Property Tax Resources


Tricky Issues Impact Shopping Center Property Taxes

It's critical for landlords to understand how variations in performance affect property tax liabilities.

Property tax assessments of shopping centers and other retail real estate may not capture the full extent of value losses those properties sustained in 2020. To avoid paying more than their fair share of taxes, it is important for retail owners to examine how market conditions affect each aspect of the tax assessor's approach to valuing their real estate.

In most jurisdictions, assessors value real estate for property taxes as of Jan. 1 of each calendar year. Most appraisal districts assess retail properties at market value derived from the income approach, as would an investor looking to acquire one of these properties. Market value in this case is the probable price at which a property would sell in a competitive and open market, where the buyer and seller are motivated, well informed and acting in their own best interest, and with reasonable exposure time and typical financing.

In a stable environment, most appraisal districts' assessors capitalize the prior year's net operating income to reach a market value. Since the 2020 retail property market was less than stable, a modified approach could be to start with a stabilized value, then calculate the rent loss and leasing costs required to stabilize the asset.

The pandemic and stay-at-home orders affected retail property subtypes in varying ways, and performance often varied from property to property within a subtype through most of 2020 and into 2021. Multitenant strip centers saw large occupancy declines as a 20% drop in customer traffic nationwide left many tenants unable to pay rent.

Mall Mayhem

Malls were among the hardest hit properties. Foot traffic in some malls dropped nearly to zero and mall anchors including JC Penney, Macy's, and Dillard's began liquidating many locations. Prior to the pandemic, enclosed shopping malls and brick-and-mortar stores were already struggling to maintain customer traffic related to massive increases in ecommerce. The effects of changing consumer behavior, in addition to mandated stay-at-home orders, accelerated this shift to ecommerce, and many mall-based tenants closed their doors completely.

Big box retailers arguably fared better than other store categories, as those designated as essential businesses remained open throughout 2020. Because of this, in many cases sales volume at big box retailers (especially those with grocery components) outpaced sales at other retail property types. Store sales do not equal market value for the purposes of property tax assessments, which underscores the need in 2021 for property owners to be more aware than ever of tax assessors' valuation standards.

While appraisal districts may emphasize increased sales volume in big box retail, property owners need to remember that business performance does not equal real estate value. Store sales may be up, but an increasing percentage of these sales come from online orders. Property owners must prove that, despite increased sales volume overall, big box property values are generally flat or decreasing. Ecommerce has weighed on real estate values for the past few years and has forced big box retailers to re-evaluate their approach to storefronts.

Rent Adjustments

The pandemic forced property owners to make significant rent concessions to keep tenants in place throughout 2020, when those occupiers were able to do so. These rent concessions should reduce effective rents in the retail market, with variation by location and submarket. Additionally, with a large portion of tenants unable to pay rent, the retail market saw massive collection losses and climbing vacancy rates.

If a property is operating below average market occupancy, the assessor or appraiser must include a discount for lost rent or an adjustment for the cost of lease-up. Together with rent concessions, increased vacancies reduce the effective gross income these properties can produce.

Since most multitenant retail leases are structured on a triple net basis that requires tenants to pay for taxes, utilities, common area maintenance, administrative expenses and insurance, property owners are on the hook for 2020 expenses that they would normally pass through to tenants who are no longer in place. This could expose property owners to increased levels of risk.

The pandemic also compelled property owners to reallocate capital expenditures to make buildings more resilient to virus transmission risks. As a result, other necessary capital expenditures may have been deferred, which could impact the bottom line and increase the difficulty of finding potential buyers for these properties.

Questionable Cap Rates

After calculating net operating income, appraisal districts will then capitalize that income with a chosen capitalization rate to determine market value. The pandemic's effect on cap rates is difficult to ascertain, however, and lenders have grown more cautious. The increased risk associated with retail properties today requires an upward adjustment in cap rates, with a correlating decrease in property market values.

Property tax is a significant expense to the property owner, with numerous issues and nuances to consider. Managing this cost may appear daunting but can be accomplished effectively with the correct understanding of the market conditions affecting the property. It is important to understand the subtleties of how assessors value the property, or to partner with an experienced advisor with that knowledge. SCB

Nick Machan is a tax consultant at Austin, Texas, law firm Popp Hutcheson PLLC, which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Recovery Complicates Retail Property Tax

The retail real estate sector has been slow to recover from the Great Recession, and vacancy levels remain elevated for neighborhood shopping centers. As retail property owners search for ways to reduce carrying costs, many are scrutinizing one of the largest expenses their properties incur: real estate taxes.

Fortunately, the laws of each state provide a vehicle for landlords to reduce unfairly high property tax burdens by filing a commercial property tax appeal. At these appeal hearings, the property owner must prove that the property is worth less than its current taxable market value, and seek a fair value either through negotiation or a valuation trial in the local court.

Building a strong case to reduce an assessed taxable value requires technical expertise at any time, and it’s an even more complicated proposition for retail properties in a period of economic recovery.

The three traditional approaches used to value a shopping center are the cost approach, sales comparison approach and the income capitalization approach. Unless the shopping center was recently constructed, the cost approach is seldom used. The sales comparison approach is only used when comparable sales data is available, which is rare. Therefore, appraisal professionals and the courts agree that the income capitalization approach is generally the most reliable analysis.

The income approach requires the capitalization of a net income stream into a present value. Prior to filing a property tax challenge, the shopping center owner or their tax professional should gather copies of leases, rent rolls, and income and expense data for the prior and current year. Each is required in order to estimate the property’s market value.

Post-recession issues

Prior to the economic crash of 2008, a review of the property’s leases, vacancy rates and expenses helped paint a picture of the center’s ability to produce income. After applying a proper capitalization rate — the rate of return reflecting the risk of investment — to the center’s net income, an owner’s tax professional would be able to estimate the center’s market value for property tax purposes.

Following the crash of 2008, however, an increasing number of shopping center landlords have been forced to make rental concessions in order to keep tenants. As a result, the mere analysis of the center’s occupancy, lease rates and expenses is no longer enough.

A better strategy is to conduct a comprehensive inquiry with the owner’s leasing representative or property manager to identify any concessions such as reductions in rent, recalculations of base tax years for property tax reimbursement, or a reduced reimbursement of common area maintenance charges.

Much of the data in the typical yearend income and expense report for a shopping center may be misleading or inconclusive, requiring detailed discussion with the landlord or the landlord’s accountant. For example, some owners report tenants’ payments to the landlord for reimbursement of property tax or for common area maintenance as rental income. Yet if this data were capitalized along with rental income in a valuation, it would inflate the center’s taxable value and reduce the owner’s chance of securing a property tax reduction at a valuation hearing or trial.

After determining rental income, the taxpayer or tax professional will review the shopping center’s vacancy history in order to determine the property’s effective gross income, or gross income less vacancy and collection losses.

The economic health of any shopping center depends upon the percentage of the total space rented. Therefore, the taxpayer must consider an appropriate vacancy and collection loss factor when refining gross income into economic gross income. Shopping centers are rarely fully occupied today, and this factor must be considered in the analysis. Vacancy rate estimations should reflect a review of the subject’s vacancy rate together with local and regional market statistics.

Next, analyze expense data to estimate the subject’s net income, subtracting expenses typically incurred by the landlord from the property’s effective gross income. To ascertain typical expenses, study a number of shopping centers and compare those findings with the subject’s actual expense data. Generally, shopping center expenses include management, insurance, leasing fees and commissions, un-reimbursed common area maintenance charges, and utilities not paid by tenants.

Depending on the region, these expenses can total 15 percent to 30 percent of gross income.

The income capitalization approach to market value requires the application of a capitalization rate to the shopping center’s net income in order to estimate fair market value. The capitalization rate is a percentage that expresses risk, return, equity and property tax rates.

Considerations in estimating these rates include the degree of risk, market expectations, prospective rates of return for alternative investments, rates of return for comparable properties in the past and the availability of debt financing. It’s always helpful to determine caps rates utilized in the jurisdiction.

Many things to consider

Clearly, there are many factors to consider when evaluating a shopping center’s taxable value today. In addition to the factors mentioned above, the property owner must consider the subject’s size, location, access, competition, parking, tenants and other traits to form a value opinion.

Prior to presenting a case to the assessor or judge for a property tax reduction, the taxpayer must thoroughly analyze the individual economics of the shopping center and employ a valuation approach that produces a logical and well supported estimate of taxable market value.

Given that most shopping centers have experienced economic hardship since 2008, owners of these properties should seek professional advice to evaluate their property tax bill. A skilled property tax attorney will know how to conduct the necessary analyses and effectively argue on the taxpayer’s behalf for a property tax reduction.

Hild and PenighettiRyan C. Hild and Jason M. Penighetti are attorneys at the Mineola, N.Y., law firm of Koeppel Martone & Leistman LLP, the New York State member of Amercian Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.  Contact Ryan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Jason at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Weigh Anchor Inducements To Sink Property Tax Bills

Anchors weigh heavily in tax decisions

As the post-recession recovery for retail properties continues, local assessors are eager to increase shopping center tax assessments to their pre-recession highs or beyond. But regional and super-regional shopping centers are among the most complex types of real estate that assessors regularly value, and that complexity yields errors.

By failing to remove the value of an often-overlooked intangible asset, assessors are improperly attributing excess income to the real property, resulting in excessive tax assessments. This error stems from assessors incorrectly answering one of the most fundamental questions in property assessment: What property is being valued?

Too many assessors look at the income generated by a shopping center and conclude that the income is entirely attributable to the real estate. But the value of a shopping center's going concern is not equal to the market value of its real property. Unless the assessor makes an effort to extract the non-real-estate components, the value indications under the income and sales comparison approaches to value will capture not just the value of the real property, but also non-taxable personal and intangible property.


One major non-realty component of a shopping center's value is its operating agreements with anchor tenants.

Shopping centers depend on their anchor tenants for more than rent, Anchors typically make major advertising expenditures to draw customers to the property. As a result, customers ordinarily visit the mall with the initial purpose of shopping at the anchor retailer, and only then venturing out into the rest of the mall, which is typically the domain of more specialized retailers.

Shopping centers with better-quality anchors are able to draw more customers and charge higher rents to inline tenants. The presence of high-quality anchors also conveys stability, which attracts potential inline tenants. Conversely, when a mall loses one or more of its anchor tenants, inline tenants almost always follow the anchor, and the landlord must offer larger concessions to attract replacement tenants.

Beyond helping to attract and retain inline tenants, high-quality anchor tenants contribute indirectly to higher income generation for the shopping center. Because shopping centers often collect percentage rent, or rental income based in part on an inline tenant's retail sales, the long-term presence of an anchor that draws customers is vital to a mall's long-term financial success.

Shopping center developers typically ·offer significant inducements to attract and retain anchor tenants, and to convince those tenants to sign favorable long-term operating agreements. These inducements may take the form of cash, a preferred site, site improvements, or reduced expense recoveries, and may occur both upon the initial development of the shopping center and during redevelopment ·

Whatever the form and timing, shopping centers have to subsidize the anchor's costs. The shopping center gets a return on this investment over the lifetime of the tenancy in the form of higher in-line rents.

Because the higher rental income from in-line tenants is, in part, a byproduct of the anchor operating agreements rather than a reflection of the real estate value alone, it is inappropriate to attribute the entire income stream to the real property. But when assessors use the total income of the shopping center's business in their calculations, they implicitly value the total assets of the business, rather than the real property alone.


To properly value just the shopping center’s real property, the income attributable to the favorable anchor operating agreements must be subtracted from the ' shopping center's total income prior to capitalization.

The calculation of the income attributable to anchor inducements is a two-step process. First, the appraiser must determine the value of the anchor inducements, accounting for both a return of the initial investment and a return on that investment that would be expected by developers in the market. There is no one-size-fits-all method of determining the amount needed to induce a particular anchor tenant. Every shopping center owner has its own method of determining how much it should pay in inducements to potential anchors given the location, size, age, design, and tenant distribution of the shopping center.

Whatever method is used to determine the value of the favorable contracts, it is important that appraisers select values that reflect inducements actually provided by market participants. For that reason, it is important that taxpayers contesting assessments select appraisers who have experience with shopping centers and who understand the dynamics of that industry.


Once the assessor calculates the total return of and on the inducements, the second step in this process is to determine the income attributable to those inducements. To do this, the appraiser must amortize the total return over the term of a typical anchor agreement – generally 10 to 15 years – at a yield rate high enough to account for the fact that intangibles are the highest-risk components of a business enterprise.

The appraiser will then subtract the resulting figure from the going concern's net operating income, along with return of and on personal property and other non-real-estate expenses, such as start-up costs. The result will be the net income from the real property alone, which is the correct base for the income approach for property tax purposes.

For most retail properties, the largest expense after debt service is the property tax bill. Any reduction in the tax burden can drastically impact a property's profitability, and a reduction in property taxes passed through to tenants can itself be a method of attracting and retaining better-quality tenants. So as the retail market continues its slow recovery, proper treatment of anchor agreements may be a way to keep from drowning in excessive property taxes.

paul Ben Blair jpg

Stephen Paul is a partner and Benjamin Blair is an associate in the Indianapolis office of the law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, the Indiana and Iowa member of America Property Tax Counsel.  They can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The views expressed here are the authors' own.

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Accounting For E-commerce In Retail Property Values

"Computing value can get complicated if stores are required to mix online sales with physical sales."

Shopping via smartphones and tablets is here to stay, but the new-found convenience has introduced new uncertainties and complexities to shopping center owners, developers and investors.

The uncertainty stems from the ways e-commerce complicates shopping center valuations and development. Appraisers, assessors and property investors are forced to reconsider previously accepted answers to fundamental questions: What is the relative value of in-line stores and anchors? How should stores on contiguous parcels comprising a regional mall be valued? How fundamental is location? In an e-commerce world, the answers to these questions are increasingly uncertain and complex.

For example, the existing ad valorem tax system taxes a property's real estate value rather than its profitability. The current system assumes rents, which form the basis of commercial property values, relate directly to profitability. Rents in a regional mall are based upon profitability. For example, a jewelry store in a mall's center court may pay $75 per square foot while a family apparel store pays $20 per square foot. What really matters is occupancy cost. When occupancy costs (the total costs paid to the landlord including rent and reimbursable items such as CAM) exceed 12 percent of sales, the tenant may be headed for trouble. Higher sales permit higher occupancy costs. Indeed, appraisers often incorrectly equate real property value to the profitability of the property's business operation when the real property should be valued in fee simple in a tax appeal.

Conventional wisdom suggests strong anchors improve a center's real estate value, stabilize a property's financial statement, reduce an owner's risk and increase the price a buyer would pay for the center. For example, a Nordstrom will often bring inline tenants that would otherwise not go to the mall. A recent variant on this theme is the proliferation of mixed-use centers, which often include office, apartments and other life style uses designed to draw potential shoppers for the retail tenants. Put simply, retail sales historically relate to the center's location, trade area population, trade area household income and foot traffic, not to factors such as web presence. Additional uses also theoretically provide more stability to the project's value.

E-commerce is challenging conventional wisdom about the effect of anchors on overall value as online sales increase pressure on bricks and mortar retailers and diminish their role in overall retail sales. In February 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 2013 fourth quarter retail e-commerce sales, adjusted for seasonal variation but not for price changes, increased 16 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012, as compared to a 3.9 percent increase in total retail sales for the same period in 2013. E-commerce accounted for 5.8 percent of total sales in 2013 compared to 5.2 percent for the same period in 2012.

On a non-adjusted basis — that is, excluding sales in categories not commonly purchased online — Internet Retailer magazine estimated e-commerce accounted for 7.6 percent of total retail sales during 2013, a 6.8 percent increase from the same period in 2012. Forrester Research projects that by 2017, direct online purchases will account for approximately 10 percent of all U.S. retail sales, representing a nearly 10 percent compound annual growth rate from 2012. Looking beyond purely online purchases, Internet Retailer estimates that by 2017, 60 percent of U.S. retail sales will involve the web.

In some ways, these figures understate e-commerce's impact on bricks and mortar retailers. For example, the figures do not account for lost profitability and price pressure created by consumers who price shop online and visit a center to make a purchase. Further, how many consumers now shop on-line for groceries and either have those groceries delivered to their homes via a provider such as, or collect them from a drive-through checkout line?

Forrester Research predicts U.S. e-commerce spending will increase because larger retail chains will invest in omnichannel" efforts — tying together stores with the web and mobile — along with more consumers using smartphones and tablets, and what the report calls "increased comfort with web shopping."

Onmichannel marketing will likely decrease inherent real estate values and lower ad valorem taxes since e-commerce decreases the importance of bricks and mortar stores and foot traffic. If 60 percent of retail sales will involve the web by 2017, how important is location? How important are anchors?

The answers may be, "Not very much." E-commerce's impact is already evident in store closings by retailers once considered national credit or anchor tenants. In 2013, a major South Carolina grocery chain that anchored many small shopping centers closed most of its stores. Nationally, in early March 2014, RadioShack announced the closure of approximately 1,100 stores while Staples announced plans to close 225 stores. Is it coincidental that Staples is now the number 2 e-tailer behind Amazon?

Historically, the risk in leasing to a large anchor was much lower than leasing to smaller tenants. Different uses generally involve different capitalization rates, or expected rates of return relative to the purchase price. The risk involved with office leases differs from the risk of renting to national retailers. Historically, inline stores arguably should have had a higher capitalization rate than the anchor stores did, since there was more risk. This was never the case as all the department stores have credit ratings below investment grade and are larger stores and therefore have a greater risk than smaller inline stores with better credit. Most malls trade on cap rates in the 6 to 8 percent range, whereas the few department stores that were leased when sold traded in the 10 to 12 percent range. Taxing authorities traditionally only paid lip service to these risk differences in calculating one overall capitalization rate, and tended to gravitate to a lower rate thought to be inherent in the anchor. But in an increasingly online world, is the riskier tenant the inline store, or is it the anchor?

The evolving significance of anchors also raises questions about the inter-relationship between separate parcels. Unsophisticated assessors tend to ignore state laws requiring parcels be individually valued. Instead, taxing authorities value the project by grouping multiple parcels together and applying one blended capitalization rate, regardless of the multiplicity of uses and tenants. Unquestionably, inline stores and anchors have a symbiotic relationship, but how does one measure that relationship value particularly when the anchor is on a different parcel from the mall itself?

The physical location of a closed anchor in a mixed-use center can exacerbate the problem. For example, what happens when a failed anchor, located in the middle of the mall, creates parking or access issues for patients visiting medical offices? How is this impact measured?

While the solutions are still unclear, a few basic issues confronting the industry are coming into focus through the cyber static:

  • Appraisers and tax authorities need to recognize most power centers and malls are complex businesses, where anchors and inline stores depend on each other (and internet presence) for profitability.
  • The historic relationship of the capitalization rates applied to inline stores versus anchors needs to be scrutinized more closely.
  • Some jurisdictions specifically require parcels be valued individually for tax purposes. If so, how does one measure the interdependency of the tenants that comprise the center?
  • How does an owner address increased vacancies within mixed-use centers for both profitability and tax purposes?
  • How does one calculate a property's real estate value when it is part of the retailer's onmichannel sales effort?

The challenges posed to owners by e-commerce spans the gamut from development to taxes. Valuing regional malls, power centers and even local shopping centers for property tax purposes is increasingly difficult in the e-commerce era. An owner who appropriately quantifies the different and increasingly complex risks associated with these businesses is far more likely to adapt successfully to the e-commerce world, and simultaneously reduce property tax bills. Recognizing the questions and challenges posed by e-commerce is the first step in obtaining the answers.

ellison mMorris A. Ellison is a partner in the Charleston, S.C. office of the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice L.L.P., and is the South Carolina 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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Cap Rates And Property Taxes

Changing cap rate spreads may inflate property taxes.

"Accurate capitalization or cap rates (the ratio between the annual net operating income of an asset and the capital cost or market value) enable an appraiser or investor to calculate an asset's value from its net operating income..."

By Michael Shalley, as published by Shopping Center Business, March 2013

A scarcity of comparable sales data is driving many property tax assessors to rely on historical rules of thumb that may threaten inflated tax bills for shopping center owners. Studying the problem requires a clear understanding of the events that have weighed down transaction volume, how mass appraisal software works, and how extrapolations from the few property sales available today can lead appraisers astray.

A Recipe for Confusion

The recent credit crunch may be regarded as one of the worst in American history. The crisis hit hard in March 2008, as investment bank Bear Stearns became the first of dozens of major American financial institutions to fail or be bailed out by the Fed. The causes were many, starting with subprime mortgages and extending to consumer credit, commercial mortgage backed securities and credit default swaps. But one of the greatest impacts for the commercial real estate market came in the form of uncertainty regarding property values and future access to credit.

This vast uncertainty that followed the crisis halted or cratered most transactions in commercial real estate, making it almost impossible to accurately appraise property and peg asset prices. Appraisers and property tax assessors struggled to find comparable sales, and many times looked back to historical rules of thumb to extrapolate data gathered from a few current sales for application in a wide range of assessments. It is the use by property tax assessors of these old standards in mass appraisal valuation models that may overburden some property owners.


Accurate capitalization or cap rates (the ratio between the annual net operating income of an asset and the capital cost or market value) enable an appraiser or investor to calculate an asset's value from its net operating income. So an assessor who knows the cap rate from a recent property sale can use that data in assessing similar properties.

In normal and functioning commercial real estate markets, the spread in capitalization rates between Class A, B and C properties has generally held a consistent range. Historically, the variance or spread in cap rates between Class A or investment-grade properties and Class B properties typically averaged between 75 basis points and 150 basis points. A similar cap rate spread existed between Class B and C properties. However, these old rules of thumb have become at least temporarily obsolete.

There has been a flight to quality among investors and well-leased Class A shopping centers' cap rates are getting really aggressive," says Rafi Zitvar, a principal at Global Fund Investments LLC, which specializes in retail real estate. On the other hand, "Class B and B-minus centers have to be priced very attractively, say 200 to 300 basis points above Class A centers, for us to even look at them." The PWC Real Estate Investor Survey — compiled quarterly by PricewaterhouseCoopers and formerly known as the Korpacz Real Estate Investor Survey — reveals this widening trend for cap rates among asset classes in the national strip shopping center category. The survey data confirms that the average cap rate spread between institutional grade and non-institutional grade properties has increasingly widened for the past six years (as shown in the chart).

Modeling Mishaps

Many property tax assessors use a mass appraisal income approach model that uses cap rates to assess shopping centers. The model breaks down various components of each shopping center that are usually predicated on the classification of the center. The rental income, expenses and a corresponding cap rate for each shopping center are driven by the class inputted into the valuation model. Cap rates for each classification of shopping center are calculated off a sliding scale, where the base rate is usually a Class A cap rate supported by a sale or sales in the market, and then all other classes are modeled out using a scale based on typical spreads. It is the scaling or setting of cap rates for Class B and C shopping centers using a Class A cap rate that can result in overvaluation.

Clearly, the cap rate spreads between the top-quality shopping center assets and other classes have significantly changed over the past few years. Therefore, when assessors use historical cap rate spreads between different classes of shopping centers, the mass appraisal model overvalues properties from all but the highest class. It takes some experience, diligence and a detailed understanding of the assessor's model to ensure that a shopping center is being accurately appraised using today's standards.

ShalleyMichael Shalley is a principal at the Austin, Texas, law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC., which focuses its practice on property tax disputes, and is the Texas 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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