When Natalie Moore and her husband decided to sell their two-bedroom Ditmas Park apartment and move to Maplewood, N.J., they were setting out on a well-worn path.
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Colonial homes in Maplewood
"We know a lot of people from Brooklyn are moving there, a lot of people in the arts are living out there, and the feel of the town is so lovely," says Ms. Moore, an actress. "There are a lot of actors and musicians and artists and it's seemingly very liberal, and that was attractive to us, too."
But one aspect of Maplewood remains decidedly unattractive to residents and would-be residents alike: the town's notorious property taxes, high even by suburban New Jersey standards. Annual property taxes in Maplewood for a house in the $600,000 to $750,000 range can climb well past $20,000, and owners of houses that might sell for under $400,000 may pay more than $10,000 a year.
A new revaluation of the town's property, the first since 2000, is further unsettling homeowners who will learn this month whether the reassessment will cause their taxes to rise, and by how much.
The Maplewood town clock
"It's a little alarming," Ms. Moore says of the tax situation. "It definitely affects what we're looking at." Ms. Moore and her family briefly considered neighboring Millburn—where taxes are lower in part because Millburn includes the Mall at Short Hills—but ultimately decided they preferred the economic diversity of Maplewood.
Maplewood, a town of about 25,000 with direct train service to Manhattan, has long lured backyard-seeking New Yorkers with its stock of 1920s colonial houses, a quaint and pedestrian-friendly downtown and a reputation as a civic-minded, progressive community. In the years after 2002, when Money magazine named Maplewood one of the top places to live in the U.S., houses frequently sparked bidding wars and sold well beyond their asking prices.
More recently, real estate has sagged, with 212 listings for sale in September—triple the number on the market in September 2007—and a median sales price that is $40,000 lower than it was three years ago, according to the Garden State Multiple Listing Service.
"It's not enough for a house to be a good house at a good value. People want to see a bargain," says Amy Paternite, a real-estate broker who herself moved from Brooklyn to Maplewood seven years ago. Houses that are well-priced can sell quickly with multiple offers, but others can languish on the market.
The property tax, Ms. Paternite says, is "the premium you pay for living in a great community, close to the city, with great schools."
The property taxes on a typical house in nearby Short Hills could be almost half the amount in Maplewood, but a similar house in Short Hills might cost as much as $350,000 more, she says. What drives the high taxes in Maplewood, in large part, is what some residents find so appealing: the lack of chain stores, malls and industry. See homes for sale in Millburn/Short Hills at http://www.newjerseyuniquehomes.com/millburn-shorthills-f25166.html
Maplewood's 2000 revaluation caused a furor after some residents saw their tax bills double. This time around, property values haven't risen as much in between townwide assessments and officials have focused on transparency to avoid sending residents into tax shock again. The new valuations aren't supposed to generate more tax revenue, so along with increases, homeowners in some neighborhoods will see their tax bills go down.
Still, the revaluation "adds another layer to the uncertainty, and when you have uncertainty that's when people bail, because they don't want to get stuck," says Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca, who was voted off the Township Committee after the 2000 uproar but has since been re-elected.
Maplewood was required to do another revaluation because the town's combined property value was estimated to be double its assessed value of about $2 billion.
Mr. DeLuca also says the number of homeowners challenging their tax bills has skyrocketed, from about a dozen three years ago to nearly 100 this year, costing the town about $300,000 in tax reimbursements in 2010 alone.
"Everything's in limbo. Some [houses] might go up, some might go down," says Caroline Gosselin, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. "Things will be redistributed and buyers need to know that."
Kelsey Kleiman of Brooklyn and her family looked at moving to Maplewood but are close to crossing the town off their list because of fear of tying themselves to such a hefty tax bill.
Maplewood, Short Hills, South Orange, Summit, and Millburn real estate and homes for sale in New Jersey - Robert Northfield, Realtor
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