Property Tax Resources


Thinking Outside the Box

"Smart shopping center owners follow Hoteliers' approach to reducing property taxes."

By Cris K. O'Neall, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor, November/December 2009

Why do taxing authorities recognize intangibles for hospitality properties, but not shopping center properties? The answer may be the way mall intangibles have been chara­acterized for tax purposes.

Intangibles include such items as business franchises, licenses and pera­mits, operating manuals and procedures, trained workforce, commercial agreea­ments and intellectual property.

Owners of hospitality properties know that branding their properties with well-recognized franchises or flags, such as Marriott, increases revenues. Because branding usually delivers access to resera­vations and management systems, traina­ing programs and other value-added benefits, it attracts clientele willing to pay premiums for hospitality stays and related amenities.

While hospitality properties benefit from their property tax exemption for franchises and other intangibles, shopa­ping mall properties haven't garnered the same benefits.

A recent unfavorable decision by the Minnesota Tax Court in an appeal filed by Eden Prairie Center in suburban Minneapolis typifies the difficulty shopa­ping center owners face in obtaining exemptions for intangibles. Mall owners who could use a respite from high propa­erty taxes are understandably frustrated.

Identifying intangibles

Hotel owners have succeeded in claiming the intangibles tax exemption by identia­fying specific types of intangibles, such as franchises and employee workforce, and assigning values to those tax-exempt items. This approach is particularly suca­cessful in states like California where statutes and court decisions support deductions for intangibles.

In contrast, shopping center owners typically urge tax assessors to reduce assessments based on residual "business enterprise value" (BEV). These owna­ers ascribe to BEV the higher in-line store rents produced by the presence of high-end anchor tenants or a particularly advantageous tenant mix.

Taxing authorities are reluctant to accept taxpayers' requests for BEV assessa­ment reductions. Court decisions involva­ing shopping center properties usually point to difficulties in proving BEV and the problem of separating intangibles from real estate.

Mall owners should focus on intana­gible assets and rights specific to their properties, as hospitality owners have done, rather than rely on the more neba­ulous BEV. They should identify and determine the value of intangibles such as anchor tenant and/or mall trade names, management agreements, and advertising arrangements. Creativity in identifying and valuing intangibles can bring significant assessment reductions, but success depends on owners' efforts. For example, proving to taxing authorities the benefits of having upscale anchor tenants likely requires an appraiser's analysis and may also depend upon data for competing properties.

Making the case

After intangibles are identified, an appraiser who specializes in intangible valuation should be retained to appraise the identified assets and rights. Then the total value of the tax-exempt intangibles is deducted from the entire property's value to arrive at the value of the taxable real property.

If the value of all intangibles is suba­stantial, this should be presented to the assessor. Ideally, informal negotiations with the taxing authority result in lower assessments. Even with the best efforts, however, it's still possible that the assessor won't reduce a shopping center's value by removing tax-exempt intangibles. In that event, a tax appeal should be filed.

CONeallCris K. O'Neall is a partner with Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Industrial Properties Get Their Due

"In most jurisdictions, the taxing authorities include in industrial property tax assessments the value of the real estate and the value of the intangibles, despite the fact that in many states intangibles are not taxable assets..."

By Cris O'Neall, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor, June 2008

For over a decade, tax authorities in many jurisdictions have recognized that intangible assets and rights must be removed when assessing certain types of properties for tax purposes. This recognition of non-taxable intangibles has typically been limited to hospitality and retail properties, where intangible assets are easier to pinpoint.

Assessors often believe industrial properties consist of solely taxable real estate and personal property, and don't remove the intangible assets for valuation purposes. That could change, however, in the next few years, due to changes in financial reporting standards made earlier this decade, including the advent of FASB 141 and 142, which address the reporting treatment of intangibles acquired by publicly traded companies.

New reporting requirements enable industrial property owners to call attention to intangible assets so they can be deducted from property valuations.


Gaining traction

As auditors have learned to apply FASB 141 and 142, the number and types of intangibles reported to regulatory authorities has increased. The above chart provides a few examples of the kinds of data industrial companies have begun to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission following large industrial plant acquisitions.

In each example, a portion of the purchase price paid was allocated to specific intangible assets and rights. For instance, Harvest Energy Trust allocated over $118 million of the price it paid for a refinery in Newfoundland, Canada in 2006 to engineering drawings, marketing contracts and customer lists. In the past, intangibles were usually reported along with property, plant and equipment and not delineated. Thus, assessors could not see the intangible assets much less understand their value. FASB 141 and 142 have changed that. The identification of specific intangible assets by industrial companies in financial reporting of acquisitions represents a big step forward. It gives legitimacy to specific intangibles, both for the company reporting them and for other companies in the same industry. Intangibles are exempted from taxation in a number of states. For example, in California, statutes, regulations and appellate court decisions exempt most industrial plant intangibles.

Property taxpayers who can identify and place a value on intangible assets and rights are entitled to exclude the value of those intangibles in determining their property's assessed value. Similar tax exemptions can be found in other states, such as Texas and Washington.

Doing the math

Once intangibles are identified, the amount of intangible value to be deducted from the property's total value must be determined. This is established by a review of comparable sales or a cash flow analysis. An appraiser should be retained to develop the valuation using the appropriate ad valorem tax standard.

For example, every industrial property has employees and a market expense to recruit and train can be estimated. This figure is an "avoided cost" to a buyer and represents the fair market value of that workforce for ad valorem tax purposes.The same technique can be used to value drawings, manuals and software.

Normally, property owners do not determine the value of intangibles by using the local property tax value standard. By valuing intangibles that way, the taxpayer derives a quantitative value for the tangible real and personal property that should be subject to property tax.

In most jurisdictions, the taxing authorities include in industrial property tax assessments the value of the real estate and the value of the intangibles, despite the fact that in many states intangibles are not taxable assets. Therefore, owners and operators of industrial properties need to follow these key steps:

  • Determine how the taxing authorities appraise your properties for ad valorem tax value. If they include real estate and intangibles in their assessment, take stock of the intangible assets and rights used in connection with your properties.
  • Order appraisals for all the properties' intangibles, basing those appraisals on local ad valorem value standards.
  • Present the facts to the taxing authorities and request that the value of the intangibles be excluded from the taxable value of your properties.

If you and the authorities cannot agree, file a tax appeal.

CONeallCris K. O'Neall is a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. O'Neall can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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