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Property Tax Resources

May
24

Use obsolescence to lower hospital property taxes

Property taxes based on excessive valuations are smothering traditional hospital owners.

All too often, tax assessors ignore functional and economic obsolescence that increasingly afflict hospitals, instead treating these assets as financially productive institutions that hold their value. Hospital owners, however, can leverage obsolescence to reduce taxable values and property tax bills.

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https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/use-obsolescence-to-lower-hospital-property-taxes.html

Daniel R. Smith, Esq., is a principal with and general counsel for Austin, Texas law firm Popp Hutcheson PLLC, the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Kevin Shalley, CMI, is a tax consultant and manager with Popp Hutcheson PLLC, specializing in healthcare properties.

 Contact Daniel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Kevin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Nov
14

Property Taxes Should Reflect Retail’s Apocalyptic Times

Instead, assessors continue to ignore the clear fact that brick-and-mortar retail is in massive decline.

The retail sector is experiencing its darkest period ever, and taxing entities must come to grips with declining shopping center values.

News reports confirm that national retailers are closing stores at a record pace. In 2017 alone, retail mainstays such as JC Penney, Sears and Macy's have shuttered hundreds of stores. Leading market analysts including Credit Suisse and Cushman & Wakefield have predicted the closing of some 10,000 brick-and-mortar stores.

Even worse, many national retailers are filing for bankruptcy protection, with several others on analysts' watch lists. The more than 300 retailers reported to have filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017 include several major brands, from Payless ShoeSource to Gymboree and Wet Seal. These dire conditions have spurred some economists to describe the ongoing blood-bath as a retail apocalypse.

Double Trouble

There are two main reasons for the retail sector's decline:

First, consumer preferences are migrating from shopping at brick-and-mortar stores to more online shopping. Online sales increased by about $40 billion in 2016 and accounted for nearly 42 percent of all retail sales growth that year. Amazon alone accounted for 53 percent of that growth, reportedly quintupling its North American sales to $80 billion in 2016 from $16 billion in 2010.

Second, today's consumers would rather spend their money on experiences than on material goods. They prefer dining out, going to movies and travel over buying more shoes, jeans, and electronics. And when they buy goods, they are increasingly likely to buy them online.

These ongoing changes in consumer behavior have resulted in a disturbingly high inventory of vacant retail space, made worse by years of over-building in the sector. The United States reportedly has 40 percent more retail space per person than Canada, five times more than the United Kingdom and 10 times more than Europe.

Shopping malls have been particularly affected. Once popular destinations, many regional malls now scramble to find quality tenants and to attract shoppers. To survive, some malls have taken desperate measures to steer customers to their stores, such as hosting amusement parks and concerts. Sadly, analysts predict 20 to 25 percent of U.S. shopping malls will close within the next five years. The market is simply oversaturated.

Value Questions

Consequently, retail property value has plummeted. What once was seen as a safe investment is now fraught with risk. Suffering national retailers have made retail real estate riskier as the chances of store closures and tenant bankruptcies have increased. Investors only value retail properties highly when those assets are generating a reliable stream of rental payments from high-quality tenants. But with department stores, electronics retailers and apparel shops boarding up, there is insufficient demand to sustain the rental rates and occupancy levels necessary for many properties to support historical values.

Unfortunately, tax assessors are turning a blind eye to this new reality, continuing to assume that there is a viable market with robust buyer demand for this property type.

In many jurisdictions, tax assessors have even raised taxable values on retail properties. This has obviously created confusion among property owners, as the values assessed by taxing jurisdictions conflict with selling prices that owners can garner on the open market.

When vacant properties go up for sale, they may linger on the market for years. And when they do sell, they are often sold to unconventional users, such as hospitals, trampoline parks, call centers, churches and schools. These buyers know that they can leverage the market oversupply to achieve low acquisition prices.

When owners point to sales of comparable — and often vacant — retail properties as evidence of market value, tax assessors accuse them of applying the "Dark Store Theory," which many assessors have mischaracterized as a tax loophole. Assessors have even convinced news media organizations of this misconception, evidenced by headlines such as "Sinister-Sounding Dark Store Theory Is Corporate Welfare and "How Big-Box Retailers Weaponize Old Stores."

This has fueled an ongoing debate concerning how to properly value the fee-simple interest in income-producing property, which in most jurisdictions is the taxable value.

In essence, tax assessors claim that retail property owners are trying to escape taxation by calculating taxable value based on the asking rents and sales of vacant retail locations, rather than on actual rents and sales of occupied properties. Tax assessors contend that property owners are comparing apples to oranges.

Property owners counter that assessors are overstating real estate value by capturing the additional value of non-taxable assets, such as long-term leases with brand-name retailers.

Despite this debate, there is no hiding the fact that retail is going dark. Shopping malls and oversized big box stores have become largely obsolete, bankruptcies and store closures plague the industry, and the glut of retail space grows. Preferences for on-line shopping and consumer purchasing patterns are here to stay.

We are reaching a point where the "dark store is the norm. The market has turned previous assumptions about variables such as market exposure, vacancy, capitalization rates and market rents on their heads, resulting in a retail meltdown.

Daniel R. Smith is a principal with and general counsel for Austin, Texas law firm Popp Hutcheson PLLC, the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. James Johnson is a graduate student at Texas A&M University's Real Estate Center and tax analyst for Popp Hutcheson. They may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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Jul
01

Are You Leaving Property Tax Savings On The Table

" In Texas, don't fail to appeal your assessment because the state gives taxpayers unusual advantages as a tax protest. "

Texas enjoys one of the most fair property tax protest systems in the country.

Suing to appeal an unsatisfactory appraisal review board decision is straightforward in Texas. The state property tax system provides taxpayers with a pragmatic approach to air their valuation disputes before the courts, without the delay and headache frequently experienced in other types of litigation. Yet many taxpayers choose not to appeal, relinquishing the opportunity to achieve significant tax savings. Do not be so shortsighted.

Texans enjoy one of the most fair property tax protest systems in the country, beginning with the right to  contest their appraised values through an administrative process. If they do not like the result, they can file a law-suit that provides a fresh start, turning the valuation issue over to a judge or jury, whichever the parties prefer. And if the taxpayer is unsatisfied with the court's decision, he or she can seek review from a state appellate court and even the State Supreme Court.

Not all states provide such a favorable review process. Texas is special.

Built into the Texas Tax Code are processes and requirements that make litigating property tax appeals more efficient and less procedurally burdensome for taxpayers, even if an appeal advances to the state's highest court. Here are a few of Texas' answers to common taxpayer worries.

Are you concerned that your property tax appeal will be a years-long slog?

Property owners who have been involved in lawsuits before may fear that a property tax appeal means protracted litigation, mired in delay and gamesmanship. Fortunately, the Texas Tax Code limits such behavior by providing numerous tools that can help bring the litigation to a quick resolution, like the ones mentioned below. These features do not apply in the initial filing to appeal an assessment, and are peculiar to property tax lawsuits.

Was your lawsuit filed in the wrong property owner's name?

In most types of litigation, a defect in parties could be fatal to a claim, especially if there is a tight window of time in which to file the lawsuit. In Texas, however, a property tax appeal continues despite having the wrong plaintiff so Tong as the property itself was the subject of an administrative order, the lawsuit was filed on time and the lawsuit sufficiently describes the property at issue. There is no jurisdictional problem.

Did you miss the deadline to protest the appraised value?

There are deadline-driven, jurisdictional prerequisites to pursuing a property tax protest, but Texas law provides some limited "back stop" protection in the event these deadlines are missed. For instance, at any time before Feb. 1, when the taxes become delinquent, a property owner may file a motion with the appraisal district to change an incorrectly appraised value that exceeds the correct appraised value by one-third. This is consistent with other statutes designed to be fair, so that property owners can efficiently challenge excessive appraised values.

Would you like to have something akin to a trial, but not necessarily be bound by the result?

The Texas Tax Code allows a property owner to take the dispute to non-binding arbitration. This is particularly helpful when the parties would like to get a sense of what might happen if the matter goes to trial. An independent, third-party arbiter decides who is right and issues a ruling on the valuation question. This procedure can drive more serious settlement discussions. Although the result is non-binding, it may nonetheless be admitted into evidence at trial for the judge and jury to see.

Would you like the appraisal district to meet with you early in the case to discuss settlement?

Upon written request by either side, the parties or their attorneys must meet and make a good-faith effort to resolve the matter. The meeting must take place within 120 days after the written request is delivered. If the appraisal district cannot meet this deadline, the deadline for property owners and the appraisal district to meet will be moved closer to the trial date — 60 days before trial for parties seeking affirmative relief to their complaint, 30 days before trial for all other experts. This allows more time for the parties to discuss settlement with a temporary reprieve from the pressure of having to engage experts and pay for costly appraisals.

Would you like to ensure that both sides produce their expert reports at the same time?

Property owners can do this by, within 120 days of filing suit, making a written settlement offer and identifying which cause of action is the basis for its appeal, meaning a claim for either excessive appraisal or unequal appraisal. At this time, the taxpayer must request alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation.

By triggering this process, property owners may protect their expert's valuation work from being used against them by the appraisal district's expert appraiser when preparing an opposing report. If property owners had to produce their expert appraisal reports first, the appraisal district's expert would likely try to discredit them in its opposing analysis. This "simultaneous exchange" requirement removes the unfair advantage that the appraisal district would otherwise have.

Property owners should not hesitate to continue their property tax protests beyond the appraisal review board level. In Texas, litigation adds numerous tools to the taxpayer's toolbox that can help property owners achieve fair property tax assessments.

 

daniel smith active at popp hutcheson

Daniel R. Smith is a principal with and general counsel in the Austin law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC, which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He represents commercial property owners in property tax appeals across the state, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Feb
01

Putting A Stop To The 'Hidden Property Tax'

When property values rise, tax rates should fall.

Owners should be delighted to see the value of their property increase, but in our current tax environment, higher property values have become synonymous with higher property taxes.

School districts, municipalities, counties and other taxing units have the power to limit property tax bills by lowering their respective tax rates as property values rise. Instead of doing this, however, many taxing entities opt for a tax revenue windfall.

Remarkably, as they collect this additional revenue, these same taxing units claim that they have not raised taxes because they have not increased their tax rate. This distinction has afforded taxing units a convenient escape from the ire of taxpayers. But is it fair?

The Texas property tax system has two components: appraisal districts and taxing authorities. First, appraisal districts assess the market value of taxable property within their boundaries. They then participate in protest hearings initiated by property owners about those values and subsequently certify appraisal rolls for taxing entities.

Second, the governmental bodies that levy and collect taxes prepare budgets and, with their certified appraisal rolls in hand, adopt tax rates sufficient to meet those budgets. Then these municipalities, school districts and other institutions send out tax bills and collect tax revenue.

Both appraisal districts and taxing authorities have the power to affect property owners’ ad valorem tax liability. Nevertheless, many media outlets and news publications have blamed appraisal districts exclusively when tax bills have increased.

For instance, on April 11, 2016, the Austin American-Statesman reported: “Home values rise 9 percent in Travis County!” The San Antonio Express-News reported on May 4, 2016, “2016 Bexar County property value is up $13 billion over year before, real estate values up 7.5 percent.” Similarly, on May 25, 2016, the Dallas Morning News warned about “A taxing problem,” specifically discussing how “Dallas property taxes squeeze middle class” because homeowners in that demographic saw an average increase in the value of their homes of over 11 percent.

These news articles focus on the distress that rising appraised values have inflicted upon taxpayers as property tax bills have increased. Is it fair, though, to malign appraisal districts when they are simply fulfilling their charge to assess property values, especially when they do not participate in the tax rate setting process?

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who served as the Harris County tax assessor-collector from 1998 through 2008, formed the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax to look into the issue. The Committee has held public hearings all around the state to listen to taxpayers’ concerns arid frustrations about the system.

It has become apparent that the root of the rising property tax burden lies with tax rates set by taxing units, not in appraised values assessed by appraisal districts. Indeed, at a hearing in Arlington earlier this year, there were hundreds of property owners in the audience, but not one complaint about the Dallas Central Appraisal District or the work of its Chief Appraiser, Ken Nolan.

The issue has caught the attention of a number of politically astute organizations, including the Texas Association of Realtors, which has taken a strong interest in Texas’ property tax policy. Its Director of Legislative Affairs, Daniel Gonzalez, has made it his mission to educate the public about what he describes as the “hidden property tax.” This includes spending resources to maintain the informational website, hiddenpropertytax.com, which provides videos, articles, and other details about the problem.

Likewise, certain taxing entities have spoken out against this “hidden property tax.” The mayor of Fort Worth, Betsy Price, in an opinion piece that appeared in the May 19, 2016 edition of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, wrote: “What to do about high property tax assessments? Cut the tax rate.” The Dallas Morning News echoed this sentiment on May 25, 2016, when it explained, “The only way officials can reduce the burden on taxpayers is by lowering their tax rates.”

And why shouldn’t taxing units do this? Our truth-in-taxation laws are supposed to prevent excessive taxation by limiting tax rate increases that lead to higher tax revenues. The same principle should apply when tax rates remain steady, but through the increase in property values, tax revenues soar. That is an unintended consequence of the prosperity of a community that governments should not be able to exploit.

Texas has one of the nations best property tax systems. To make it work, however, appraisal districts and taxing entities alike must do their part in maintaining the system’s integrity and fairness. Local taxing units should not be allowed to hide behind increased appraised values to raise their budgets, nor should the Texas legislature be able to take advantage of higher appraised values by sending less funding per student to school districts.

Instead of vilifying appraisal districts and complaining about a “broken” property tax system, property owners should put pressure on school districts, cities, counties and other taxing entities to exhibit greater accountability and transparency over tax rates.

daniel smith active at popp hutcheson

Daniel R. Smith serves as general counsel  in the Austin law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC, which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He represents commercial property owners in property tax appeals across the state, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Aug
25

When Law Firms Collaborate, Property Owners Reap The Benefits On Their Bottom Line

Traditionally, a commercial real estate owner would retain several law firms, each with its own area of expertise. One firm may handle development, construction, acquisition, and leasing issues, while another firm handles contract disputes and litigation.

Although it may have become conventional, this service model is losing its appeal. Law firms with mutual clients often fail to communicate with each other, sending mixed signals to the client and leading to inconsistent advice.

As owners become more astute and the market for legal services grows increasingly competitive, owners can now demand that law firms seeking their business distinguish themselves from the competition.

One of those distinguishing attributes is the ability of the firm or its real estate practice group to address an owner’s overall real estate needs, not just a specific function. This better enables the firm or practice group to demonstrate its understanding of the owner’s business and commitment to achieving owner goals.

Some service-oriented law firms recognize this and have learned to provide value in practice areas beyond those for which they were hired. They are now looking to bring in additional professionals to ensure that their client-service teams have the expertise to handle the universe of challenges a client faces, with the experience to deliver results.

Rather than attempting to hire specialists in practice areas they don’t have, savvy law firms accomplish the broadening of expertise through collaboration.

An example of specialties that a firm may handle through collaboration is property tax representation.

Although real estate law firms have clients with large property portfolios and corresponding property tax expenses, property tax is a practice area that few real estate law firms or practice groups cover.

They typically lack the valuation experience and relationships with appraisal districts necessary to best handle their clients’ property tax issues. There are other, specialized attorneys that do have property tax expertise, however.

Several boutique law firms and practice groups in larger firms devote all of their efforts to protecting clients from appraisal districts’ excessive and erroneous property valuations and exemption determinations.

Through this focused scope of service, they have developed appraisal expertise and the ability to effectively navigate the traps and pitfalls of the property tax practice area. As a result, they can deliver significant tax savings to property owners.

When these boutique practices collaborate with a client’s primary law firm, they become critical components of the client service team. Importantly, collaborating with the primary firm’s attorneys enables property tax lawyers to maximize efficiencies in pursuing tax protests and obtaining successful outcomes – adding value that clients are coming to expect.

The most notable efficiencies come with sharing information. The client’s primary law firm will likely have institutional knowledge about the client’s business and properties that could be greatly beneficial in a tax protest.

This could include details about the client’s purchase of the property, such as purchase agreements, appraisal reports, settlement statements and financing documents.

Additional details could include the client’s reasons for acquiring the property and improving it to include specific features, construction contracts and expense reports, and financial records concerning income that the property generates along with corresponding expenses.

Lawyers at the client’s primary firm, moreover, may offer explanations as to why certain properties have decreased in desirability, resulting in obsolescence and falling demand, and thus reduced value. This is all helpful information that a property tax specialist would want to use in advocating for the client.

Without this collaboration, the client’s tax protest may be compromised because important information, which could affect the outcome of the protest, may be overlooked or forgotten.

Conversely, specialists can potentially bring different approaches to solving client problems, offering perspectives from their property tax experience.

Property tax attorneys pay close attention to capitalization rates, financing trends and sales of comparable properties, which the client’s primary attorneys may use in negotiating real estate transactions.

Because of their valuation expertise, property tax attorneys can advise other counsel on assessing damages in real estate partnership disputes or construction defect claims, and can provide recommendations for quality appraisers to serve as expert witnesses.

Property tax counsel can further provide regular updates on the evolving area of property tax law and advise on how best to position the client to minimize tax liability through tax exemptions or abatements, or other means. This collaboration would mutually serve all counsel involved for the ultimate benefit of the client.

Clients want to see that their business interests are being looked after, and are beginning to ask that lawyers collaborate to ensure the right professionals are on their team. This collaboration provides added value to property owners.

daniel smith active at popp hutcheson

Daniel R. Smith is general counsel  in the Austin law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC, which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He represents commercial property owners in property tax appeals across the state, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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