Hamilton town leaders see Marblehead residents looking for more open space and buyers struck by the “sticker shock” in Manchester-by-the-Sea as prospective homebuyers in town.
Earlier this month Jennifer Scuteri, chairman of the Hamilton Board of Selectmen, and board member Jeff Hubbard met with about 10 local real estate agents to hear about house hunter’s views of the town. And last week, selectmen debriefed the meeting at and worked to come up with ways to use the information they had gathered from real estate agents.
The top concern from the real estate agents – the tax rate.
“They see the property tax line and they think it is a typo,” Scuteri said real estate agents told her, describing the reaction of potential homebuyers attending open houses as they see the listing sheet. “So it is a real concern.”
The comparison often comes from open house attendees who started their home search in Manchester-by-the-Sea and are also looking in Hamilton.
While Hamilton’s tax rate - – is higher than Manchester’s $10.11, the average tax bill is lower. In Hamilton, the average residential tax bill is $6,796 while in Manchester it is $9,240.
As of the result of the meeting with real estate agents, Hamilton selectmen hope to give local real estate agents specific information they can use to tout the pluses of the town.
“The tax rate is not going down to $14,” said Selectmen David Carey. Instead, selectmen can give real estate agents information about efforts to decrease or hold the tax rate steady, Scuteri said.
Real estate agents told selectmen that a commitment to slow or halt the upward trend of the tax rate would help increase property values.
In addition, buyers can get more house for the same tax bill in Hamilton versus Manchester, Selectman Marc Johnson said.
“We should have the same cache as Manchester,” Hubbard said. “We have as much to offer, if not more.”
The schools are “a big piece” of buyer’s draw to Hamilton, Hubbard said he heard from real estate agents, as is the quality of life and open space.
Earlier, Hubbard said Hamilton can market its proximity to Crane Beach and access to trails. Many of the redeeming qualities of Hamilton are “underappreciated,” Hubbard said.
Hamilton is attractive to Marblehead residents, for example, Hubbard said, noting he used to live there. They are seeking quality schools along with more open space. In Marblehead, the density is nearly 4,500 people per square mile versus the 550 per square mile in Hamilton.
To lower the tax rate, town services would have to be cut, Scuteri said. And real estate agents told the selectmen that few buyers look at town services – such as snow plowing and trash collection – when choosing where to live.
Instead, schools get most of the attention. Some of Hamilton’s “competing” towns include Beverly, Essex, Ipswich, Manchester and Wenham, Scuteri said.
“What’s starting to come in to play is that all of our surrounding towns have new schools,” Scuteri said, adding that building is “perfectly fine inside.”
“It’s the visual,” she said, referring to the attraction of newer schools in Beverly, Ipswich and Manchester.
Other nearby towns, such as Boxford and Topsfield, “compete” more with Andover, she said.
Selectmen hope to sit down again in a few months with real estate agents. It will follow-up on the first meeting, which was intended to “see what the perception is on the outside.”