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Property Tax Resources

May
30

A Valuable Lesson

Look beyond value to ensure correct property tax assessment.

Many taxpayers pay close attention to property tax values, and rightfully so. Property owners can realize significant tax savings by successfully challenging excessive assessed values.

Yet taxpayers often overlook equally important assessment issues that can be costly if ignored. A prudent real estate investor always confirms that its real property is assessed correctly, meeting the local assessment authority's requirements and deadlines. That prudent investor also makes a point to understand the tax assessment consequences of any purchase, sale or improvement of real property.

Know Your Responsibilities

What can go wrong with an assessment, aside from the valuation? In one common scenario, a new property owner may miss the deadline to protest a property tax assessment because tax notices went to the previous owner. Having the property correctly assessed in the owner's name is usually necessary to receive copies of tax bills and valuation notices, so a buyer should confirm whether the first property tax bill and valuation notices after closing will be sent to the buyer or to the previous owner. A missed protest or payment deadline will not be excused because the new owner did not receive such notices, especially if the taxpayer failed to properly have the property assessed in its name.

In some jurisdictions, the buyer may need the seller's written authorization to file a value protest if the applicable valuation or lien date preceded closing of the sale. If that is the case, the buyer should obtain the necessary authorization, at closing if possible. The document should authorize the new owner to file the protest in the name of the seller if required.

As part of due diligence, the purchaser should understand how the property has been assessed in the past and what effect the purchase will have on its future assessment. Don't assume the assessment will be unaffected by the sale.

Here are several other property tax issues to consider when purchasing or developing real property:

  • Is the sales price likely to affect the tax value?
  • When does the tax authority send valuation notices, and when is the deadline to file a protest?
  • Will the purchaser's use of the property constitute a usage change that will trigger a higher assessment?
  • Is the property subject to exemptions or abatements? Will the new owner qualify for exemptions, and what are the required steps to secure them?
  • Is the property tax proration calculated correctly? If based on an estimate, will the taxes be re-prorated to reflect the final tax bill?
  • If part of a larger parcel, when will a new tax parcel be created? Who will pay the taxes until separate parcels are created?
  • Are all of the existing improvements properly assessed, and if not, what is the risk of an escape assessment, or a retroactive correction in assessed value that may require the payment of back taxes?
  • Does the state assess and tax construction work in progress?

A well-drafted contract can address some of these issues. For example, the contract may determine the party responsible for paying any rollback taxes based on the change in use, such as a change from agricultural use to retail.

If new construction occurs, the taxpayer should know of any legal requirements to have the improvements assessed. For instance, Alabama law requires the owner to assess any new improvements constructed during the preceding tax year. Failing to do so can add a 10 percent penalty to the tax value of the improvements. Further, the county assessor can go back up to five years and issue an escape assessment for the unassessed improvements, plus additional penalties and interest.

Personal Property

Real estate investors must also investigate the personal property assessment procedures in each state where they do business. Taxpayers should review personal property returns for accurate information, such as the acquisition date and cost. Regularly review the taxpayer's list of personal property to remove items sold or discarded before the valuation date. Timely file all exemptions, and review tax bills annually to confirm the benefit of any such exemption.

A prudent real estate investor must pay close attention to assessment requirements and procedures or risk unexpected taxes, penalties and interest, or missed opportunities to protest excessive property tax values. By consulting knowledgeable local professionals, an investor can ensure that its real and personal property are being correctly assessed and that the assessor has applied all exemptions or value adjustments.

  adv headshot resize Aaron D. Vansant is a partner in the law firm of DonovanFingar LLC, the Alabama member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC) 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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Mar
24

Georgia Taxpayers Risk Losing Arbitration Rights in Tax Appeals

IT'S DECISION TIME

"Georgia taxpayers risk losing arbitration rights in tax appeals."

Although the Georgia General Assembly enacted statutory provisions governing property tax arbitration procedures in 2009, counties file motions to dismiss tax-payer arbitration requests.  An appellate court has yet to weigh in on the issue, but a court decision would help to avoid the repetitious filings of dis-missal motions by counties, and put an end to taxpayers having to continually fight for the right to have their appeals heard in arbitration by a licensed professional appraiser.

- - - - -   It is time for an appellate court decision that could well put this matter to rest.   - - -

The arbitration statute provides that taxpayers may elect to have their real estate property tax appeal heard by a real property arbitrator — an appraiser as classified by the Georgia Real Estate Commission and the Georgia Real Estate Appraisers Board.  After hearing evidence, in the style of baseball arbitration, the arbitrator is required to select either the board of tax assessors’ value or the taxpayer’s value as set forth in the certified appraisal.  The law makes the arbitrator’s decision binding and precludes further appeal.

County tax assessors have filed motions to dismiss and briefs in support in more than one county across Georgia contending that the arbitration provisions violate the Georgia Constitution.  The assessors seek to have the tax appeal arbitration statutory provisions declared unconstitutional and the arbitration appeals dismissed.

Here are the assessors’ main contentions, and the taxpayers’ arguments against those same points.

Judicial authority: Assessors con-tend the arbitration statute violates provisions of the Georgia Constitution that require that the judicial power of the state shall be vested exclusively in the courts.  The assessors’ position is that the arbitration statute creates a separate judicial forum that is required to declare what the law is and apply the law to the case.  They contend that in order to determine the fair market value of a property the arbitrator is required to declare and apply Georgia law.

Taxpayers respond that the Georgia Constitution is not violated because the arbitrator is not a court or a judge.  The arbitrator’s actions are authorized because the General Assembly can create administrative agencies which are permitted to perform quasi-judicial functions.

Separation of powers: Assessors argue that the statute violates provisions of the Georgia Constitution that provide for separation of powers.  The assessors contend that by enacting the arbitration statute, the legislative branch has encroached upon the powers of the judicial branch.

Taxpayers respond that the specified provisions do not apply to local governments, and that there is no prohibition against administrative officers exercising quasi-judicial powers.

Uniform valuation: The assessors further contend that the arbitration statute violates the constitutional requirement that property must be valued uniformly with other property of the same class, because the statute requires that the arbitrator must select either the value set forth by the county tax assessors or the value set forth by the taxpayer.  Similarly, the assessors contend that the arbitration statute violates the equal protection clause of the Georgia Constitution because owners of like properties are not provided equal protection of the law.

Taxpayers respond that just because an arbitrator may possibly not agree with the value set by the county board of tax assessors does not mean that the uniformity provisions of the Georgia Constitution are violated.

The Taxpayer Position

The taxpayers contend that the Georgia Superior Courts have no jurisdiction over the matter because the arbitration provisions only require that the Chief Judge be involved for the purpose of selecting an arbitrator if the parties cannot agree, and issuing an order requiring the arbitration to proceed.  The taxpayers also contend that the tax assessors have no power to sue and cannot obtain a declaration by the court that the statute is unconstitutional.  The taxpayers point out that the assessors have no constitutional rights that have been violated.

At the time of this writing it is unknown which party will prevail, but interesting questions have been raised.  Tax arbitration provisions in various forms have existed on and off in Georgia for more than a century, and if the arbitration provisions are declared unconstitutional, taxpayers will be deprived of a statutory format designed to afford relief from unjust valuations through the mechanism of a decision made by a knowledgeable professional, based on information supplied by the county tax assessors and a certified appraisal obtained by the taxpayer.

It is time for an appellate court decision that could well put the matter to rest, and save taxpayers the need to expend time and effort fighting for their statutorily established right to property tax arbitration.

StuckeyLisa Stuckey is a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Ragsdale, Beals, Seigler, Patterson & Gray, LLP, the Georgia member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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May
13

Don't Stack The Tax Deck Against Yourself

Tax expert warns of property taxation issues buyers may be unaware of when acquiring an asset.

In the mysterious realm of property tax valuation, it is hard enough to get a proper and decent property tax value on commercial property on a good day. It's even harder when the deck is stacked against you, and harder still when you are the one stacking the deck.

In many states, property transfers are significant revenue-raising events for taxing entities. In Georgia, the transferor (the grantor or seller in a transaction) takes the lead in filing form PT-61, which is filed along with the deed, and typically the transferor pays the tax. Generally speaking, the transfer tax burden amounts to $1 per $1,000 of asset value, which is less than in other states. The transferee, or the buyer in a transaction, may pay little attention to what happens with form PT-61, especially since the tax is paid by the transferor.

But county tax assessors pay particular attention to the PT-61, with serious implications for the transferee's future property tax liability.

How serious? Consider that even valuation professionals can find it challenging to distinguish between real estate value and the value of a business operated from the real estate. For example, Bill Gates inventing Microsoft and operating it from his garage does not create a billion-dollar garage.

Sometimes distinctions are less clear. Assume someone purchases a daycare center for $2 million. The buyer is acquiring a business that brings the building to life, providing care to hundreds of little ones crawling around and demanding attention, generating revenue to the owner in the process. That business has value and is worth, say, $1 million. Indeed, the business is why the buyer acquired the property.

A closing attorney involved in the deal's real estate aspect sees a $2 million check at closing for a building operating as a daycare center. Suddenly that $2 million appears on the PT-61. Rest assured, when the tax assessor sees $2 million on the PT-61 (and assuming the assessor has no thoughts that the value may be understated), the job is done. The value is affixed to the property. The property owner must show that the affixed value is grossly overstated, a burden complicated by the very closing where the owner acquired the property reflecting the $2 million value. Try explaining that to three lay members of a board of equalization. In these situations, the owner frequently pays twice the real estate taxes which should be owed, often perpetually.

Other types of properties are even more treacherous for buyers. Hotels are one example, especially higher-end properties that collect substantial revenue from needy guests willing to pay for pampering (perhaps hundreds of the not-so-little ones meandering around and demanding attention). At least the appraisal sector has developed some valuation standards for hotels.

A more challenging area is retirement homes or skilled nursing centers. Many of these structures are 50 to 60 years old with linoleum floors or aging carpet, window air conditioning units and in a condition which might charitably be described as basic. Were they standing vacant, the buildings may well be demolished. In such a case, business value derives from the units' designation as worthy of a "certificate of need," a government-issued document that verifies a need for the services provided at the property and grants approval and licenses for that activity.

The real estate and business may be worth $10 million but the real estate by itself may be worth only a minor fraction of that amount. Putting a value of $10 million on the PT-61 form may result in a huge tax liability, both for that property and for those similarly situated.

Calling a certificate of need "real property" is a major stretch. It is a license to operate a particular business from that property, an intangible personal property right subject to revocation. The revenue generation is already subject to income taxes; trying to collect real estate taxes because of that revenue is hard to justify, even if an assessor thinks of this type of business as a "cash cow," as one confided recently.

Even appraisals, most often done to help procure financing, are seldom helpful. Appraisers will talk in terms of the value and number of beds (some of which may be 50 years old) to justify a business' value or cash flow to support the loan. But this ignores the huge expenditures on patient care, nurses, support staff, training, safety, health and related matters for which Medicare, Medicaid and insurance pay for reimbursement. Few appraisals of nursing facilities focus on separating underlying real estate value, and many appraisals are worth little in negotiating with tax assessors.

For properties like these, rent doesn't determine value, either. A renter in these situations is renting a business more than renting real estate.

Despite the complexities of separating business value from real estate value, a buyer can at least avoid common mistakes. Pity the transferee who unknowingly allows a closing attorney to put the entire $15 million purchase price on a PT-61, when the property can't be worth that without including the retirement or nursing home business. Some type of discounted cash construction cost analysis is one way of approaching real estate value.

It is imperative to demonstrate a fair, reasonable and understandable allocation of real and personal property tax values on the PT-61. An assessor will merrily accept the seller's assertion that the full purchase price is applicable to real estate. The purchaser's pride in enriching county coffers will pale when the purchaser can no longer clear enough revenue after taxes to repay loans or even stay in business. The process to avoid that outcome starts when the property is acquired.

William Seigler IIIWilliam J. Seigler, III is a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Ragsdale, Beals, Seigler, Patterson & Gray, LLP, the Georgia member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Mar
11

Rocky Top Tax Relief

"Reappraisal process allows Shelby County taxpayers to appeal assessed values every year."

Tennessee's fiscally strapped cities and counties are pressuring assessors more than ever before to aggressively value commercial property. Taxpayers must be aware of their rights under state law, lest an assessor attempt to prematurely capture any value increases prior to the next scheduled reappraisal.

With a proper understanding of the reappraisal process, commercial property owners in Memphis and Shelby County could get some property tax relief over the next three years, whether the fair market value of their properties increase or decrease.

Work the Reappraisal Cycle

Many states require assessors to reappraise property values annually. In Tennessee, counties have the option to reappraise property every four, five or six years. Shelby County reappraises every four years; its last reappraisal was in 2013 and the next one will be in 2017.

The purpose of reappraisals is for the assessor to adjust values for tax assessment purposes to actual fair market value. In a market that is moving up or down, the effect of a four-year reappraisal cycle is that appraised values fall out of sync with the market in between reappraisals.

Shelby County's reappraisal process is designed to favor taxpayers by enabling them to appeal assessed values every year, while the assessor can only adjust values in a reappraisal year (with some exceptions). This means that taxpayers can account for decreases in value annually, but the assessor can only capture increases in value every four years — when values increase.

The commercial real estate market in Memphis has been improving, and values have been steadily increasing, for certain types of property for the past year or two. For example, recent sales of medical office buildings indicate a much stronger market than in prior years. Demand for Class A multifamily properties have likewise increased, driving up sales prices. In the sought-after Poplar Avenue/240 corridor, vacancy in Class A+ office buildings had fallen to 7.7 percent in the third quarter of 2013, down from a peak of 20 percent in 2010, according to Cushman & Wakefield.

Owners have a right to an official notice from the assessor if the value on a property changes. The owner may then file an appeal with the Board of Equalization to contest the value change.

Owners should scrutinize the basis of a change in value by the assessor. Although there are certain times the assessor can change a value in a non-reappraisal year, there are other times when a change is not appropriate.

For example, an assessor should not "chase sales" to value a recently sold property at its sale price. Such a revaluation would constitute an illegal spot reappraisal. Also, the assessor should not revalue a property to reflect ongoing maintenance or repairs due to a turnover in tenants. Such actions by owners are ongoing and the revaluation of these properties would essentially amount to a reappraisal.

In what circumstances can the assessor revalue a property prior to the next reappraisal date? One example is when an addition or renovation is made to a property. In that case, the assessor may legally revalue the property because its physical condition has changed. Another example is when the Board of Equalization has reduced the value of a property due to its circumstances, such as being completely vacant. If the property is leased up, the assessor may revalue the property in subsequent years, even if not a reappraisal year.

Some property types in Memphis are still languishing under depressed values. The industrial vacancy rate stood at 14.1 percent in the third quarter of 2013, Cushman & Wakefield found. Industrial rents remained soft, as many users have relocated south of Memphis, across the state line in DeSoto County, Miss. Class C and D multifamily properties are still suffering from elevated vacancy and collection issues. Expenses, such as insurance, are rising at faster rates than rents. Many former tenants of Class C and D apartments have taken advantage of the institutional purchase and rental of single-family homes.

Fortunately, Tennessee law allows owners of these properties to file appeals every year. The assessor is not required to send an official notice to the taxpayer when the value stays the same, however. This means that taxpayer must remain vigilant to prevent the assessor from leaving the value for tax assessment purposes unchanged when the true fair market value of the property is decreasing. Taxpayers in this situation should exercise their annual right to appeal in order to avoid paying the same amount of property taxes on a property that is not worth as much as it was a year ago.

 

araines Andy Raines is a partner in the Memphis, Tennessee law firm of Evans Petree PC, the Tennessee member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), 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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Aug
04

Know The Process

Keep the belt tightened to combat rising property taxes.

"Property values will likely increase over the next few years, so it is as important as ever for property owners to ensure that their property is fairly assessed."

In Alabama, as in much of the country, many property owners tightened their belts during the Great Recession, looking for ways to reduce operating costs for tenants and themselves. For some owners, a little bit of property tax relief provided a silver lining to the loud of plummeting property values that followed the crash Ben Bernanke and other economists assure us that better times lie ahead, however, property owners should remain vigilant in monitoring properties for over-assessment as the recovery plays out.

First and foremost, taxpayers should familiarize themselves with the general property tax laws and procedures in each market in which they own or in tend to own real estate. Though generally created and governed by state law, the property tax appeal process is often speckled with local nuances and specialized interpretations of law.

Learn key dates, including the valuation date, when assessors distribute notices, and the appeal deadline. How do assessors determine market value? Must an owner pay the full tax bill to preserve the right to appeal? Does the property qualify for any tax exemptions or alternative valuation methods? Local counsel can be an efficient and effective way to monitor these and other property tax considerations.

Perhaps in response to a growing number of tax protests, tax assessment officials are increasingly adding procedures and requirements concerning valuation disputes. These local rules range from requiring specific methods of filing protests - whether on a certain form or by mail, fax or email- to establishing early deadlines for submitting a property's financial statements for consideration of the income approach to valuation. Although the legality of some of these additional requirements is unclear, it is important for the property owner to observe these rules to avoid unnecessary appeals and litigation.

Knowing the correct deadlines is essential, and is more challenging than it may seem. For example, Alabama taxpayers have 30 days after the valuation notice date to file a protest. Each of Alabama's 67 counties sends out valuation notices on its own schedule, typically between April and midsummer. Georgia's 159 counties have similarly staggered notice periods and deadlines. To further complicate things, Alabama does not require valuation notices if the property value is unchanged from the previous year. Nonetheless, the taxpayer has only 30 days from the notice date to file a protest.

As in many other states, Alabama assessors send tax notices to the property's owner of record. This means that tenants - which often pay the taxes and have protest rights under their leases - generally do not receive notices from the assessor. In such cases, the tenant needs to remind the owner to forward valuation notices as soon as they are received, and should independently confirm the notice dates and values with the taxing jurisdiction. In an expanding economy, the valuation date can significantly affect the property's assessed value. For example, Alabama assessments in any given year reflect the property's value as of Oct. 1 of the previous year, so 2013 taxes are determined by the value as of Oct. 1; 2012. Accordingly, an increase in market values in the first quarter of 2013 should have no bearing on the value used to determine 2013 taxes. When reviewing an assessment for accuracy, a taxpayer should consider all factors affecting the property's value. Taxpayers are often focused on the big picture in ad valorem tax disputes such as the net operating income, rent roll, occupancy, capitalization rates and the like.

There is more to be mined in less obvious areas, however. Is the property subject to any title restrictions, such as use limitations or conservation easements? Are there any environmental impairments? Is the property specialized for the particular use of one owner, thereby limiting its market value to potential buyers? Is the property's value affected by "super adequacy," which occurs when the cost and quality of improvements exceed market requirements but fail to contribute to the property's value? An example of the latter would be a government building with security features well in excess of those a private business would require - or pay for. Property values will likely increase over the next few years, so it is as important as ever for property owners to ensure that their property is fairly assessed.

adv headshot resize Aaron D. Vansant is a partner in the law firm of DonovanFingar LLC. the Alabama member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC) 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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Jun
08

Potential Tax Increase Threatens Georgia Property Owners

"Regardless of property type, commercial owners should vigilantly review assessment notices upon receipt and determine whether the particular property has indeed increased in valuation, or if assessors using mass appraisal techniques have over generalized..."

By Lisa Stuckey, Esq., as published by Southeast Real Estate Business, June 2013

Under a recently enacted law, taxpayers who purchased property in Georgia in 2011 or 2012 face potentially steep hikes on upcoming tax bills. The new statute, which took effect on Jan. 1,2011, provides that the sale amount paid or real estate in an arms-length transaction shall be the property's maximum allowable fair market value for property tax purposes for the following tax year. That means owners of properties purchased in 2011 received ad valorem assessment notices for 2012 at a value no higher than the purchase price.

For tax year 2013, however, the county assessors' offices were free from this limitation on valuation for those specific properties purchased during 2011. For those properties, assessors were required to review the market, make a determination of fair market value as f Jan. 1, 2013, and issue assessment notices based on the new review for those properties. The same is true for owners of properties purchased in 2012. The assessment notices those owners receive for 2014 will be unfettered by the sale amount limitation that held values in check for those properties in 2013. Clearly, new property owners in Georgia must guard against a false sense of security based on property valuations and tax bills received during the year after the purchase of their property.

Georgia property owners need be mindful that tax authorities issue assessment notices in April, May and June, and taxpayers will only have 45 days from the date of the notice to file an appeal if they disagree with the county's valuation. Taxpayers cannot appeal tax bills. If an owner fails to timely file an appeal, there is no further opportunity to appeal the valuation or have any input into the amount of property taxes.

A review of the last few years of commercial sales tracked in the CoStar Group database for tl1e metropolitan Atlanta area, as well as discussions with the major metro Atlanta county assessors' offices, suggests that the property type with the greatest potential for increases in valuation over the next few years is office, but other property types are potentially subject to valuation changes as well.

Regardless of property type, commercial owners should vigilantly review assessment notices upon receipt and determine whether the particular property has indeed increased in valuation, or if assessors using mass appraisal techniques have over generalized. Be aware of the specific attributes affecting the value of the individual property, and ensure that the county appraisal staff has properly considered those factors in determining value.

Worthwhile points to review with the appraiser include a significantly higher vacancy rate at the property compared with other properties in the area, as well as how long the vacant space in the subject property has gone untenanted. Discuss any real or perceived reasons why the vacant space cannot be leased. What rent has been lost? What rent is in arrears, and for how long?

Also make the appraiser aware of any tenant instability or perceptions of tenant instability based on the type of company, and any necessary rent or expense concessions. How does the length of new lease terms compare with older leases? What will be needed in terms of capital improvements cost? And be sure to point out noteworthy or w1usual common area maintenance expenses, or unsuccessful marketing attempts and unsatisfactory responses to that marketing. There are plenty of other fact-specific arguments that will vary by property. When comparing your real estate to sold properties, various important considerations which may be relevant include geographic desirability and demographic comparability (or lack thereof) between the properties; actual and effective age; quality or class of the asset; and size. Consider, too, each property's condition, which may include any physical depreciation or property-specific peculiarities, and the presence of any intangible assets such as branding that affect value. Are the properties functionally equivalent, or is there disparity between the subject and the sold properties, such as differing qualities or quantities of parking, traffic anomalies, and other distinctions?

There are many promising areas for taxpayers to draw from in arguing with county assessors to reduce property valuations, and thus a decrease in the property tax burden. But in Georgia, it is critical for new owners to be diligent about taking appropriate action upon receipt of the county assessment notice.

StuckeyLisa Stuckey is a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Ragsdale, Beals, Seigler, Patterson & Gray LLP, the Georgia member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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