are made to the valuation tables in the mass appraisal system. A mass appraisal system is basically a computer model of the marketplace for all types of properties and buildings. This process continues until the resulting assessed values approximate the sale prices. A statistical analysis is then conducted on the ratio of the new assessed values to the sales prices to ensure that the new values meet acceptable ratio levels for all property types and sizes, as directed by the Department of Revenue’s (DOR) Local Services Division. Valuation techniques for commercial and industrial properties also include analysis from an investor’s point of view, since the purchase price a buyer is willing to pay depends largely on the return (profit) they expect to receive from purchasing and then leasing out the property. The use of yearly income and expense mailing requests assists the assessors in gathering the data needed to determine average local costs and profits for all types of properties in town. When the statistical analysis confirms that the revised values represent the fair market value of the properties that sold, the new value tables are applied to all the properties in the town in the mass appraisal system. The revised values should then fairly and equitably reflect the market value for all the properties in the town.

Assessors do not create value nor do they value individual properties one at a time based upon the sale prices or incomes. Their responsibility is to discover, analyze, and reflect the value changes that have occurred in the market place over the previous year and apply those changes in the coming fiscal year assessed values on a mass basis to the different types and classes of property throughout the town.

Why does an assessment go up when nothing has been done to the property? | Top

The short answer is that the market value for that type of property, in it’s existing condition, had risen over the previous year and the assessor’s revised assessment had to reflect that. Although the DOR certifies the assessments every three years, Massachusetts General Law states that assessments should represent the fair market value of all property every year. Accordingly, the assessors were required by the DOR to make annual revisions of their assessments starting in FY 2005. The methodology and standards used to make these adjustments are the same as those required for the DOR triennial recertification audit. The purpose of the audit is to verify in detail that the assessors are using correct mass appraisal systems and methodology and that their values reflect the “full and fair market value” of all property in each municipality. When the DOR is satisfied that the assessor’s values meet their statistical standards, it certifies those values as being accurate and the community is allowed to issue tax bills.

Assessments must correctly reflect the value of property on January 1 of each year, based on sales that occurred in the previous calendar year. Rising market values of real estate in the town will be reflected by generally rising assessments while falling market values will do the opposite. Real estate values are in a constant state of change but the values of different property types in different locations do not all change at the same rate. For instance, waterfront properties generally react differently in the market than non-waterfront properties do. This has been particularly true of real estate on Cape Cod over the years. So, changes in individual assessments will generally reflect the changes in the real estate market for those types of properties in their particular locations.

I would like to know who owns the property at - 1500 Your Street - or, Would you give me the map and parcel number of the property at - 1500 Your Street? | Top

The Barnstable assessment database is searchable and available at this web site.

Or you can:

1. Come into our office during normal business hours;

2. Send your request to our office and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Our mailing address is: Barnstable Assessing Division, 367 Main Street, Hyannis, MA 02601;

How do I change the mailing address on my tax bill(s)? | Top

To Change Real Estate or Personal Property Mailing Addresses: Submit changes or corrections in writing to the Assessor’s Office via mail, or in person during normal business hours. To insure accuracy, please include the Parcel ID (map and lot), property location, current owner of record, and new mailing address. All requests must be signed and dated.

To Change your Mailing Address for your Boat Excise: Submit your request in writing, making sure to include your bill number, age, length & description of boat, registration number and your new mailing address.

To Change your Mailing Address for your Auto Excise: You must contact the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

How do I change or correct the name(s) on my tax bill? | Top

In order to change a name or trustee’s name on a real estate tax bill, the Assessor’s Office must receive a copy of a recorded deed or newly recorded trustee document filed at the Barnstable County Registry of Deeds or with the Land Court.

In order to remove a decedent’s name from a real estate tax bill, the Assessor’s Office requires a recorded copy of a Death Certificate or Inheritance Tax Release of Lien. The process of probating a will often takes years. The Assessor’s Office will make the change once the probate has been finalized. If you feel a probate has been completed and the Assessor’s Office has not changed the title, please contact the Assessor’s Office.

In the event your name has changed, please provide the Assessor’s Office with the appropriately recorded document(s) from the Registry of Deeds or Land Court.

Why is the former owner’s name still on my tax bill? | Top

This often confuses new owners, but Chapter 59, Section 11, of the Massachusetts General Law reads, “Taxes on real estate shall be assessed, in the town where it lies, to the person who is the owner on January first…” The tax bill will carry the January first owner(s) name throughout the entire subsequent fiscal year but will be sent to the new owner once the deed has been processed. The former owners’ name will be replaced by the new owner(s) name once the fiscal year has run its cycle.

I don't have this vehicle anymore. Do I still have to pay this bill? | Top

You may be entitled to receive a motor vehicle abatement on your auto excise. In order to apply for a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax Abatement, first wait until you receive the bill, then contact our office. At that time the Assessors will require proof from you that you sold or otherwise disposed of the motor vehicle (or trailer) and either turned in the registration plate or transferred it to another vehicle. You will be expected to provide the Assessors with a copy of the Plate Return Receipt from the Registry of Motor Vehicles; or if the plate was transferred to another vehicle, a copy of the new registration.

Following is a list of various reasons that would entitle you to an abatement. In order for an abatement to be granted, you must provide the Assessor's Office with a copy of your Plate Return Receipt or new Registration from the Registry of Motor Vehicles AND:

If You Traded or Sold the Vehicle: Provide the name and address of the party who purchased the vehicle on a bill of sale or dealer trade-in document with the date of transfer clearly visible .

If the Vehicle was Junked or Repossessed: Provide a dated copy of the junk yard receipt or a letter from the finance company stating what date the vehicle was taken.

If the Vehicle is a Total Loss: Provide a letter from your insurance company showing the date of loss and the vehicle identification number.

If the Vehicle was Stolen: Provide a letter from your insurance company showing the date of settlement or a dated police report, with the vehicle identification number clearly visible on either one.

If the Vehicle was Registered in Another State: Provide a copy of the Out of State Registration.

If the Vehicle was Registered in Another Town in Massachusetts: Your excise tax is due in the city or town in which your vehicle is principally garaged on January 1st. If you moved prior to January 1st, provide a copy of your current registration showing your new address and we will have your new town reassess the excise tax.

You may wish to note, that:

The minimum motor vehicle excise tax shall be $5.00;

No abatement shall reduce the motor vehicle excise tax to less than $5.00;

No abatement shall be issued on a motor vehicle excise tax bill for less than $5.00;

No abatement shall be granted on a registration that is cancelled in the month of December.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Cancellation of license plate alone does not warrant an abatement of motor vehicle excise tax. If you are still in possession of the vehicle, you owe the tax through the end of the calendar year.

Some further notes:

All vehicles registered as of January 1st will receive a tax bill from the community in which your vehicle is garaged. You determine this at the time you register your vehicle and your excise fee is retained by your local municipality for town expenses.

If you move during the year to another city or town, it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to change his/her mailing address and vehicle’s place of garaging with the Registry of Motor Vehicles prior to January 1st, so that your future tax bills reach you at your new address.

To cancel the registration on any motor vehicle, the plates must be returned to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. If lost or stolen, you must contact the Registry of Motor Vehicles at (617) 351-9380. Do not mail license plates to the assessor’s office for processing as this will only delay or diminish any abatement to which you may be entitled.

Filing for an abatement does not stay the taxpayer’s obligation from paying the taxes. To avoid charges and penalties, you should pay your tax and then file for your abatement. A refund, if granted, will follow.

I sold my boat. What should I do about my boat excise bill? | Top

When you sell your boat, you may be entitled to receive an abatement. In order to apply for a Motor Vessel Excise Tax Abatement, the Assessors will require proof that you disposed of the boat, usually in the form of a signed bill of sale. Also, your boat registration MS# should be canceled with the MA Environmental Police Registration & Titling Bureau and any mooring records updated.

If any of the following apply:

You Traded, Junked or Sold Your Boat: You’ll need to provide the assessors with a copy of the dealer’s invoice showing the trade-in; or if a private sale, a dated copy of the bill of sale. If the boat was junked, you’ll need to supply the assessors with a dated receipt from the wrecking yard or other facility that received the boat.

You Registered your Boat in Another State: You’ll need to provide the assessors with a copy of the Out of State Registration.

As a resident of the Town of Barnstable, do I qualify for any tax relief ? | Top

As a resident of the Town of Barnstable, you may qualify for one or more tax exemptions. An exemption releases an individual from the requirement to pay some or all of his/her property tax obligations, depending upon the exemption. Exemptions may be available to those individuals that meet the various requirements in various categories. Click here for further information


I am a senior citizen who does not qualify for the elderly exemption. Do I qualify for any other assistance? | Top

Massachusetts law allows you to defer the payment of any or all of your real estate taxes if the property is your legal domicile and you are at least 65 years old and your total income is less then $40,000. These deferred taxes do not have to be paid until you pass away or sell the property. Please contact the assessor’s office for additional information.




Edward F. O'Neil, MAA
P 508-862-4022
F 508-862-4722
367 Main Street
Hyannis, MA. 02601

Public Records
Ann Quirk
Public Records Request

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