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Six Questions for Tax Counsel's Stephen Paul

"For the last few years, the country has been mired in a deep recession, which has severely impacted tax values. In determining assessed values, assessors don't have an understanding of —or ignore the realities of— the impact of the recession on property owners. One example revolves around the capitalization rate that should be used under the income approach to value..."

Interview with American Property Tax Counsel's president, Stephen H. Paul, as published by GlobeSt., January 2012

CHICAGO-Fighting for every scrap of legal tender has become an important part of commercial real estate, as loans today require much more cash and fights ensue about property value loss.

The locally based American Property Tax Counsel is an advocate in this fight for real estate owners. The group is comprised of 32 member firms and more than 100 attorneys from across the country selected for membership based on their reputations for practice excellence in their respective jurisdictions.

Recently, the group held their annual election and selected Stephen Paul with Indianapolis-based Faegre Baker Daniels as this year's president. He talked recently with Globest.com about his insights into the current post-recession era, and what owners can do to retain as much value as possible.

Globest.com: What are your thoughts upon being elected president of APTC?

Paul: The legal issues that have arisen since APTC was founded 20 years ago have changed substantially. My goal is to continue the tradition of making our member firms familiar with the most current issues and solutions, from both the legal and the valuation perspectives. Doing so will allow us to continue to best serve our member firms' clients.

Globest.com: What do you see as the most significant issue in property tax litigation today?

Paul: For the last few years, the country has been mired in a deep recession, which has severely impacted tax values. In determining assessed values, assessors don't have an understanding of —or ignore the realities of— the impact of the recession on property owners. One example revolves around the capitalization rate that should be used under the income approach to value. Assessors utilize pre-recession information that is not applicable to the realities of today. Taxpayers need to closely scrutinize the data used by assessors in developing the cap rate employed in their valuation of the owner's property.

Globest.com: Any other issues that you see this year that will affect property tax litigation?

Paul: Most states define taxable value as market value in exchange, that is, what a willing buyer would pay and a willing seller would accept. Many assessors, however, attempt to utilize market value in use instead, which can translate into an unlawful value. For example, imagine a manufacturing facility built forty or fifty years ago, but which continues to serve the purposes of its owner. The property may be more valuable to the owner in its current use than it would be if the owner chose to sell the vacant building to a buyer. Did the assessor value the taxpayer's property employing a value in use concept?

Globest.com: Has the recession caused any issues involving how sales are compared to one another?

Paul: Specifically when valuing a property under the sales comparison approach, issues arise as to which sales should be considered and which should be ignored. As the economy —including the real estate market— remains in a deep recession, a large number of comparable sales involve foreclosed properties. We see assessors trying to disregard the values of those foreclosures, when in fact foreclosed properties may be the only market. The savvy taxpayer will determine whether the assessor has failed to include foreclosures in its comparables.

Globest.com: What are some of the ways assessors inappropriately inflate property value?

Paul: Assessors sometimes attempt to use an allocated portion of the recorded sale price in a bulk transaction sale. However, that price usually reflects other factors, such as the value of intangibles, or the benefits to that particular owner from the economies of scale of owning multiple operational buildings. In other cases, assessors will try to rely on reported Section 1031 exchange values. That is also inappropriate, though, because those values include considerations that are wholly aside from the value of the realty. Make certain that only the value of the real property is being used to determine the valuation of your property for property tax purposes.

Globest.com: What are some issues you see arising as the real estate markets start to recover?

Paul: From a macro point of view, the increasing level of federal government debt will mean that programs and expenditures heretofore made at the federal level will be pushed onto state and local governments due to the burgeoning federal deficit. Local communities will be under even more pressure to raise revenue. The greatest source of revenue for local governments is property tax. So, as was the case during the Reagan presidency, assessors will become more aggressive in attempting to raise revenue to satisfy their local budgets, and that will fall on the shoulders of property owners. In order to assure fair property taxation, owners must carefully review their tax assessments to ensure that no inappropriate factors are used by assessors in valuing their property.

Paul_SteveStephen H. Paul is a partner in the Indianapolis office of Faegre Baker Daniels, the Indiana member of 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.

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