"Managed properly, property taxes are an area where owners produce significant savings without significant expense."
As we begin 2006, it's appropriate to think about planning for the coming year relating to property taxes. Too often, planning in this area resembles a fire drill, performed at the very last minute. Many times, property owners assume that property taxes are a fixed expense not requiring annual management. However, if managed properly, property taxes can be an area where owners produce significant savings every year without a significant outlay of expense.
Every commercial property owner needs to put tools in place that will allow annual examination of their property's income and expense. On January 1st of each year, enter on an Excel spreadsheet all income and expense information for each property owned last year and in previous years. This enables owners to easily compare this year's income and expenses against those of prior years.
Also, market cap rates and vacancy rates should be utilized to see what changes have taken place in the valuation of a property. For example, if studies indicate greater vacancy rates in the comparable area than in the owner's property, the owner should argue for the utilization of the market vacancy in developing the property's assessment. This, of course, results in a lower property value. On the other hand, if the property demonstrates greater vacancy than the market, this calls for the owner to argue that the property suffers from obsolescence issues.
Retain competent appraisers and consultants to give advice as to what current cap rates and vacancy rates ought to be. At the same time, property owners will want to examine local markets to find comparables indicating what that property would rent for if exposed in the market. This last exercise is critical because taxing authorities base assessments on current market figures, not necessarily the actual income currently derived from a property.
Competently performing the tasks outlined puts property owners in a good position to evaluate property tax assessments aftera ll valuation notices are received on or about February 1 of each New Year. All property owners receive valuation notices reflecting the latest assessment on their properties. What will not be disclosed on the notice is the overall percentage level of assessment in the taxing jurisdiction.
Few taxing authorities assess properties at 100% of present market value except when a municipality-wide revaluation takes place. That means, in all other years, the percentage level of assessment falls below 100% of market value. While actual assessments may not change from year to year, the overall level of assessment within a jurisdiction always does.
Diligent examination of these changes allows the owner to reach accurate conclusions on the merits of a property tax appeal. Any owner can call their local board of taxation or contact the New Jersey Division of Taxation to find out the applicable percentage level of assessment for their property.
New Jersey sets the absolute deadline for filing an appeal as April 1st. Missing this deadline means the owner must await next year's assessment to file an appeal. If owners utilize the tools discussed here, a competent property tax professional will quickly determine if an appeal is appropriate. An ill-advised appeal often results in an increase in assessment if the property is determined to be undervalued. Thus, competency and significant due diligence become critical.
Using the tools describ ed above also allows the property owner to quickly answer Chapter 91 requests filed by the local tax assessor. Under New Jersey law, a tax assessor can annually demand income and expense information for property within their jurisdiction. Failure to respond to these notices within 45 days causes disallowance of any tax appeal for that year. Many legitimate tax appeals are dismissed just for this failure to respond in a timely manner.
These tools also aid in the successful prosecution of an appeal as it goes forward. By demonstrating changes in the property from year to year, legitimate areas of obsolescence and market weakness can be shown to the assessor, producing lower valuations.
Whether an owner has a large, multi-state portfolio or only a single property, employing these tools holds down excessive property taxation. The larger the property portfolio, the greater the opportunity for mismanagement. Ongoing management and record-keeping insures a timely ability to manage property tax expense. The first step is proper planning as the New Year begins.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not of Real Estate Media or its publications.