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Apr
25

Onerous Property Tax Requirements Proposed

True to campaign promises, the new Cook County assessor has proposed sweeping legislation that borrows the most burdensome tax requirements and penalties from jurisdictions across the country. But will this enhance transparency or simply saddle taxpayers with inaccurate assessments and the need for costly appeals?

The 2018 race for Cook County Assessor ended in Fritz Kaegi beating out incumbent and long-time political powerhouse Joseph Berrios. Kaegi's campaign promises targeted the "insider" game of property tax appeals and proposed to bring fairness and transparency to the Illinois property tax appeal system.

The proposed requirements would only be imposed on commercial or income-producing properties worth more than $400,000, or residential properties with seven or more units worth more than $1 million. Residential properties with six units or less, as well as mixed-use commercial/residential buildings with six or fewer apartment units and less than 20,000 square feet of commercial area, are exempt from reporting income data.

In Cook County, these commercial properties will be required to submit income and expense data to the assessor prior to July 1 each year, and attest to the truthfulness of such information. Counties outside of Cook County may adopt the same requirement.

Property owners who fail to file the required information may receive a notice from the assessor demanding its submittal. If the taxpayer fails to report the income pursuant to the notice, the taxpayer will be fined 2 percent of the previous year's total tax bill. If the taxpayer still does not submit evidence within 120 days of the original notice, the proposal adds a second penalty of 2.5 percent of the prior year's tax bill.

As if these financial penalties were not enough, the taxpayer who fails to provide the information within 120 days is precluded from appealing the subject property's tax assessment. Furthermore, the Cook County State's Attorney's office is granted the right to subpoena the income and expense data from the tax payer on an annual basis.

None of the legislation eliminates the right to appeal to the Board of Review, however.

So, will the proposed statute bring fairness and transparency to the appeal process? No.

Round hole, square peg

The requirement to file income and expense data is not revolutionary. In many cases, taxpayers file appeals based directly on the property's income data rather than incur appraisal expenses. On the other hand, income-producing properties that commission an appraisal will provide the income and expense data to the appraiser in order to explain any differences between the actual rents in the subject property and the market rents used to calculate the assessment. Thus, the new rules will not necessarily bring more transparency to the values of multimillion-dollar commercial properties.

For the institutional investor, the greatest concern about the proposal is the validity and application of the collected income and expense data. As the old saying goes "garbage in, garbage out."

The assessor claims that the collection and aggregation of data directly from taxpayers will help identify the true rental market value of specific real estate. The concern is that taxpayers will be reporting a variety of unadjusted rents rather than market rates. Market rates take into account the differences between gross, modified and triple net leases, as well as tenant improvements, concessions, length of lease, sale-leasebacks and a host of other factors. Without adjustment to market rates, the data will be incorrect and the assessments will be inflated. This will produce a higher rate of appeal on an annual basis and impose greater appeal burdens on all involved.

Furthermore, the new requirements will bring the greatest harm to smaller commercial investors who may not be filing property tax appeals at all. Many of these are mom-and-pop organizations that keep handwritten ledgers and have market values between $400,000 and $1 million. The annual reporting requirement and respective penalties would be financially burdensome to taxpayers in this group, many of whom never undertook the expense of filing an appeal. Now those taxpayers may be open to valuation increases on an annual basis and have to spend money on appraisals and attorney representation.

And transparency?

The proposed statue prohibits "non-personal income and expense data" the assessor collects from being accessed through Freedom of Information Act searches. Does this indicate that the data sets the assessor produces cannot be analyzed by the taxpayer for accuracy? Where is the fairness and transparency in that?

If the statute passes, the hurdle for Illinois taxpayers will be to clearly identify the difference between market rents and actual rents for each of their properties, which may result in extremely burdensome requirements and penalties. The mandated steps may require intricate analysis and could result in property owners expending time and money responding to annual notices for documentation, fines for noncompliance, and the inability to challenge illegal assessments as a right.

Much of the income-and-expense statements, rent rolls and other data the assessor seeks are already available in documentation currently being submitted in support of annual appeals. Based upon this readily available data, the assessor should be able to generate guidelines that reflect current rental rates, occupancy levels and capitalization rates.

If Cook County taxes need reform, this is not the reform.

Molly Phelan is a partner in the Chicago office of the law firm Siegel Jennings Co. LPA, which has offices in Cleveland, OH, Pittsburgh, PA and Chicago. IL and is the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys
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Apr
18

PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS TO PROTEST TAX ASSESSMENTS IN TEXAS

Learn best practices for meeting property tax deadlines and handling property tax appeals.

Beset by ever-increasing tax assessments, Texas property owners are allowed to seek a remedy by protesting taxable property values set by appraisal districts. The property tax system can be intimidating, however, and the process is complex and fraught with pitfalls.

To maximize results, taxpayers must understand the assessment process and the deadlines governing filings and protests. What follows are best practices for protecting the right to protest in Texas, along with some tips for meeting key deadlines. And remember, deadlines are subject to exceptions and may change for specific properties, so consult the Texas Property Tax Code or a property tax professional to verify applicable dates.

Learn the appeal timeline. 

Strict filing deadlines govern renditions, protests, litigation appeals and tax payments. Failure to comply with these deadlines may be devastating, resulting in forfeiture of the taxpayer's appeal rights and incurring substantial penalties and interest.

Meet protest deadlines.

Texas appraisal districts value real and personal property annually, usually as of Jan. 1. For commercial real estate, appraisal districts are required to deliver notices of appraised value by May 1 or as soon thereafter as practicable. Taxpayers in most jurisdictions can expect to receive notices of appraised value sometime in April. The deadline for protesting an appraised value is the later of May 15 or 30 days after the date the notice was delivered to the property owner.

In certain situations, appraisal districts are not required to send notices of appraised value, such as when the appraised value of the property did not increase from the prior year. A best practice is to track all documents and follow up with the appraisal district if you have not received a notice by late April to ensure you have the relevant information prior to the May 15 protest deadline. Keep in mind that it is the taxpayer's responsibility to inform the appraisal district of the taxpayer's current address.

When is the business personal property rendition deadline? 

Taxpayers are required to render information regarding their business personal property to appraisal districts annually, generally by April 15. Appraisal districts may extend the deadline until May 15 upon written request by the property owner, a common practice. This deadline can vary, however, depending on whether a Freeport exemption for the property is allowed.

Determining rendition deadlines can be complex and property owners should make sure to communicate with appraisal district personnel about deadlines early on in order to avoid penalties for late reporting. Penalties generally equal 10 percent of the total tax due.

Prepare for hearings. 

After filing a protest on time, property owners are scheduled for a formal hearing before the Administrative Review Board. Often the appraisal district will schedule an informal hearing with an appraiser prior to the formal hearing. Most formal and informal hearings take place between April and July of the tax year in question, and many protests are resolved during this process. Preparation is the key to success.

More deadlines: 

The review board will determine a property value and issue an "order determining protest." Document the date the order is received and follow up with the appraisal district if you do not receive appropriate documentation within a few weeks of the formal hearing date. A property owner has 60 days from receipt of the order to file suit in district court appealing the review board's results.

Taxing entities are required to mail tax bills by Oct. 1 or as soon thereafter as practicable. Taxes become delinquent if not paid before Feb. 1 of the year following the property valuation. That is, for the 2019 tax year, taxes are due on or before Jan. 31, 2020. An active protest or lawsuit does not excuse a property owner's obligation to pay taxes prior to the delinquency date, and failure to pay taxes in a timely manner forfeits the right to proceed with an appeal in court. If an owner prevails in its appeal, the overpayment will be refunded.

Best practices for appeals

Regardless of appeal status, communicate early and often with the appraisal district and provide requested documentation and information. Informal settlement conferences are good opportunities to get to know the appraiser assigned to the protest and to understand the assumptions supporting his or her analysis.

Be prepared with all required documentation including hearing notices, property-specific information and any appointment-of-agent forms. Consider further protecting appeal rights by filing an affidavit stating the taxpayer's position in advance of the formal hearing date. An affidavit on file protects the taxpayer in the event that they are unable to attend the hearing.

What if I miss my deadline?

Let's assume a taxpayer purchased a retail center for $2 million in December 2018. The appraiser valued the property at $3.5 million for 2019, but the owner believes the purchase price reflects market value. The taxpayer missed the May 15 protest deadline, however.

Fortunately, there is an additional, backstop remedy. Property owners may file a motion to correct the appraisal roll, provided that the assessor's value exceeds the correct appraised value by more than one-third. For our hypothetical retail center, the correct appraised value would need to be less than $2.625 million for the motion to succeed.

The motion to correct the appraisal roll can be filed through the date that the property taxes are due, which in this scenario would be Jan. 31, 2020. Like other protests, the review board's ruling on a motion to correct the appraisal roll may be appealed to district court.

Taxpayers should pay attention to the details of protest procedures and deadlines or hire the right team with the expertise and experience to do so. Otherwise, the owner may get burdened with an excessive appraisal due to missed deadlines or mismanaged internal procedures. Protecting appeal rights is essential to properly managing property tax expense.


Rachel Duck, CMI, is a senior property tax consultant at the Austin, Texas law firm Popp Hutcheson PLLC and Kathy Mendoza is a legal assistant at the firm. Popp Hutcheson devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax matters and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Apr
18

How Office Owners Can Help Lower Sky-High Property Tax Assessments

​The American Property Tax Counsel argues that if a property tax assessment is premised on a uniform per-square-foot value, rental rate or vacancy rate for all office properties in a metro area, the assessor is likely going to overlook distinguishing factors in submarkets that could benefit building owners.

Managing fixed expenses is the best way to ensure the long-term profitability of investment properties, especially in a flat market. The largest continuing expense for most commercial properties is the property tax bill, and in a market with skyline-defining properties and headline-grabbing sales prices, tax assessors have multi-tenant office properties in the crosshairs.

Any reduction in tax burden can drastically improve an investment's profitability, competitiveness and tenant retention. As another assessment season begins across the Midwest, understanding tax assessors' common errors can equip property managers and owners with the tools necessary to review the accuracy and reasonableness of the assessments on their office properties and, when appropriate, challenge those assessments.

Know the relevant market

To an outsider, the office market can appear monolithic. To such people, rent, occupancy and other income characteristics of office properties are consistent throughout the market. But pulling data from the wrong market can lead assessors to an incorrect result.

For example, assessors may assume that Class A downtown office towers are the best-performing assets in the market, and value them accordingly. Contrary to this perception, though, Class A properties may not outperform all Class B or Class C properties, and downtown may not be the strongest office submarket in a certain metro area.

Nowhere is the distinction between office submarkets clearer than in the downtown-suburban divide. In many Midwestern markets, suburban office properties tend to be newer, have better occupancy, and in some cases, command higher rents than their downtown competition.

The factors influencing the relative performance of downtown and suburban office properties vary, but they include employees' desire to work closer to their homes, and comparatively low land prices, which allow office building construction with the larger floorplates many tenants prefer. Suburban office markets also typically are able to offer free parking, while paid parking — which is common in the central business district — increases occupancy costs for tenants and their employees. Downtown towers though may appeal to large law firms, accounting firms and banks seeking a prestigious address.

If an assessment is premised on a uniform per-square-foot value, rental rate or vacancy rate for all office properties in a metro area, the assessor is likely failing to consider distinguishing factors in submarkets. Finding those distinctions can benefit owners on either side of the downtown-suburban divide.

Don't blindly trust sales

Assessors are often too reliant on sales data. Although some properties may be valued by considering sales prices for comparable properties, office properties do not neatly lend themselves to such an analysis. Applying the recent sales price of a downtown office tower to all other office towers in the downtown area may seem reasonable on its face, but fails to recognize how buyers and sellers interact in the office market.

For many real estate types, an assessor can identify comparable sales and adjust those transactions to reflect differences between the comparable and subject properties. Unlike owner-occupied buildings, investment properties that are otherwise similar are not easily adjusted for real estate-related factors. This is because market participants do not settle on sales prices based on attributes of the real property, but on attributes of the income stream.

Buyers of multi-tenant office buildings are motivated by the durability of the income stream, reflecting either potential for growth or existing leases with creditworthy, in-place tenants. Knowing a target's income characteristics, buyers apply their own capitalization rate thresholds and back into the sales price. But that price necessarily reflects the particular income stream being purchased, which may have limited applicability to another property. This approach is opposite to the way many assessors believe sales prices are set.

This is not to say that sales of comparable properties are entirely irrelevant in valuing an office property for tax purposes. For example, because capitalization rates reflect the behavior of investors in the market, sales of properties that are comparable as investments can inform the selection of a capitalization rate in a particular analysis. But if an assessor has used a recent sale as the sole basis to set the assessments of the competitive set, whether their assessments truly reflect the market is questionable.

When income isn't income

As income-generating assets, office properties are most commonly valued using the income approach. But even though office rents are not as attributable to personal or intangible property as is, for example, a hotel's income, the rents paid by office tenants are not entirely attributable to the real estate. Simply capitalizing a building's existing income stream mistakenly assumes it is.

The market for office properties in many areas is extremely competitive, and nearly all leases in some markets reflect tenant incentives like improvement allowances. Even long-standing tenants expect such incentives when their leases are up for renewal, and tenants are accustomed to using those allowances to refresh their space. Landlords, in turn, collect marginally higher rent that amortizes those costs over the lease period. But the impact of above-market allowances must be removed from the lease rate in determining the market level of rent. An assessor cannot say that a lease is $15 per square foot if the landlord paid the tenant $5 per square foot upfront.

Assessors also often misunderstand reimbursement income. Triple-net leases are uncommon in the office market; instead, landlords build an assumed level of expenses into their base rent and if the expense exceeds that base-level in future years, the tenant reimburses the landlord for the excess. Some assessors mistakenly view reimbursement income as additional profit. But, as the word "reimbursement" suggests, landlords only collect reimbursement income when, and to the extent, expenses exceed the base amount. Assessors should be reminded that reimbursement income is not a profit center.

As the office market continues its slow expansion, assessors are eager to capitalize on the most visible parts of the city skyline. But by grounding the assessor in the economic realities of the office market, diligent owners and property managers can reduce fixed expenses, lower tenant occupancy costs and ultimately improve profitability.

Benjamin Blair is a partner in the Indianapolis office of international law firm Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, the Indiana and Iowa member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys​.
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Mar
28

Unfair Taxation? Governments Need to Fix the Right Problem

​Investors should be wary when taxing authorities single out properties to be assessed in a method that is inconsistent with the treatment of other taxpayers in the same class, says attorney Kieran Jennings.

Recently, The New York Times published an article on property taxes imposed on retailers under the headline "As Big Retailers Seek to Cut Their Tax Bills, Towns Bear the Brunt." This and similar articles question the fairness of how retailers have reduced their tax bills by using sales of unoccupied stores as comparable transactions to establish the assessed value for an occupied store.

The local government has cried foul, and the article concentrates on the perceived end result―lost revenue for government coffers.

What is missing from the article is basic tax law, which holds that all taxpayers in a given class must be taxed uniformly. Thus, the series of bad decisions that led local government to overtax retailers made communities dependent on inflated revenue. The initial mistake many assessors made was to seize upon sales prices associated with leased retail stores without critically examining the transactions.

Investors, and taxpayers in general, should be wary when taxing authorities single out properties to be assessed in a method that is inconsistent with the treatment of other taxpayers in the same class.

FUNDAMENTALS OF FAIRNESS

Most state constitutions specify that taxes must be uniformly assessed, which requires assessors to follow the same rules for all taxpayers within a class. At the most simplistic level, the rules of the game must be consistently applied to all and not changed to affect the outcome.

To understand how equally applied rules achieve fair taxation of property, bear in mind this fundamental truth: The assessor's goal is to measure the value of real estate only. Taxing entities then use that value to determine the tax. A lack of well-thought-out rules and procedures created the problem of non-uniform assessment.

Many states don't even have a clear definition of what they are trying to measure. States use terms such as "true value" or "true market value" without any further defining language. For most people, fair value simply means what a home would sell for in an open-market transaction. But commercial real estate is not that simple and requires clear definitions applied uniformly to all taxpayers.

Commercial property values are influenced by many factors unrelated to real estate. Consider how, under various circumstances, the same property might sell for wildly different values: An owner-occupied property will sell based on what the market will pay for the building once it is vacant, either for the new owner to occupy or as an investment for the buyer to lease-out at market terms.

The same property, were it leased at an above-market rental rate or to a highly credit-worthy tenant, functions much like a bond and will sell based on a market capitalization rate and for a greater price than the owner-occupied property.

Finally, the same property leased with long-term, below-market lease terms or a less credit-worthy tenant might sell for less than the owner-occupied price or the above-market-leased example. In each scenario, the same property sells for different amounts. Without a clear set of guidelines, establishing value based on sales price would be inconsistent even for a single property, much less an entire class.

Of the three scenarios, the only method that can be replicated consistently and applied to owners of both leased and owner-occupied real estate alike is that of the owner-occupied property. Owner-occupied interest is the unencumbered, fee-simple interest, which makes it the measuring stick common to all taxpayers. All other interests are influenced by non-real-estate factors such as lease terms or business value.

MORE CONFUSION

Adding to the confusion is the ever-changing commercial real estate sector, where market data is full of sales that include non-real-estate influences. The single-tenant market, for example, has evolved from almost exclusively retailer occupancy to include specialty uses and even nursing homes and hospitals.

The assessment goal should be to measure the real estate value alone, ensuring that all taxpayers are taxed with the same measuring stick, but confusion comes in when the sales alone don't indicate real estate value. Leased sales indicate the value of the real estate along with the tenant's credit-worthiness, the life of the lease and a host of other factors that can include enterprise zones and outside influences.

The court cases that are clarifying the methodology and the measuring stick appear to reduce assessments, when they are actually correcting the assessments and requiring assessors to value the same interests for all taxpayers. Defining terms and ensuring rule uniformity protects all taxpayers. There is no foul to be called and the losses affecting some local governments are the result of their own mistakes.

The cure is simple, but the short-term pain for community coffers is significant. States must establish clear definitions and guidelines around property rights so that assessors can value all real estate without encumbrances. Local governments cannot rely on a single taxpayer subset to carry the tax burden.

J. Kieran Jennings is a partner in the law firm of Siegel Jennings Co. LPA, the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Mar
06

Finding Tax Savings in Free-Trade Zones

The FTZ Act prohibits state and local taxes on tangible personal property.  Here's what you should know about the potential for reducing your tax bill.

Foreign-trade zones can offer substantial tax savings for businesses involved in various aspects of manufacturing and international trade. While there are costs involved in setting up and maintaining such a zone, the prospect of escalating trade wars is spurring companies to explore the FTZ designation as a potential cost-control measure.

First, some background. FTZs are the U.S. equivalent of what are known internationally as free trade zones. Authorized under the Foreign Trade Zones Act of 1934, they are usually in or near U.S. Customs and Border Protection ports of entry, and are generally considered outside CBP control. Many communities have integrated these zones into state or local economic development incentive programs.

Broadly speaking, FTZs are designed to stimulate economic growth and development. In an expanding global market, countries increasingly compete for capital, industry, and jobs, and FTZs promote American competitiveness by encouraging companies to maintain and expand their U.S. operations. The zones accomplish this by removing certain disincentives associated with operating in the U.S.

The best-known incentive is designed to level costs among domestic and foreign- manufactured goods. For a product manufactured in a foreign country and imported to the United States, the duty is based on the finished product rather than on its individual parts, materials, or components.

Domestic manufacturers must often pay duties on multiple parts, materials, or components that are imported to be incorporated into a finished product. When those duty payments are added together, the cost of the finished product is higher than for comparable finished goods. FTZs correct this imbalance by assessing duties on products manufactured in an FTZ as if they were manufactured abroad.

Companies operating in FTZs enjoy a number of other benefits:

• No duties or quotas on re-exports

• Deferred customs duties and federal excise taxes on imports

• Streamlined customs procedures

• Exemption from certain state and local taxes

These benefits become increasingly valuable to domestic companies during trade wars, particularly when the disputants impose steep tariffs on manufacturing parts, materials, and components.

STATE AND LOCAL FTZ RULES

FTZs are subject to the laws and regulations of the U.S., as well as those of the states and communities in which they are located, with one significant exception: The Foreign-Trade Zone Act specifically prohibits state and local ad valorem ("on the value") taxation of imported, tangible personal property stored or processed in one of these zones, or of property produced in the United States and held in the zone for export.

Several states, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia, impose ad valorem tax on business inventory. In a handful of other states, including Alaska, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Michigan, some jurisdictions tax some inventories. But even in these states, most legislatures have carved out "freeport" exemptions from ad valorem taxes on merchandise being shipped through the state.

The problem is, the longer it takes for the merchandise to be shipped out of state, the greater the temptation for an enterprising tax assessor to conclude that the merchandise is no longer actively in transit. In such cases, the exemption may no longer apply and the merchandise could become subject to an inventory ad valorem tax.

FTZs may offer a safe harbor from these taxes. Foreign and domestic merchandise may be moved into a zone for operations, including storage, exhibition, assembly, manufacturing, and processing. Such merchandise may remain in a zone indefinitely, whether or not it is subject to duties. And, while no retail trade of foreign merchandise may be conducted in an FTZ, foreign and domestic merchandise may be stored, examined, sampled, and exhibited in the zone.

Of course, there is a catch. When a proposed FTZ designation could result in a reduction to local tax collections, the zone's governing authority must consider the potential impact on local finances. Specifically, an applicant must identify the local taxes for which collections would be affected, and provide documentation that the affected taxing jurisdictions do not oppose the FTZ designation. Importantly, in jurisdictions that already have "freeport" exemptions to ad valorem taxes, the adverse impact would be limited only to the amount of ad valorem taxes imposed on inventory that is determined by a tax assessor to have come to rest in the state, such that it is no longer subject to the "freeport" exemption.

There are costs associated with FTZs, including application fees and assessments as well as operating fees to maintain the designation. Therefore, individual companies must conduct their own cost/benefit analyses and determine whether these zones are right for them. A competent legal or tax advisor can help to project initial and ongoing costs.

Considering the other trade uncertainties currently buffeting manufacturers, eliminating ad valorem tax exposure alone may warrant using an FTZ.

Angela Adolph is a partner in the law firm of Kean Miller LLP, the Louisiana member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Feb
27

Tax Trap: Don't Overlook Occupancy in Property Assessments

Assessors too often value newly constructed apartments as fully occupied, producing excessive assessments.

Developers frequently ask how to estimate property taxes on newly constructed multifamily properties, and tax assessors often provide an easy answer by adding up the value of building permits or by projecting the project's value when fully rented. However, this seemingly simple question grows complex when the assessor's valuation date precedes full occupancy and the ramifications of a wrong answer can linger for years.

Consider these points to value a new multifamily project more accurately.

Valuation Methods

Charged with valuing hundreds or thousands of parcels, assessors often seek a quick way to value a new multifamily project.

The cost approach offers the quickest and easiest route for the assessor, who estimates the current expense to construct an identical structure. One way to do this on a new project is to add the value of the building permits to the land value.

While building costs are clearly a factor in the decision to build, the cost approach ignores the market preference to value income-producing projects based primarily on income.

The assessor's second-easiest option is to rely on an appraisal's stabilization value and ignore the time and cost required to achieve stabilization. In valuing a not-yet-built multifamily project using an income approach, appraisers preparing a financing appraisal should, but don't always, calculate two different values: the "at completion" value and the "stabilized" value.

"At completion" is the project's value when construction is complete but prior to being fully leased. The prospective market value, or "as stabilized," reflects the property's projected market worth when, and if, it achieves stabilized occupancy.

The Dictionary of Real Estate defines stabilized value in terms of the expected occupancy of a property in its particular market, considering current and forecast supply and demand, and assuming it is priced at market rent. To determine a property's fair market value prior to stabilization, one must account for the monetary loss the owner will incur prior to stabilization.

Development Issues

Improvements generally trigger reassessment. The assessor's statutorily mandated valuation date generally ignores the development calendar's key milestones, most importantly the construction commencement, completion and revenue stabilization dates.

The developer makes assumptions during the development process, calculating the cost of building and operating the improvements as well as the rents that can be achieved. This calculation serves as the basis for a pro forma of an income and expense analysis of the project when fully leased.

Construction loans reflect building costs and subsequent time and money needed to achieve full lease-out or stabilization. Banking regulations require the lender to obtain an appraisal. The completed, but not yet stabilized, project incurs costs in the form of income not received during initial leasing, until it reaches stabilization.

Permanent financing depends on the stabilized value, which, in turn, depends on the project's income. Appraisals for permanent loan commitments obtained prior to the project's completion use a prospective valuation date and must contain various assumptions as to the property's financial condition on that prospective date.

The FDIC's Interagency Appraisal and Evaluation Guidelines authorize using a prospective market value in valuing a property interest for a credit decision. The Uniform System of Professional Appraisal Practices requires disclosure of assumptions in an appraisal with a prospective market value, as of an effective date subsequent to the appraisal report's date.

Assumptions regarding the anticipated rent at stabilization and the time required to lease the property are key to calculating stabilized value. Also critical are incentives the owner may offer prospective tenants during lease-up, and the project's projected income once fully leased. The appraisal should clearly disclose these assumptions, but they can still prove incorrect.

Clear disclosure of assumptions is critical. Unfortunately, many appraisers fail to adequately disclose their assumptions, and shortcut to the project's stabilized value.

Valuation Dates

Most state statutes prohibit taxation of improvements while under construction. The project usually comes on line for tax purposes after completion but prior to stabilization.

Being mandated by statute, the valuation date often does not account for where the multifamily project is on the spectrum between completion and stabilization. Unsophisticated assessors charged with valuing these projects often employ mass-appraisal techniques and may value the asset similarly to the market's stabilized properties.

Statutory Caps

Some states cap potential increases in tax value, which may magnify impact of the initial tax valuation. Caps limit increases that would otherwise bring values up to the market. For example, South Carolina properties undergo countywide reassessment every five years, but property values ordinarily cannot increase by more than 15 percent from the previously determined value.

Assessors know that a project's value at completion will nearly always be lower than its stabilized value because stabilization takes time and costs money. Competition may lower the project's achievable income, too. This knowledge can spur assessors to reach for stabilized values regardless of whether the project is yet stabilized. This taxes the unrealized, additional value between completion and stabilized levels.

A Matter of Time

All of the above considerations involve a timing disconnect between the property's actual condition on the statutorily mandated valuation date and its estimated future value based on fallible projections by the lender, developer or assessor. Axiomatically, assumptions don't always hold true. Lease-up may take longer than expected and may require concessions that increase cost. In over-built markets, the stabilized income may be lower than originally anticipated.

Charged with calculating true or fair market value as of a statutorily mandated valuation date, the assessor should examine how the market would value the property as of that date. If the asset has not achieved stabilization, the assessor should discount appropriately for time and financial costs required to achieve stabilization.  That is what the market would do, and is what the assessor is statutorily obligated to do.

And that should be the answer to the seemingly simple question of how to value newly constructed multifamily projects for tax purposes.

Morris Ellison is a partner in the Charleston, S.C., office of the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP. The firm is the South Carolina member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Feb
12

Atlanta: Undue Assessments May Be Coming

Here's what taxpayers should do if the tax controversy now brewing causes large property tax increases

Recent headlines questioning the taxable values of Atlanta-area commercial properties may threaten taxpayers throughout Fulton County with a heightened risk of increased assessments.

Changes in the Midtown Improvement District, which extends northward from North Avenue and along both sides of West Peachtree and eastward, are rapidly reshaping the Atlanta skyline. Multiple new buildings under construction rise 19 to 32 stories, ushering in more than 2,000 new apartment units as well as hotel and office uses.

Amid this intense construction, Fulton County tax assessors have come under fire in newspaper and broadcast news reports that showed assessed taxable values were well below the acquisition prices paid for many commercial properties. Both Atlanta and Fulton County have ordered audits to determine whether assessors consistently undervalued properties, resulting in lost revenue.

While it may be unsurprising that assessors failed to keep up with rapidly changing market pricing in a development hotspot like Midtown, the news coverage and government scrutiny may pressure assessors to increase commercial assessments across the board. Owners of both newly constructed and older properties should diligently review the county's tax assessment notices, sent out each spring, to determine whether they should appeal their assessed values.

Know the assessment process

Understanding the permissible approaches to valuation is key for the taxpayer to determine whether to appeal an assessment. The two most commonly used methods are the income approach and the market or sales comparison approach, both of which can be problematic if incorrectly applied by the county assessor.

Assessors typically value apartments and office buildings using the income approach. Initially, however, assessors use mass appraisal methods that may not reflect the specific financial realities of the individual property. Taxpayers should examine each of the various components of the county's income model and question whether each element of the formula is appropriately applied to their property.

By utilizing data from the market, has the assessor overestimated the rental rates for the property? Property owners should analyze and discern whether it is beneficial to provide the previous year's rent roll to the assessor in order to argue that the county's model rental rate is inaccurate for their property. An older complex or building may have new competition from a recently built property offering up-to-date amenities. Not only will the older property be at a disadvantage to charge premium rents, but the newer construction is also driving its taxes higher.

Has the assessor used a market occupancy rate that does not correctly indicate the property's occupancy level? In order for the income approach to accurately achieve both physical and economic occupancy, the vacancy and collection loss should take into account both the occupancy rate and concessions that the owner provides to renters to maximize occupancy. Again, in a fluctuating market with new construction competing against old, occupancy rates can be affected.

In using market data, has the assessor underestimated the expenses for the property? Perhaps the expense ratio used is inappropriate for the property. If so, property owners can demonstrate this by providing the previous year's income and expense statement to the assessor, differentiating their property from the mass appraisal model.

A common area of disagreement is the capitalization rate. A capitalization rate is the ratio of net operating income to property asset value. Has the assessor used a cap rate that is derived incorrectly from sales of properties that are not comparable to the taxpayer's property?

Has the assessor properly added in the effective tax rate to the reported base cap rate from the comparable sales because the real estate taxes were not included in his allowable expenses? If the effective tax rate is not added to the base cap rate, and real estate taxes are not included in the expenses, the result is a lower cap rate, and thus, an artificially and incorrectly higher value. An analysis of the accurate application of the sales comparison or market approach is helpful in making the determination of the appropriate cap rate.

Many factors go in to determining if sales are sufficiently similar and can be relied upon. The comparable sales used should be of a similar age as the subject property. Older properties usually command a lower price per unit or lower price per square foot than newly constructed properties.

The comparable sales used should be similar in square footage to the subject property, with similar square footages in the various units within the property, because larger average unit size usually generates higher rents and also results in a quicker lease-up.

Consider the type of purchaser involved in the comparable sale transactions. Private investors typically pay less for properties than institutional purchasers such as real estate investment trusts because REITs are able to obtain lower-cost loans.

Similarly, if below-market-rate financing was already in place and the buyer was able to assume the loan, then the sale price may have been artificially inflated. Another circumstance to examine is, if the seller provided a significant amount of financing in the sale, there may have been unusually favorable financing terms; if so, the sales price must be adjusted.

Another aspect to investigate is the existence or lack of substantial deferred maintenance at the time of sale in comparison to the subject property. The necessity for additional capital expenditures after a purchase can affect the purchase price.

It is helpful to inquire into the effective real estate tax rates of the sold properties in order to determine if they are sufficiently similar to the subject property. Jurisdictions or taxing districts with lower tax rates can cause properties to sell for higher prices. Taxing neighborhoods with higher tax rates tend to generate sales with lower values, and thus, higher cap rates.

All commercial real property owners in Fulton County should carefully examine their tax assessment notices, because higher valuations by county assessors may be on the horizon. Property owners do not want to pay sky-high taxes based on what may be reflexive assessments stemming from the latest headlines.

Lisa Stuckey and Brian Morrissey are partners 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.
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Jan
01

2019 Annual APTC Client Seminar

2019 Seminar-Chicago
The American Property Tax Counsel is proud to announce that Chicago, Illinois will be the site of the 2019 Annual APTC Client Seminar.

Save the Dates! October 16-18, 2019 - Omni Chicago Hotel - Chicago, Illinois

APTC seminars provide an exclusive forum where invited guests can collaborate with nationally known presenters and experienced property tax attorneys to develop strategies to successfully reduce and manage property taxes.


Mark your Calendars and look for more details soon!

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Dec
21

Beware of Double Taxation on Personal Property

While Texas solved the problem, your state may not have addressed the issue.

Many states tax business personal property, a classification that includes furniture, fixtures, equipment, machinery and, in some states, inventory. Whatever the jurisdiction, the values of business personal property and real estate can easily be conflated in ad valorem taxation, unfairly burdening the taxpayer with an additional appraisal and/or taxation.

If you live and work in a state that doesn't tax business personal property, it may be included with the taxes on your real estate anyway. If you are in a state that taxes personal property, you might be taxed for it twice. While it seems contrary to acceptable appraisal practice to include personal property in the real estate value and then to additionally appraise and/or tax the same items, it does happen.

The Texas Legislature wrestled with this problem of additional valuation and taxation for more than a decade. That process and the resulting tax law offer important lessons that may help taxpayers and lawmakers in other states.

Texas gets personal

In 1999, the Texas Legislature enacted Section 23.24, titled "Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment," as a new statute in the State Tax Code. Prior to its enactment, furniture, fixtures and equipment were often included in the appraised value of income-producing real estate for ad valorem taxation. They were also subject to a separate business personal property tax. Section 23.24 eliminates this double taxation as long as the method used to value the real estate takes the business personal property into account.

There are many different kinds of property but only a few approaches to valuation. When the values of real property and personal property are mixed, it is usually because they are being assessed as components of an operating business using the income approach. Hotels and motels, nursing homes, restaurants and convenience stores are among the property types at greatest risk of having real estate and personal property values combined.

An assessor valuing the real estate component of an operating business will likely use the income approach. This method bases value on the income stream a business can generate using the real estate and personal property as components of a business enterprise.

A hotel doesn't have a business without beds, and a restaurant doesn't have a business without tables and chairs. As such, a value determined using the income approach is going to include the value of the real estate and the personal property, as both contribute value to the enterprise's income stream. It's clear to see how using the income approach can conflate real and personal property value into one.

The cost approach keeps those values separate. Using this method, an assessor or appraiser looks only at the value of the land as if it were vacant, then adds the value of improvements based on the cost to construct those improvements minus any depreciation. There is no accounting for, nor any risk of conflating, the business personal property within the real estate while using this approach.

In many instances, however, appraisal districts that were not using the cost approach – or had switched from the cost approach to the income approach from one year to the next – were still additionally appraising and even maintaining a separate account for the business personal property. This would seemingly violate Section 23.24.

Many appraisal districts disagreed, claiming that a separate account for business personal property enabled them to deduct that amount from the real estate. In doing so, they believed that there would be no additional burden on the owner, who would only be paying taxes once on the personal property.

While the tax liability may not be increased, an appraisal district with a separate account for personal property still creates burdens for the owner. The taxpayer is required to file a rendition on the personal property stating either "the property owner's good faith estimate of market value of the property or, at the option of the property owner, the historical cost when new and the year of the acquisition of the property."

If owners fail to file this rendition on personal property already being accounted for in the value of the real estate, they are subject to a penalty that increases their tax liability by 10 percent. It hardly seemed fair that the taxpayer should have these obligations and liabilities regarding property that was already intertwined with the value and tax for the real estate. Two consecutive legislatures agreed.

In 2009, lawmakers created a subsection to Section 23.24. This statute intended to exorcise the appraisal districts' method of having a second account for the personal property and/or attempting to separate or subtract the value of the personal from the real when both values had already been combined in the real estate. Some appraisal districts were still requiring renditions (and seeking penalties for failure to do so) on property value already captured with the real estate.

In 2011, the next legislature removed the additional and needless burden to render business personal property that is not to be appraised separately from real property in the first place. The law now says that if business personal property is being appraised under Section 23.24, then the owner is not required to render anything.

Implications for other states

Check your state's laws regarding the taxation of personal property and make sure you're not already paying those taxes on the real estate.

Texas and Oklahoma tax inventory as well as business personal property, and not only is the tax present, it's prevalent. In 2016, personal property tax made up 12 percent of the property tax base in Texas and nearly 23 percent of Oklahoma's property tax base.

Whether personal property tax is present and/or prevalent in your state, make sure you are not paying personal property taxes where it isn't taxable, or paying it twice in jurisdictions where it is taxable.

Greg Hart is an attorney 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, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Dec
19

Runaway Property Taxes in New Jersey

Tax courts don't always recognize market value in setting property tax assessments.

Most real estate is taxed ad valorem, or according to the value. The theory is that each person is taxed on the value of the real property they own.

The New Jersey Constitution (Article VIII, Section 1, paragraph 1) stipulates that property is to be assessed for taxation by general laws and uniform rules, and that all non-agricultural real property must be assessed according to the same value standard.

Our statutes define the standard of value as the true property value. We call this market value, or the most probable price a property will bring in a competitive and open market under conditions requisite to a fair sale. That assumes the buyer and seller are each acting prudently and knowledgeably, and that the price is unaffected by undue stimulus.

In 2005, the state Tax Court, in a General Motors case, openly admitted it was making a determination that the highest and best use of the property was as an auto assembly facility. By this determination, the court set public policy indicating that this highest and best use fairly and equitably distributed the property tax burden.

In this case the court felt it was necessary to conclude the highest and best use of the property at issue was an auto assembly plant because to do otherwise may allow features of the property to go untaxed and therefore lower the value of the plant. The court also stated that this determination was consistent with and effectuates the public policy of fairly and equitably distributing the property tax burden. All of this was concluded while the market data suggested a different result, given that no auto manufacturing facility had ever before been sold to another automobile manufacturer. Further, by law, the tax court's role is to determine value, not to redistribute the tax burden.

The history of the Tax Court has, in practice if not in theory, interpreted the constitution and statutes of real property taxation to find value in a uniform and stabilized manner. In other words, although the market may vary over a period of years under review, the court would attempt to stabilize the effect of the differences when rendering opinions.

The Tax Court would also set precedent by using methods of valuation not normally used in the marketplace because it deemed the data before it at trial to be lacking. It has, for example, applied a cost approach to determine value when a buyer would purchase a property based on an income approach. This is common in court decisions, but often runs afoul of true market motivations and distorts the conclusion of value. The more the courts reach these types of decisions, the further away they move from concluding market value.

The court's attempt to carry these principles forward has appeared in various ways over the years. As early as 1996, in a case involving a super-regional mall with anchors not separately assessed, the Tax Court deemed the income approach inappropriate to value the stores and instead valued the stores on a cost approach. Today, the legacy of that decision requires plaintiffs to present a cost approach, which is not evidence of market value. This may well distort a property's valuation.

Issues such as capitalization rates are also problematic for certain assets in Tax Courts findings. Over the years, court precedent has set rates that often do not reflect the market. This is especially evident today when valuing regional malls classified as B or C grade. The market capitalization rates are well over those the courts have historically found. Although transactions verify this market data as accurate, the courts fail to recognize it, making it difficult for plaintiffs to prevail with values based on actual, transactional data.

In January 2018, after a number of decisions that rejected plaintiffs' approach, our Tax Court appears to have taken some pause. It recognized that by rejecting proofs from the market and data forwarded by taxpayers, it was ultimately failing to conclude to warranted assessment adjustments.

It stated:

"there has been some criticism of late, that the Tax Court perhaps has raised the bar for meeting the standard of proof too high in property tax appeals, given arguendo, what could be viewed as a growing trend seen in a number of recent decisions, where the court rejected expert opinions and declined to come to value. While such a suggestion may give the Tax Court pause for self-examination and reflection, it must not serve to invite expert appraisers to abrogate their responsibility of providing the court with 'an explanation of the methodology and assumptions used…'"

The quote seems to recognize that the proof bar was getting so high that a plaintiff could never prove its case. A more realistic view of the proofs provided by a taxpayer comes with it the recognition that market data and actions from market participants are the touchstones of value that should establish our assessments.

Philip Giannuario, Esq. is a partner at the Montclair, N.J. law firm Garippa Lotz & Giannuario, the New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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