Town officials seek local real estate transfer fee in Amherst 

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-25-2023 8:29 PM

AMHERST — Amherst is asking the area’s legislative delegation in Boston to file special legislation that would allow the town to impose real estate transfer fees on residential transactions, with money generated from this supporting affordable housing, town operations and the capital stabilization fund.

The Town Council voted unanimously on Monday to seek support from Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, for permission to impose a fee of up to 2% on the transfer of certain residential properties.

The proposal was first developed by District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier and At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke and brought to the council last September. They are proposing a broad special act be adopted by legislators that would then be implemented by a local bylaw.

“The bylaw is when we will decide all of the really specific elements about this,” Devlin Gauthier said, noting that such a bylaw would allow Amherst officials to decide what is right for the town and to adjust for market conditions.

The town would like to see all non-owner-occupied homes and those owned by limited liability corporations to be subject to the transfer fee, as well as expensive homes, but Hanneke said other specifics about which properties would qualify will be determined through a bylaw.

“Ana and I have always said we want the special act to be as flexible as possible,” Hanneke said.

Exemptions are expected for homes under 200% of the average assessed value in Amherst, which is $720,000. But Hanneke said this wouldn’t be included in the request to the state for a special act.

Under the initial proposal, Devlin Gauthier said that the first $250,000 generated through such a fee would go to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, with the remainder to other town accounts.

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The specific request to the Legislature is to allow the town “to impose a fee of up to 2% of the purchase price upon the transfer of any real property interest in the city known as the town of Amherst or a controlling interest in a trust, limited liability company, or other entity that directly or indirectly holds an interest in any class of residential real property situated in the city known as the town of Amherst. The city known as the town of Amherst may define by bylaw what constitutes a controlling interest and the calculation of the fee.”

Council President Lynn Griesemer said that if Domb and Comerford file the legislation, it could die in the Legislature; could be adopted as specific to certain communities, with others making similar requests; or could become a state law that applies to all communities.

“The goal for us is to be at the table so that we can try to maintain as much flexibility as is presently written in our special act,” Griesemer said.

The proposal was reviewed by the Finance Committee. At Large Councilor Andy Steinberg, who chairs the Finance Committee, said the committee members felt it was a valuable idea.

“Let’s do it and get it before the Legislature. It’s the start of a new session and it’s the right time to do it,” Steinberg said.

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