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Property Tax Resources

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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Oct
10

Beware of RevPAR in Property Tax Valuations

When comparing hotels for valuation purposes, a common method of making adjustments for the difference between properties is to examine revenue per available room (RevPAR), a measurement of hotel performance.  If executed poorly, these calculations can distort property value and lead to unfairly heavy tax burdens on hospitality owners.

There are two different ways to calculate RevPAR.  The first is to multiply the average rental income per room by the number of rooms occupied, then divide by the number of days in the period.  The other method is to divide total guestroom revenue by the number of available rooms and divide that figure by the number of days in the period.

In an article titled “Using RevPAR as a Basis for Adjusting Comparable Sales,” published in February 2002 by HospitalityNet.org, appraiser Erich Baum voiced a common argument shared by appraisers who advocate for RevPAR adjustments.  Baum contends that the adjustments are appropriate because the revenue a hotel generates is tied to its location and the quality of its product.

The question in valuation for property taxation is whether or not RevPAR incorporates additional, non-real estate values such as quality of brand, management, goodwill, etc., and whether or not the RevPAR adjustment reflects those non-real estate items.

If the appraiser’s purpose is to compare values of hotels as a going concern, including all tangible and intangible items, this adjustment may make sense.  If, however, the purpose is only to value the tangible real estate and exclude intangible business value, as in an ad valorem tax valuation, a RevPAR adjustment may be inappropriate.

Appraisers generally accept that there is intangible value associated with the going concern value of a hotel.  The Appraisal Institute discusses this concept further in the 14th edition of The Appraisal of Real Estate (2013) Chapter 35, “Valuation of Real Property with Related Personal Property or Intangible Property.”  This is important in the world of ad valorem tax valuations because intangibles are not taxable.

Determining Values

To understand whether RevPAR adjustments are appropriate in a property tax setting, consider a nationally branded hotel that loses its brand.  Compare the hotel to its closest competitors using a RevPAR adjustment both with and without its flag.  Conversely, look at a non-branded hotel that becomes a nationally branded hotel and adjust its competitors’ RevPAR -using the same metrics.

Source Strategies produced a study to determine brand values by tracking the subsequent difference in revenue realized by hotels in Texas that gained or lost a nationally branded flag.  A detailed examination of the study appeared in the summer 2012 edition of The Appraisal Journal.

Researchers compared hotels on the basis of their RevPAR index, which measures a hotel’s performance relative to its competitive set.  An index of 100 indicates that a subject hotel is get-ting its fair share of revenue in comparison to its competitors.  An index higher than 100 indicates the subject is realizing more than its fair share of revenue and an index below 100 indicates the subject is realizing less.

Gaining or Losing a Brand

The study tracked five different brands of hotels in Texas between 1990 and 2010 and found that properties which gained or lost a national brand saw a respective drop or increase in their RevPAR index by as much as 40 percent.  Two hotels from the brand study provide an opportunity to test the utility and appropriateness of RevPAR adjustments.

One of the hotels studied was a Hampton Inn in San Antonio.  In 2004, its second-to-last year as a Hampton, the hotel was outperforming its competitive set.  This is indicated by a RevPAR index of 109.  The hotel’s average daily rate (ADR) was $55.60, or 9.4 percent higher than its competitors’ average of $50.82.

The year after the hotel lost its Hampton Inn brand, it operated as a non-branded hotel.  That year the same competitive set outperformed the now non-branded hotel.  The subject saw its RevPAR Index drop to 64, and its average daily rate fall to $39.89, or 35.7 percent lower than the $62.12 average in its competitive set.

Using a RevPAR adjustment would require a positive adjustment of 9.4 percent in one year and a 35.7 negative adjustment just two years later for the same real estate.

Now consider the effects of a RevPAR adjustment to a hotel that starts out as an independent hotel and then becomes nationally branded.  The study showed that one such hotel in Houston went from unbranded to being a Holiday Inn Express.  In 2004, its last year as an independent, this hotel generated less revenue than its competitors, as evidenced by the subject’s RevPAR index of 51.  The competitors’ average daily rate was $29.52, or twice that of the subject’s $14.72 ADR.

The year after the subject became a Holiday Inn Express it outperformed the same competitive set, as evidenced by the increase in its RevPAR index to 129.  As a nationally branded hotel, the subject’s ADR was $40.76, or 29.7 percent higher than the competing set’s $31.43 ADR.

In both cases the RevPAR index changed significantly for the subject properties, while the real estate remained unchanged.  The comps and methods of comparison remained the same.  The only change was the removal or addition of the brand and its resultant change in revenue.

These results indicate that the revenue shift reflects the change in brand and possibly management or goodwill, none of which are a part of the real estate.  Rather, they are separate and intangible components of the going concern.  Because these items are tied to RevPAR, a RevPAR adjustment will entail adjustments to the differences in both the tangible real estate and intangible items such as brand, management and goodwill.  RevPAR adjustments are therefore inappropriate when calculating only the tangible real estate value of a hotel. 

greg hart active

kevin sullivan active

Greg Hart is an attorney and tax consultant at the Austin, Texas law firm of Popp Hutcheson, PLLC, and Kevin Sullivan is an appraiser and tax consultant with the firm.  Popp Hutcheson PLLC represents taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Hart can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Sullivan 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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May
17

Property Taxes And The Growing Millennial Impact On The Retail Sector

As researchers continue to debate how market conditions affect the value of commercial real estate, one thing is certain: Appraisal districts across Texas are recalculating taxable property values. To ensure fair tax assessments, it is crucial for retail property owners to monitor demographic and technological changes that can disrupt retailers’ sales and a shopping center’s overall income potential.

Here are a few points for taxpayers to broach when helping assessors determine correct taxable property value.

Consumers spent more on dining out than at the grocery store last year, a historical first, according to Marcus and Millichap’s 2016 U.S. Retail Investment Forecast. With millennials dining out more than other age groups, this trend will likely continue. Some landlords are shifting the balance of stores, restaurants and bars at their properties to lure millennia) shoppers.

Conversely, changing consumer demand is weighing on outdated shopping centers that require significant renovation to remain relevant. Even with the right updates, a center could suffer from external obsolescence, or conditions outside the property that reduce its value.

Millennial Impact

The growing influence of millennials has also increased demand for convenience commerce.

Businesses such as Instacart now enable consumers in some markets to order groceries and goods directly from major grocery chains using smartphones, to be delivered to their home in as little as one hour.

E-commerce companies are adapting services that were once accessible only in a retail space and delivering those conveniences to the consumer. Entrepreneurs have already begun to experiment with mobile services ranging from dog grooming, manicures, hair styling and even massage therapy.

As the availability of services grows in step with millennials’ disposable income, owners of shopping centers offering similar services may see a decrease in foot traffic within their developments.

Shopping centers with tenants that cannot adapt to this service delivery model may be exposed to significant vacancy risk.

Adapting to the Market

Many national retailers adapting to e-commerce growth have announced store closures in 2016. Many of these retailers are investing significant capital into their omni-channel platform, suggesting that additional store closures are still to come.

With the continued growth of e-commerce, some industry observers believe that retailers will reduce the size of their showrooms or sales floors to allow more square footage for warehouse fulfillment space.

More warehouse space would allow retailers to process merchandise for pickup or delivery without interfering with the shopping space for customer foot traffic.

In this scenario, market rental rates that represent part showroom and part warehouse space would be appropriate for assessors to use when applying the income approach to value.

Adapting to Change

Taxpayers must always ensure that assessors use correct rates and values as comparables, otherwise the assessor could reach an improper value.

Additionally, as retailers across the nation continue to experiment with smaller store footprints, assessors must consider the potential for that trend to reduce the market value of large boxes and inline spaces, with a corresponding impact on property values.

Shifting demographics, the evolution of convenience commerce and retailers’ adaptation to e-commerce can profoundly increase or decrease a retail property’s value.

These trends demand that assessors carefully analyze a property’s individual characteristics as well as the market area in which the subject is located.

Apparel tenants may be the most at risk of losing sales, but landlords must also consider the viability of other tenants that could occupy the retail space at market rents.

The assessor should consider this uncertainty when selecting capitalization rates. Also discuss with the assessor year-over-year changes in income and expenses, and in tenant health, within the subject property.

By protesting property taxes, landlords can pass any tax savings onto their tenants, who typically reimburse the landlord for taxes, depending on the terms of the lease. In addition, a successful tax protest may enable the landlord to quote lower operating expenses, which can help attract and retain retailers. Correct analysis can identify any obsolescence that may exist, enabling the assessor to adjust taxable value accordingly.

And with a more accurate picture of the property’s marketability, the assessor will be in a better position to judge proper market rents, vacancy and collection loss, and capitalization rates. Only with all these essential pieces can the assessor correctly determine a retail property’s taxable value. 

kirk garza activeKirk Garza is part of the Member Appraisal Institute and a licensed Texas Property Tax Consultant with the Texas law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC, which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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Nov
30

Shrinking Retail Footprint Complicates Taxes

With other major retailers making similar announcements in 2015, this market shift will likely affect property owners and their property values for years to come.

As brick-and-mortar store operators respond to competition from online retailers, shopping center owners face a mounting risk of unfair taxation when assessors fail to account for retailers’ changing preferences for space.

In markets across the nation, select big box and junior big box retail tenants are changing their existing store concepts and shrinking the building footprints of retail shopping center and standalone locations.

Businesses that were once considered strong anchor or junior anchor tenants are even restructuring their business models, renegotiating leases for smaller spaces and closing stores that no longer meet viable internal metrics.

JC Penney, Barnes & Noble and Sears have all announced nationwide store closings in 2015, and the merger of Office Depot and Office Max has fueled additional store closings this year.

With other major retailers making similar announcements in 2015, this market shift will likely affect property owners and their property values for years to come.

Changes Threaten Values

Retailers’ new criteria for inline and freestanding stores will almost certainly present a property tax challenge for big box and junior big box space, as store closures and footprint reductions affect demand, market vacancy and lease rates in the sector.

Often, assessors will focus too much on the tenant and what the lease states, instead of remembering that the ultimate goal is to properly value the building and land as of the date of value.

When working with assessors, it is important to consider that calculations involving existing tenants constitute a leased fee analysis, which is inappropriate for calculating value for property taxes.

On a fee simple basis, which looks at the property and its market position, this type of space may have an entirely different market value.

With that in mind, it is important to know what the space would lease for if available for lease in an open market as of the date of value.

Another important factor to consider is what the property would sell for in an open market transaction on a fee simple basis. In reviewing the assessor’s calculations, consider whether any referenced sales of other properties reflect leased fee or fee simple pricing.

Blending leased fee and fee simple sales without a proper analysis can yield conflicting data points, compromising the integrity of subsequent conclusions.

These oversights often result in in-correct market value assumptions and metrics, and lead to artificially inflated property tax values.

Interest Shrinks for Big Boxes

Some tenants have reduced their store footprints by more than 20 percent over the past few years.  In part, this adjustment maximizes inventory turnover and sales per square foot.

When looking for new space, certain retailers have also set strict size limits with leasing brokers, and some stores that were once considered anchors are moving into inline retail space.

This type of size restriction can significantly impair a retail property’s overall market rent potential if an owner already has a vacant big box or junior box space. These factors are important metrics to consider when surveying rent to arrive at an appropriate market rental rate conclusion.

One way property owners are dealing with unmarketable big boxes is by subdividing the space into smaller suites that better accommodate the growing demand for small retail footprints.

This conversion can be costly, and if relevant, it is important to discuss the conversion costs with the assessor as of the date of value for the property.

It is also important to consider a proper lease up analysis if the property has substantial vacancy. With store closings triggering an increase in the available retail supply and online shopping continuing to gain market share, a lease up analysis that captures these factors is essential.

An additional issue to consider with the conversion into smaller suites is the depth of the original box and the potential for what some brokers term “bowling alley” space.

Often when the subdivision of big box or junior big box space is complete, new tenants will refuse to lease the excess depth the suite may provide.

In this instance owners are sometimes left with non-leasable space in the rear portion of the original building.

When this happens, it is important to consider excluding this space from the net rentable area of the analysis since the configuration often makes this space impossible to lease.

If subdivision is not an option, be realistic about the future lease up prospects for this type of space and use an appropriate, stabilized vacancy rate in addition to a proper lease up analysis.

Even after observing the points mentioned here, be sure to consider the particular characteristics of the local market before reaching any value conclusions.

As business models for big box and junior box retailers evolve, so must the assessor’s approach to valuation. Only after considering all of these factors can the assessor determine a proper market value to the fee simple estate.

 

kirk garza activeKirk Garza is part of the Member Appraisal Institute and a licensed Texas Property Tax Consultant with the Texas law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC, which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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Sep
01

Texas Legislature Retains Equal and Uniform Property Tax Remedy

Tax relief was a hot topic from the very beginning of the session, with lawmakers submitting bills in both the House and the Senate proposing property tax, sales tax and franchise tax relief.

The 84th Texas legislative session followed a pre-session spectacle that seemed to promise heated debates over property tax issues, but ended with no casualties or otherwise drastic changes to the state’s property tax remedies and system.

Legislators submitted some 332 property tax bills. Among those were several bills addressing grumblings raised in the news media as to the equal-and-uniform remedy, unique to Texas and instrumental in granting its taxpayers property tax relief. The remedy holds that a property’s appraised value must be equal to or less than the median appraised value of a reasonable number of comparable properties appropriately adjusted.

In the end, the legislature passed about 65 bills, granting tax relief to property owners, making tweaks to the property tax system and leaving the equal-and-uniform remedy intact.

Tax relief was a hot topic from the very beginning of the session, with lawmakers submitting bills in both the House and the Senate proposing property tax, sales tax and franchise tax relief. Eventually, the legislature increased the homestead exemption for school district property taxes from $15,000 to $25,000, effective for the 2015 tax year. In addition, the legislature reduced franchise taxes by 25 percent.

In another effort to grant property tax relief, the law will now require a taxing entity to achieve a 60 percent majority vote, rather than a simple majority, to adopt a property tax rate that exceeds the effective tax rate. The effective rate is the tax rate that would achieve the same amount of revenue as the previous year’s taxes. Additionally, the interest rate taxing entities must pay on refunds resulting from the final determination of a taxpayer’s property value increased to 9.5 percent until the refund is made.

As expected, the equal-and-uniform tax relief provision garnered considerable discussion. In recent years, countless articles and interviews criticizing commercial property owner’s “abuse” of the equal-and-uniform remedy circulated in the industry. Although the Constitution guarantees equal and uniform taxation, opponents alleged the remedy had shifted the property tax burden from commercial property owners to homeowners.

On the reverse side, commercial property owners advocated fair and equitable treatment in a district’s valuation of their property, and wanted a right to pursue their equal and uniform remedy through litigation, just like homeowners do.

The equal-and-uniform remedy for commercial property owners was at risk going into the session, and a few lawmakers introduced a handful of bills that would have substantially limited or completely eliminated the remedy for commercial property owners. Those bills failed to gain momentum, however, and none passed out of committee.

Instead, to address both appraisal district and taxpayer concerns over the perceived misuse and the general preservation of the equal and uniform remedy, lawmakers eventually passed a compromise bill. House Bill 2083 amending the tax code provides that any equal-and-uniform analysis must be based on the application of generally accepted appraisal methods and techniques.

At the same time, it recognizes a property owner’s right to give an opinion as to the value of his own property. While increasing the standard under which an equity analysis must be prepared and reviewed, the new law leaves the equal-and-uniform remedy in place for all taxpayers.

Several other measures adopted during the legislative session seek to secure taxpayer access to relief. The legislature expanded the availability of arbitration as an alternate means to appeal property values, for example.

Now, commercial property owners with a property appraised at $3 million or less may appeal directly through binding arbitration instead of having to file an appeal in district court. This replaces the previous $1 million threshold, making the remedy available to more commercial property owners.

Another new law aims to facilitate the process for lawsuit settlement by requiring parties to attend settlement conferences before incurring unnecessary expenses. And lawmakers passed other laws directed at addressing taxpayer concerns over exemptions, applications and other procedures.

A legislative session is sometimes more notable for the measures that failed to pass. At least one failed bill proposed to allow appraisal districts to recover their attorneys’ fees should they prevail in district court, as taxpayers are currently allowed. Another would have provided for a 5 percent appraisal cap on all property, disregarding studies suggesting that caps are ineffective tax relief measures that run contrary to equal-and-uniform taxation. Neither these nor some of the more curious bills received much attention.

Ultimately, despite warnings of the looming collapse of the equal-and-uniform remedy, the bills that passed were uncontroversial. The equal-and-uniform remedy for commercial property owners remains secure, and other passed amendments will generally benefit property owners.

MelissaRamirez150Melissa Ramirez is a principal with the Austin law firm of Popp Hutcheson P.L.L.C., 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. Ms. Ramierz can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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May
21

Texas Extends Lucrative Tax Incentive

Program is designed to help entice companies and developers to the state.

Economists anticipate unprecedented capital investment in Texas over the next few decades, and tax jurisdictions in Texas are no doubt eager to take advantage of this influx of capital. Increasing property tax rates and limited manufacturing and construction resources have hampered Texas' economic development efforts on the ever-competitive national stage, however.

So, in the spirit of the Texas Economic Development Corp.'s "Texas Wide Open for Business" marketing program, lawmakers have extended two of the state's most popular and lucrative tax incentives programs in order to entice companies and developers here. Those incentives are property tax abatements and a program to temporarily limit increases on the appraised value of capital investments at properties taxed by school districts. Many companies have already discovered that the best way to reduce the property tax burden during early project investment years is through local property tax incentives. But what do these programs offer, and who should  use them?

The recently renewed Chapter 312 of the Texas Property Tax Code, also known as the Property Redevelopment and Tax Abatement Act, allows the taxpayer and local taxing unit to create agreements exempting all or part of an appraised property value increase from taxation for up to 10 years.

This incentive promotes economic development in the state through major capital investment, job creation, job retention and the utilization of existing local vendors. Property owners often seek abatement incentives for projects ranging from retail shopping centers and distribution warehouses to natural gas processing plants and wind farms. Local taxing units that wish to provide property tax abatements must state their intent to provide the incentive, and then adopt abatement guidelines and criteria. Typically, abatement guidelines and criteria reflect the specific needs of the taxing unit. Therefore, abatement guidelines and criteria, such as minimum investment amounts and/or the number of jobs to be created, often vary from county to county. A company considering investment in Texas should research proposed sites in advance to confirm that the potential project meets local abatement guidelines and criteria.

The Texas Legislature reauthorized the use of property tax abatements until Sept. 1, 2019. In 2001, the 77th Texas Legislature  enacted House Bill 1200 Creating Texas Tax Code Chapter 313, the Texas Economic Development Act. Under Chapter 313, a qualified applicant may apply to a school district for a limitation on the appraised value of their new capital investment project for 10 years. The limitation on the appraised value applies specifically to the school district's maintenance-and-operations tax rate, while its interest and sinking tax rate; or bond rate, applies to the full taxable value of the property. This program allows Texas school districts to increase their ad valorem tax bases by attracting large-scale capital investments, and creates desirable, well-paying jobs in the process. Recently, the 83rd Legislature extended the Chapter 313 Act through 2022 and added various rule changes, including the extension of the value limitation from eight to 10 years, and the inclusion of contractor jobs as counting toward job creation requirements for a project.

The Texas Comptroller's Economic Development & Analysis Division, however, is now required to verify that an eligible project will generate sufficient tax revenues over a 25-year period to offset the school district's maintenance-and-operations tax revenues lost as a result of entering into the value limitation agreement. Additionally, the Comptroller must also find that the value limitation incentive is a determining factor in the applicant's decision to invest capital and construct the project in Texas. Reviewing any potential incentive project with an experienced tax professional; offers the best opportunity to create an effective property tax strategy.

Blas Ortiz jpgBlas Ortiz is a tax consultant with Texas law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC. The firm devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. Ortiz can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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Dec
31

Case Study: If The Build-To-Suit Fits.....

"Once vacated by the original user, build-to-suit properties require a different valuation process."

Build-to-suit properties, like custom suits, are wonderful for the original purchaser. A made-to-order suit matches the specific user's size and build and looks just right on him. But try giving that suit to a friend, and the suit that looked great on you may not look as good or fit as well on him.

Similarly, build-to-suit properties may offer limited or no functionality to the next user. The following case study of a freestanding restaurant illustrates the challenges of determining the taxable value of a build-to-suit property.

The property was built in Austin in 2006 for a dine-in hamburger chain with restaurants in the U.S. and Canada. Located at a high-traffic intersection in front of a large shopping center, the restaurant measured 6,780 square feet, according to Travis Central Appraisal District records.

When the restaurant closed its doors in 2011, the restaurant appeared to the casual viewer to be in excellent condition, but the property owner demolished the building. From there, one might have assumed that a different property type would replace it.

As such, it was surprising to see another restaurant replace the demolished property in 2012. When completed, the new structure measured 6,350 square feet, tax records showed — nearly the same size as the previous building's 6,780 square feet. And the new building, like the old, was home to a national chain, in this case a steakhouse.

In this example, the value to the original user was an investment value and most likely equated to the original cost less physical depreciation. The investment value to the new owner was land value less the cost of demolition.

So how did a relatively new building suffer 100 percent depreciation after only a few years of physical depreciation? In this case, the custom suit was given to a friend, and it just didn't fit. The exterior of the first building matched the branded design of a specific chain restaurant, and on the inside, the builder had tailored the kitchen and dining areas to this particular chain. But the new user also wanted a specific exterior design, kitchen and dining area layout to match a different restaurant chain.

So, how then can an appraiser or assessor value a build-to-suit property without putting a nominal or "zero" value on the improvements?

In Texas, the property tax code requires assessors to value properties at market value, not the investment value to any one specific user. "The Appraisal of Real Estate, 14th Edition" states that, "it is generally agreed that market value results from the collective value judgments of market participants...In contrast to market value, investment value is value to an individual, not necessarily value in the marketplace."

In the case of a build-to-suit restaurant, it can be assumed that the pool of potential second-generation users who find functional utility in the property is limited to local restaurateurs or small local chains that do not require a specific look or layout for brand recognition. The market value to these users is likely somewhere in between the physically depreciated cost and the
land-less-demolition cost.

This implies that functional obsolescence is inherently built into a build-to-suit property. While measuring the amount of obsolescence is beyond the scope of this article, one strategy is to inventory the number of comparably sized restaurants in the subject's market area and determine the percent of those restaurants that are regional or national chains.

A larger percentage of such chains in the market area indicates a greater degree of functional obsolescence. Using the income approach to value, a larger percentage of regional or national chains implies fewer potential users of the property and, therefore, a greater risk, which can be reflected in the cap rate.

An assessor must consider these factors when determining the market value of a build-to-suit property for property tax purposes. Significant value swings can occur when looking at the investment value for one specific user rather than the market value for a collective of market participants.

Once the market participants who find utility with the property have been determined and weighed against the market participants for which the" suit just doesn't fit," the assessor can determine a proper market value.

Kevin Sullivan is an Appraiser and Tax Consultant with the Austin, Texas, law firm Popp, Gray & Hutcheson. The firm devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. Sullivan can be reached atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Nov
30

Eagle Ford Shale Ignites Boom

"Natural gas reserves a boom for not just energy industry, but for all of South Texas."

South Texas is humming with activity, much of it attributable to the Eagle Ford Shale and the rapid growth it has brought to the region. The opportunities available and the boom resulting from the Eagle Ford resources have generated significant wealth and economic activity in these modest communities. As the population expands with workers and South Texas hastens to keep up with the surging demand for housing, roads and other infrastructure, property values are on the rise.

The boom has fueled significant tax assessment increases over the past few years. South Texas counties are reaping the benefits of the new prosperity by increasing property values and adding more property to their tax base. The trend serves as a poignant example of how externalities affect value.

What is the Shale?
The Eagle Ford Shale is a geological formation from the Cretaceous period spanning the Mexican border in South Texas into East Texas. It is roughly 50 miles wide, 400 miles long, and pans 30 Texas counties between the Buda Lime and Austin Chalk formations. The shale produces dry gas, wet gas, natural gas liquids and oil.

Some experts believe the Eagle Ford discovery could become the sixth largest oil discovery in the history of the United States. Combine this with the fact that it is as large as or larger than the Barnett Shale play in terms of natural gas reserves, and you have a recipe for a legendary oil and natural gas boom.

Since 2008, the exponential growth in the Eagle Ford Shale has been staggering. In 2008, there were roughly 350 barrels of oil produced in the region per day; today, almost 10 times more barrels of oil are produced per day. And, as of the end of September, an estimated 5,200 drilling permits have been issued.

Benefits to South Texas
In South Texas, housing supply has increased as numbers of transient workers migrate to work in the oil fields, on pipeline projects and in new gas processing plants. From 2000 to 2010, the population in just a six-county region (Dimmit, Frio, La Salle, Maverick, Webb and Zavala) grew by roughly 66,000 people, and housing grew by about 22,000 units.

The results from the new prosperity are evident in the increase in property tax assessment values. For La Salle County's Cotulla Independent School District (15D), total taxable value was over $2.3 billion in 2012, compared to $408 million in 2008. Nearby, the Dilley ISD total taxable value more than doubled to $235 million in 2012, from $103 million in 2008. While the majority of the increase in tax base is due to the value of oil, gas and minerals and the industrial personal property needed for these projects, the ripple effects can also be observed in commercial and residential properties.

For example, lodging room revenues in the oil and gas areas grew by almost 16 percent in 2012, which is more than the state average, according to a report prepared by Source Strategies Inc. for the Office of the Governor, Economic Development & Tourism. Also, room revenues in the city of Alice (Jim Wells County) were $12 million in 2012 compared to $5 million in 2008.
As room revenues increase, appraisal districts have captured the new income streams and raised hotel values.

This is just one example of how the activity from the Eagle Ford boom has filtered down to property values. But while room revenues have been consistently increasing over the last
couple of years, Source Strategies suggests that the growth seems likely to moderate, as revenues during the second quarter 2013 declined slightly in Victoria and Laredo.

Similarly, as the market begins to even out and supply catches up with demand, there may be more stabilization of property values. In any event, property owners should be watchful of market trends in reviewing their property values.

Continued Growth Ahead
Anticipated future production in the Eagle Ford Shale indicates continued expansion in South Texas. By 2021, the Eagle Ford Shale could produce as much as $62.2 billion in output and $34 billion in gross regional products, according to projections by the University of Texas at San Antonio's Institute for Economic Development. More permits continue to be

approved for drilling.

As communities in South Texas catch up with the increased activity, property owners should be on guard against unfair and inflated property tax assessments.

MelissaRamirez150Melissa Ramirez is a principal with the Austin law firm of Popp Hutcheson P.L.L.C., 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. Ms. Ramierz can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Sep
22

Texas Property Tax Change Explained

Property owners to benefit from adjustments in appraisal review boards, appeals and hearings.

"Texas House Bill 585, which passed in June of this year, was written to provide for a fairer and more efficient tax appeal process, and its passage into law may help taxpayers appeal their assessments..."

As the economy recovers and property values rise, real estate taxes are a growing concern for Texas property owners. Each dollar of additional tax is a dollar removed from an income-producing property's bottom line, and some taxpayers will find that the increases in tax appraisals are overreaching and require a formal protest. That being said, taxpayers who protest their property values will likely be pleased with the Texas Legislature's recent revision to the property tax code. Texas House Bill 585, which passed in June of this year, was written to provide for a fairer and more efficient tax appeal process, and its passage into law may help taxpayers appeal their assessments.

Complaints about the state's property tax system often involve a perception of bias on the part of appraisal review boards (ARBs), the citizen panels that hear and decide property tax appeals at the administrative level. A second concern is a perceived lack of responsiveness on the part of appraisal districts with regard to taxpayer concerns. To address this, HB 585 provides for increased oversight of these entities. The new law requires the comptroller to provide model hearing procedures with clear expectations for all Texas ARBs.

In large counties, it also establishes a taxpayer complaint system through a taxpayer Liaison, an intermediary housed at the district and tasked with hearing taxpayer concerns regarding procedures and personnel. The liaison's go-between responsibilities will now increase to include accepting taxpayer complaints and providing clerical support in the ARB selection process.

On top of re-emphasizing oversight and improving accountability, HB 585 tackles another perceived flaw in the property tax appeal system. Appraisal district boards of directors have historically selected ARB members. In Houston, however, a district judge selects Harris County ARB members. ARB member selection in counties with more than 120,000 residents will now take on this same model used in Harris County. Only district judges will possess the power to appoint members.
It's a move that could also have disciplinary implications, as ARB members who do not follow procedures may be removed by a judge as well. And in large counties, the appraisal district will be removed from the panel selection process completely. Aside from the new panel requirements, the new law seeks to make protesting property values easier and more effective. Appeal hearings must now be set for a certain date and time.

If a hearing does not occur within two hours of its scheduled time, a taxpayer may request a postponement. Also, if before a scheduled hearing
a change in value is made with an informal agreement between taxpayers and appraisers, the law strengthens the standards of evidence appraisal districts must provide in order to raise the property value the next year. This could mean less volatility for values. These changes are not the only changes set forth by HB 585, as the new law also provides new procedures for district court appeals. While shifts in accountability and scheduling may seem small, they could indicate a broader trend toward a more fair and equitable Texas property tax system.

As more guidelines favor taxpayers, it improves their likelihood of achieving fair results. What's more, keeping tax values fair will ensure that Texas' ability to attract developers and investors remains strong.


Shalley Michael Shalley is a principal and Patrick McGill a tax consultant at the Austin law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC. which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel. Michael Shalley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. an Patrick McGill can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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