Menu

Property Tax Resources

5 minutes reading time (917 words)

How to Fight High Property Taxes

"A sale involving a first-generation lease is more a financing operation than a transaction in real estate. In the past, many single-tenant real estate users — often retailers not wanting to tie up capital — financed their real estate through sale-leaseback transactions where they recouped the capital costs by inflating both rent and the corresponding sale price."

By Kieran Jennings, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor, Summer Special Edition, July 2007

In a build-to-suit transaction, the value of the property to the user who had it built is greater than the value that property holds for the next user.

For instance, a store built as a McDonald's would not have the same value to a Taco Bell. Although both users are fast-food chains, the layout, design and exterior appearance all work to identify, market or assist the first occupant's business.

The decrease in value from the original user to the subsequent user represents built-in obsolescence. Failure to recognize this obsolescence often subjects first generation owners to excessive property tax assessments.

A triple-net-lease property that was a build-to-suit may be sold to a new owner, even if the original user remains the tenant. In this case, the sale price reflects the value of the tenant's lease. The assets involved in the purchase include both the lease and the real estate.

Because the revenue created by the lease primarily drives the price of the deal, an assessment based on sale price can result in an illegal assessment when it is based on the value of the property to the user.

Fighting back

The first step in reducing improper taxes requires that owners prove to the assessor or the courts that the rent and/or sale represent value to the user, not the market value of the property. The next task is to prove actual market value for the real estate.

A sale involving a first-generation lease is more a financing operation than a transaction in real estate. In the past, many single-tenant real estate users — often retailers not wanting to tie up capital — financed their real estate through sale-leaseback transactions where they recouped the capital costs by inflating both rent and the corresponding sale price. This practice is still prevalent today. The user currently has a relationship with a local developer who will acquire the site and build the property on behalf of the user to suit the user's needs. As with a sale-leaseback transaction, the user will enter into a long-term lease based on the costs of building the property to meet the user's specific needs.

The developer then either retains the property or sells it with the lease in place. Thus, the tenant has outsourced to the developer the financing, site selection, construction and other exterior and interior finishes. The third-party purchaser sees the transaction as essentially buying a bond secured by real estate.

Until the first-generation user vacates the property and the real estate is exposed to the open market, the real estate value has not been tested. Furthermore, because the lease drives the sales price of a net-lease property, only a second generation lease reveals true market value and produces a correct assessment.

Case study makes the point

Data from a recent drug store case illustrates the difference in first- and second generation leases for comparable properties built as national retail drug stores. The average drop of $19 per sq. ft. in rent from the first-generation user to the second generation illustrates the difference between value in use and market value.

The difference is due to obsolescence, a fact first-generation tenants must demonstrate to assessors. Data like that shown in the accompanying chart prove the existence and value of the obsolescence.

JenningsNREI_Fair_Taxation_clip_image002Not only are the rents affected by the first-generation tenant, the capitalization rate is significantly lower than market rates. The net-lease market into which these properties are sold is among the most active and developed in the real estate market, allowing for substantial liquidity, efficient pricing, and tax deferral through 1031 exchanges.

As a result, the capitalization rates have been reduced to exceedingly narrow margins. Therefore, cap rates derived from sales of first-generation property should not be used in determining assessments.

Proving market value

Assessment laws generally provide that property must be valued using market terms and conditions. Therefore, market rents, those paid by tenants in comparable properties, not contract rents, those paid by the net-lease tenant, determine the income attributable to the real estate.

The difference between market rents and contract rents demonstrate the amount of the obsolescence. Furthermore, the differences in sales prices of property from first-generation users to the next generation can also be used to prove obsolescence.

The road to a fair and honest assessment is not easy, but as illustrated in the accompanying chart, the difference between use value and market value can be substantial.

 

KJennings90J. Kieran Jennings, partner at Siegel Siegel Johnson & Jennings, a law firm with offices in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The firm is the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania member of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Equal and Uniform Arguments Reduce Hotel Taxes
Use Caution When Applying Cap Rates from Sales Sur...

American Property Tax Counsel

Recent Published Property Tax Articles

Use Restrictions Can Actually Lower A Tax Bill

​Savvy commercial owners are employing use restrictions as a means to reduce taxable property values.

Most property managers and owners can easily speak about their property's most productive use, in addition to speculating on a list of potential uses. Not all of them, however, are as keenly aware of their property's...

Read more

Nothing New About The Old ‘Dark Store Theory’

Statutory law continues to require that assessors value only the real estate, not the success or lack thereof, by the owner of the real estate.

Assessors and their minions frequently take the position that an occupied store is more valuable than an unoccupied store, a conclusion commonly referred to as the...

Read more

Benjamin Blair: Creative Deal Structures Can Yield Tax Benefits

​Managing expenses is one of the best ways to ensure the long-term profitability of investment properties, and prudent developers know the importance of carefully monitoring and challenging property tax assessments. But student housing, as a subsector populated largely by tax-exempt educational institutions, presents unique opportunities to minimize taxes for some...

Read more

Member Spotlight

Members

Forgot your password? / Forgot your username?