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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.

 Event Information

This year's seminar will address recent developments and current trends in the areas of property taxation and real estate. We will bring together nationally-known economic, technological, appraisal, and legal experts to provide valuable insight on how to navigate the quickly-changing and often turbulent real estate market.

See the Featured Speakers appearing at the 2019 Seminar.

 Featured Speakers


KC Conway, MAI, CRE

 K.C. Conway is Director of Research & Corp Engagement at University of AL, Culverhouse College of Commerce - ACRE (AL Ctr. for R.E.). He has 30 years commercial real estate experience (25 private industry; 5 within Federal Reserve system 2005-2010). He has been Chief Appraiser, Env. Risk Manager and Sr. Market Intelligence Officer SunTrust Bank 2014-2017 and Chief Economist Colliers | United States 2010-2014 and author of North American Port, Industrial and Office Outlook reports 2012-2014. Conway was the 2007 recipient of the Appraisal Institute's President's Award; 2009 recipient of "Key Player" Award from the Atlanta Federal Reserve and the 2010 recipient of "Superior Contributions" Award by the FFIEC - Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council. He was CRE Risk Specialty Officer - NY FED during Financial Crisis 2009-2010 and briefed Federal Reserve's Board of Governors & Chairman Bernanke in June 2007 on the coming real estate crisis. Conway is a nationally recognized expert and speaker on a wide range of commercial real estate topics ranging from appraisal and bank regulation to ports and securitization. Areas of specialty include housing, industrial, litigation support, industrial and office real estate, North American ports and land development. He has been an expert witness in such prominent cases as the BCCI/First Atlanta Bank scandal and Crescent Resources bankruptcy and instructor and frequently requested speaker for the Federal Reserve, FDIC, FHLB, State bank commissioners, and numerous academic, professional organizations and industry associations, such as the Appraisal Institute, Counselors of Real Estate, ICSC, NAIOP, NAR, RMA, SIOR, ULI, University of Colorado, UF, Univ. of AL (ACRE) GA Tech, NYU, DePaul University, and University of CT.


Bill Emmons is an Assistant Vice President and Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. He also serves as Lead Economist in the Bank's Center for Household Financial Stability (HFS) and as President of the St. Louis Gateway Chapter of the National Association for Business Economics (NABE). He conducts research and speaks frequently on topics including the economy, housing and mortgage markets, banking, financial markets, financial regulation, and household financial conditions.

Mr. Emmons has been with the St. Louis Fed since 1995. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Finance in the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to joining the St. Louis Fed and Washington University, he was on the faculty of the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Mr. Emmons received a PhD degree in Finance from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Mr. Emmons is married with three children.

William R. Emmons, Ph.D

Todd D. Jones, MBA, MAI, AI-GRS, CRE, FRICS Principal, RealAdvice

An internationally recognized expert, Mr. Jones has provided complex income-producing commercial property valuation, expert testimony, litigation support, ad valorem property tax counseling and representation, appraisal review, investment advice, marketability analysis, and feasibility analysis, including highest and best use analysis for virtually all types of commercial, industrial, residential, and special purpose real estate, on behalf of financial institutions, REIT's, government entities, publicly traded companies, and private concerns since 1985.

As a former President of the Florida Association of Property Tax Professionals, and an inaugural member of the Florida TaxWatch Tax Advisory Council, Mr. Jones regularly addresses the Florida Cabinet, Legislature, and various state agencies on property tax policy and issues impacting taxpayers. The Association successfully collaborated with other influential groups to change the law in Florida affecting how the assessors must develop and support valuations in defending challenged assessments, "leveling the playing field" by lowering the burden of proof for taxpayers in assessment challenges, and requiring the development of uniform rules, policies, and procedures for Value Adjustment Boards across Florida's 67 counties to improve fairness in taxation for all Floridians. In 2011, Mr. Jones served on the Florida Governor's
Tangible Personal Property Taskforce. In 2012, the Florida legislature sought Mr. Jones' counsel on comprehensive property tax reform legislation.

For eight years, Mr. Jones taught the Appraisal Valuation course in the Nathan S. Collier Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE) degree program at the University of Florida. The UF MSRE program has been consistently ranked in the Top Ten of all university real estate programs in the US and was named the top real estate degree program in the US in 2018. In addition, Mr. Jones taught the appraisal course for the Florida Bankers School for five years. The purpose of the Florida School of Banking (FSB) is to provide bank personnel at the supervisory and officer level the opportunity to increase their knowledge about the banking industry and the economy.


​David C. Lennhoff, MAI, SRA, AI-GRS, is a senior director with Altus Group US, Inc., which is officed in McLean, Virginia. His practice centers on litigation valuation and expert testimony relating to appraisal methodology, USPAP and allocating assets of a going concern. He has taught nationally and internationally for the Appraisal Institute, recently in Tokyo, Japan; Beijing and Shanghai, China; Berlin, Germany; and Seoul, South Korea. He has been a development team member for most of the Institute's income capitalization courses and was editor of their Capitalization Theory and Techniques Study Guide (3rd ed.). He also was lead developer for the new asset allocation course, Fundamentals of Separating Real Property, Personal Property, and Intangible Business Assets, and editor of the two accompanying business enterprise value anthologies, and he authored the Institute's Small Hotel/Motel Valuation seminar. David is a member of RECGA, a national organization of analysts and academicians founded by the late William N. Kinnard, Jr. Ph.D. He is a past editor-in-chief of and frequent contributor to the Appraisal Journal.

David Lennhoff, MAI, SRA, AI-GRS

Mary O'Connor, ASA

Mary O'Connor, ASA is Partner, Forensics and Valuation Services of Sikich LLP, a national accounting and advisory firm.She has worked exclusively in the field of valuation specializing in business valuation and the appraisal of intangible assets for litigation and corporate transactions with special focus in property tax.She has provided consulting and expert witness testimony in Federal, State and local jurisdictions (including US Tax Court, Delaware Chancery and Property Tax Appeal Boards) nationally and internationally in a wide range of complex property tax cases for hotels, senior living centers, theatres, retail stores, healthcare facilities and agricultural properties.Prominent cases include the Glendale Hilton, the Marriott at LA Live, SHC Half Moon Bay, DFS duty-free shopping at San Francisco Airport and the Desert Regional Hospital in Palm Springs, California. She speaks frequently about intangible asset valuation in property tax appeal to the IPT and APTC and has commented extensively on the various whitepapers published by the IAAO.She is a Senior Member of the American Society of Appraisers accredited in Business Valuation and is certified by Marshall Valuation Service in the application of Cost Approach methodology.


Stephen D. Roach, MAI, SRA, AI-GRS has been an appraiser for over 40 years, and has been a co-owner of Jones, Roach & Caringella, Inc. since 1986. His appraisal assignments have included the valuation of numerous income-producing properties, historical valuations dating back to 1900, numerous partial acquisitions, and other significant and complex assignments throughout the United States. He has extensive deposition and trial testimony experience in matters involving condemnation, construction defects, contract breach, fraud, property tax appeal, appraisal methodology, and many other issues. Mr. Roach holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Real Estate from San Diego State University.

Mr. Roach co-wrote the Appraisal Institute's course on Condemnation Appraising and has done extensive curriculum development and oversight for the Appraisal Institute. He has been published twice in The Appraisal Journal and is a contributing editor to 11 Appraisal Institute books and over 30 courses and seminars. His Appraisal Institute teaching experience includes basic and advanced courses on income capitalization, litigation courses, and over 200 additional courses and seminars that have been presented to over 8,000 participants. He has taught workshops and seminars relating to condemnation law and appraisal practice. In addition to teaching courses throughout the United States, Mr. Roach has taught appraisal courses, seminars, or lectures in Switzerland, Germany, South Korea, Japan, China, and Mexico. Mr. Roach has served as a visiting professor of appraisal theory and practice at the International Center for Land Policy Studies and Training in Taipei, Taiwan since 2004, where his courses have been presented to students from more than 85 countries.

Mr. Roach serves the Appraisal Institute as the chair of the Education Committee, a member of the General Comprehensive Examination Panel, a member of the Editorial Board of the Appraisal Journal, a member of the Body of Knowledge Committee, and as a Trustee of the Appraisal Institute Education and Relief Trust. He formerly served as chair of the International Relations Committee and the Curriculum Subcommittee. Mr. Roach is also a Principal Member of the Real Estate Counseling Group of America.

Stephen D. Roach, MAI, SRA, AI-GRS

David Crapo, Esq.

 David Crapo has extensive litigation experience and has tried hundreds of state and local tax matters before administrative tribunals and state and federal courts in Utah and numerous other states.

David is a frequent speaker on state and local tax issues and has presented at the annual Public Utilities workshop on Ad Valorem Taxation; the National Association of Property Tax Representatives, Transportation, Energy and Communications (NAPTR-TEC) Seminar; the American property Tax Counsel Seminar; and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy; among others.


Sharon F. DiPaolo is a partner in the property tax law firm of Siegel Jennings, Co., where she is a member of the Executive Board and manages the firm's Pennsylvania practice. Ms. DiPaolo concentrates her practice exclusively in assessment law. She has handled thousands of assessment appeals at the administrative, trial court and appellate levels. She handles appeals for commercial property owners throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, and also functions as national outside counsel for portfolio clients managing their appeals across the country.

Ms. DiPaolo is the 2019 Chair of the American Property Tax Counsel's 25th Annual National Conference and is the Western Pennsylvania representative to the organization.

Ms. DiPaolo is a frequent speaker on real estate assessment issues.
Sharon DiPaolo, Esq.

John Garippa, Esq.
John E. Garippa, Esquire is the Past President of the American Property Tax Counsel. He served as President for more than 12 years. Mr. Garippa is a senior partner with the law firm Garippa, Lotz & Giannuario. He has specialized in ad valorem taxation for more than 40 years with an emphasis on complex commercial and industrial valuation litigation. Mr. Garippa has authored and published more than 90 articles in the field of taxation and is a contributing author on two treatises on valuation published by the International Association of Assessing Officers. In 1997, Mr. Garippa was awarded the 1997 Literary Achievement Award from the Institute of Property Taxation. Mr. Garippa has been quoted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.

Garippa, Lotz & Giannuario holds the highest legal designation awarded by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory and is listed in the Registry of Preeminent Lawyers in the United States. This designation is awarded to fewer than 5% of attorneys nationwide.

Mr. Garippa is a graduate of Rutgers University and Seton Hall University Law School. Mr. Garippa is licensed in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.

Ad valorem property tax and assessment counseling and litigation (appeal hearings and trials) are Cris' primary practice areas. For 25 years, he has represented a variety of California taxpayers in equalization proceedings before county assessment appeals boards, the State Board of Equalization, the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court.

Cris' clients include owners of oil and gas fields, shopping centers and anchor department stores, power plants, airport concessions, jet aircraft, port terminals, sanitary landfills, aerospace manufacturing facilities, hotels, entertainment venues and theme parks, golf courses, oil refineries, pipelines, billboards, hospitals and assisted living facilities, manufacturing and food-processing facilities, quarries and service stations. He has also testified before the Los Angeles County Superior Court as an expert witness on property tax matters.

Since 1998, Cris has taught over forty one-day courses on California property taxation to accountants, attorneys, real estate professionals, corporate executives, bank trust officers and property tax agents. He has also published articles on property taxation in National Real Estate Investor, Commercial Property Executive, Western Real Estate Business and Seniors Housing Business, real estate industry publications, Cal-Tax Digest, a publication of the California Taxpayers Association, The Journal of Property Tax Assessment & Administration and Property Tax Alert.

As a member of the California Bar Association's State and Local Tax Committee, Cris helped draft property tax regulations and legislation relating to local equalization procedures and revisions to the Assessors' Handbook which were subsequently adopted by the California State Board of Equalization. In addition, he has organized, chaired and spoken at American Bar Association / Institute for Professionals in Taxation (IPT) Advanced Property Tax Seminars, and at IPT's Annual Conferences and Property Tax Symposiums. Cris received the "Property Tax Article of the Year Award" from IPT in 2012.

Cris is a Director of the California Taxpayers Association and the California member of American Property Tax Counsel. Cris has spoken on property taxation topics before the California Taxpayers Association, Western States Petroleum Association, California Bar Association Tax Section, Los Angeles County Bar Association, and other professional organizations and trade associations.

Cris O'Neall, Esq.

Kathleen Poole, Esq.

For close to five years, Kathleen represented clients in the State of California (including a number of fortune 500 companies) in all aspects of employment law, from compliance to advice to litigating in state and federal court. Kathleen was a member of a three-person trial team that won a unanimous jury verdict in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Kathleen's practice now encompasses a variety of assessment and property taxation matters for both private and public sector clients throughout Ontario and Canada.

Kathleen represents taxpayers and municipalities before the Assessment Review Board and Superior Courts in valuation disputes for all types of properties including office buildings and industrial properties. She advises clients on all matters relating to assessment and municipal taxation.


Linda Terrill, Esquire is the current President of the American Property Tax Counsel. She is a partner with the law firm Property Tax Law Group, LLC where she is Co-Chair of the Real & Personal Property Tax Law Section. She has over 30 years of experience in state and local tax issues including real and personal property taxes, sales/use taxes and state income taxes.

Formerly, Ms. Terrill served as the General Counsel for the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals. As a member of the American Property Tax Counsel, she serves as the Chair of the Seminar Committee, Chair of the Marketing Committee and as the representative for the state of Kansas.

She is a frequent speaker and author in the field of property tax and valuation. She served on the national Legal Committee of the International Association of Assessing Officers and was a former President of the Administrative Law Section of the Kansas Bar Association.

Ms. Terrill is a graduate of Kansas University, Washburn University, and Washburn University School of Law. She earned her Master of Law in Taxation from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

Linda Terrill, Esq.

Michele Whittington, Esq.

Michele M. Whittington is a Member in the Lexington, Kentucky office of Morgan Pottinger & McGarvey, where her practice focuses on property taxation and administrative law. She has represented numerous local and national companies in challenging real property tax assessments, personal property tax assessments, and public service company assessments before the Kentucky Department of Revenue, the Kentucky Claims Commission, and various state trial and appellate courts in Kentucky. She has also assisted industry groups in drafting legislation and regulations on tax issues.

Michele is a frequent speaker on state and local tax issues, and has counseled various industry groups on relevant tax issues. She is a member of the Council on State Taxation and the Institute of Professionals in Taxation, and is an affiliate member of the International Association of Assessing Officers. Michele is listed in The Best Lawyers in America for Administrative/Regulatory Law.

Michele serves as a member of the Publications Committee for the Kentucky Bar Association. She currently serves as President of the Alumni Board for Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. 


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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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  • While Texas solved the problem, your state may not have addressed the issue
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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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Dec
03

Texas Hotel Owners: Proceed with Caution

Confusion Regarding Tax Code's Rendition Requirements Creates Penalty Trap

A provision in the Texas Property Tax Code requires hotel assessments based on an income analysis to include personal property. However, misunderstanding associated rendition requirements can cause unexpected penalties for hotel owners.

In Texas, both real and personal property are taxed at 100 percent of assessed value. Prior to 1999, a hotel's real and personal property were valued under separate accounts. A hotel's income and expense stream, however, incorporates value generated by both real and personal property.

For instance, a nightly hotel room rate covers the rent for the real property (the room itself) as well as personal property (the furniture and fixtures in the room). This blended income formerly created unique challenges when using the income approach to value hotels for property tax assessments.

In a move toward simplification and to protect against potential double taxation, lawmakers added Section 23.24 to the tax code in 1999. This provision prevents furniture, fixtures and equipment included in a real property valuation from being taxed a second time under a separate, personal property account. The statute was amended in 2009 to stipulate that, for properties such as hotels, the value of real and personal property must be combined into one assessment if the assessor uses an income analysis.

Specifically, Section 23.24(b) states that "in determining the market value of the real property appraised on the basis of rental income, the chief appraiser may not separately appraise or take into account any personal property valued as a portion of the income of the real property, and the market value of the real property must include the combined value of the real property and the personal property."

Section 23.24 simplifies the valuation process for hotels valued under an income analysis, presuming that total income reflects the contributory value of the real and personal property and that separating the two is an unnecessary step when both portions are taxed at a 100 percent assessment ratio.

The legislature amended Section 22.01 in 2011 to include subsection "m," which provides that "a person is not required to render for taxation personal property appraised under Section 23.24."

Taxpayer pitfall

As a result of these provisions, many hotel owners assume that their personal property will be included in the real property assessment and do not submit annual renditions to county appraisal districts. But what happens if a jurisdiction does not value a hotel using the income approach?

The caveat in Section 23.24 is that the property is valued "on the basis of rental income." Because the income approach is just one of three recognized approaches to value, this statute does not eliminate the independent consideration of personal property in ad valorem taxation for hotels in Texas.

Although assessors value most hotels based on income, there are several common scenarios in which they may use an alternative method, triggering the creation or continuation of a separate personal property account.

Jurisdictions often value newly constructed hotels using the cost approach during the first one to two years of operation, prior to stabilization. Harris County almost exclusively values hotels on the cost approach for the first year following construction.

Hotels that have been in operation for some time but have reached a point of significant renovation or decline in value may also be valued using the cost approach. In such scenarios, the assessor will value personal property under a separate account, and may require the property owner to submit a personal property rendition report.

Failure to render in a timely fashion results in a penalty equivalent to 10 percent of the total taxes due. Unfortunately, the hotel owner is often unaware of rendition requirements until they are penalized for a late rendition.

Rendition required

The following example illustrates how incorrect assumptions about an assessor's valuation methodology can result in unexpected rendition penalties.

Let's assume the assessor has valued a hotel under an income analysis since the taxpayer acquired it in 2010. Based upon this history and prior interactions with the assessor, the owner did not file a personal property rendition with the county appraisal district for tax year 2018.

The property had suffered a significant decline in performance over the past few years despite dramatic increases in land value in the area. After reviewing the documentation provided, the assessor decides to value the hotel at land value, with a minimal contributory value assigned to the improvements.

Since this approach is based upon a cost analysis and not an income approach as in prior years, Section 23.24(b) no longer applies. The switch in methodology triggers the creation of a separate business personal property account for the hotel.

Because the taxpayer's discussions with the assessor begin at an informal hearing after the rendition deadline, the owner does not learn of the change in methodology or resulting new personal property account until the opportunity to comply has passed. Consequently, the taxpayer incurs a 10 percent penalty for failure to file a timely personal property rendition.

An ounce of prevention

It can be challenging to establish complete clarity on an assessor's methodology prior to the rendition deadline. As in the previous example, scheduled discussions with assessors often occur after the deadline. A hotel owner may choose to file a protective rendition to avoid the possibility of unexpected penalties.

In any case, the key to avoiding unnecessary penalties is to communicate as early and often with the county assessor as possible, or hire someone who is able to do so on the taxpayer's behalf. With a thorough understanding of the property tax code and clear communication with county assessors, hotel owners in Texas may bypass the penalty trap.

Rachel Duck, CMI is a tax consultant at Popp Hutcheson PLLC, which represents 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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Nov
26

The Silver Tsunami Portends Excessive Tax Assessments

What You Need to Know to Successfully Appeal Your Inordinate Property Taxes

For some time, owners and operators of seniors housing properties have been aware of the staggering demographic statistics, such as the Census Bureau's projection that the baby boomer population will exceed 61 million when the youngest boomers reach 65 in 2029. This is truly the Silver Tsunami. Yet, even seniors housing professionals may be surprised by excessive property tax assessments that break otherwise carefully constructed budgets.

Before discussing what seniors housing owners can do to combat an excessive property tax assessment, it will help to review why some taxpayers will receive such unwelcome notifications. Factors include the large and increasing number and variety of seniors housing projects, coupled with the mass-appraisal methods that assessors typically employ.

With tens of thousands of units constructed each year, the country now has over 3 million seniors housing units ranging from independent living to assisted living, memory care and/or nursing care. Appropriate assessment methods depend on whether a property is an all-encompassing, continuing care retirement community; freestanding with only one component (such as independent living only); or comprising several (but not all) of these subtypes.

Unfortunately, assessors with limited resources usually use a cost-based methodology that is cost-effective for valuing a large number of properties. That may work for residential assessments in areas with similar homes, but given the significant differences between seniors housing properties, this approach can create an enormous tax problem for taxpayers who own seniors housing.

An outrageous assessment

In one recent case, the owner of a newly constructed property was shocked to receive an assessment valuing the property about 30 percent above its actual cost.The resulting taxes would have exceeded the owner's budget by over $250,000, not only ruining cash flow, but also destroying more than $2 million of market value.

Fortunately, there are measures taxpayers can take to counter excessive assessments. A critical initial step is to confirm any appeal deadline. Not only do rules differ across the country, but in many states the appeal deadline depends on when the notice is sent.

Further complicating this point is that more than one formal appeal may need to be filed, and taxpayers often have a narrow window within which to file. Generally, if a taxpayer receives a notice and misses a required appeal deadline, there are no second chances for that tax year.

Other important steps are to determine the applicable value standard and the assessment's basis. Usually (but not always) the standard will be market value, or the probable cash-equivalent price the property would fetch if buyer and seller are knowledgeable and acting freely. To determine that value, the assessor usually will have used an incomplete and improper cost approach that only adjusted for physical depreciation.

For these typical cases where the assessor has estimated market value using a flawed cost approach, drilling down deep into the assessor's cost methodology may produce a gusher of tax savings. In the aforementioned case, the assessor had used the costs for constructing a very expensive skilled nursing facility. Correctly using the assessor's cost estimator service for the subject property, which was mostly comprised of independent living units, reduced the cost by about $10 million.

Additionally, an assessor's cost-based valuation often will only account for depreciation from the property's physical condition. A proper cost approach must also account for any functional or external obsolescence.

Functional obsolescence can be substantial, especially for older properties, because consumer preferences change over time. What consumers may have desired years ago may now constitute a poor offering.

External obsolescence, which is often due to adverse economic conditions, can impact a property regardless of its age. For example, there will be external obsolescence if new properties overwhelm market demand in an area, or if the inevitable next economic downturn lowers market values.

Other scenarios

While atypical, sometimes assessors will use an income approach or sales comparison approach to value seniors housing properties. As with the cost approach, those approaches introduce many ways for assessors to reach erroneous and excessive value conclusions. One potentially large error is valuing the entire business and failing to remove the value attributable to services, intangibles or personal property.

In the previously mentioned case, the taxpayer's appraiser used the income approach and concluded that the seniors housing property had a total business value of approximately $22 million. The appraiser then determined that about $1 million of that value was attributable to services and intangibles and about $800,000 was attributable to tangible personal property as shown in the table below.

Market Value of Total Business Assets ---- $22M
Less Tangible Personal Property ---- ($800,000)
Less Services and Intangibles ---- ($1M)
Market Value of real property ---- $20.2M

In a similar vein, the Ohio Supreme Court recently reversed the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals in the case of a nursing home property where a taxpayer's appraiser had determined that only about sixty-two percent of the total paid for all assets was for the real property. The Board of Tax Appeals had summarily rejected the appraiser's analysis as a matter of principle. The Ohio Supreme Court reversed and ordered the Board to reconsider the appraiser's analysis, and determine what amount, if any, should be allocated to items other than real estate.

These cases underscore that an assessor who uses the income or sales comparison approach and mistakenly values the entire business, rather than the real property alone, can improperly inflate a real property assessment by a material amount.

Another step taxpayers can take to achieve tax justice is to involve experienced tax professionals and appraisers. As the above analysis shows, property tax valuation appeals have many procedural nuances as well as legal and factual issues that must be addressed. In addition, in some jurisdictions there may be a basis to obtain relief based on the assessments of comparable properties.

As the inevitable Silver Tsunami inundates markets, there will be more seniors housing properties and more instances of excessive tax assessments. To the extent that the surge in the elderly population depletes local government finances, whether due to government pension plan shortfalls or otherwise, there should be no surprise if property tax bills increase.

The owners and operators of seniors housing properties will need to carefully monitor their property tax assessments and remain vigilant to avoid painful and excessive taxation.

Stewart Mandell is a partner and leader of the Tax Appeals Practice Group at law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, the Michigan member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.

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Oct
23

How to Avoid Excessive Property Taxes

Knowing what to look for in monitoring your assessments can help avoid over taxation.

As robust occupancies and escalating investor demand in many markets drive up property tax bills for multifamily housing, apartment owners must continue to monitor their assessments to avoid overtaxation. Knowing what to look for can ease this task, and the place to start is with a firm grasp of the assessor's methodology.

Many taxpayers are unaware that assessors typically use a mass appraisal technique to derive assessments without referencing or even collecting details about a property's unique characteristics or performance. Property owners who understand the mass appraisal procedure have a distinct advantage in identifying assessment errors, and this knowledge can inform the apartment owner's arguments when they choose to fight excessive valuations.

Rooted in Generalities
The burden on appraisers to generate thousands of property values, often annually, is colossal. For this reason, assessors determine most market values for assessment purposes through mass appraisal, which is the process of valuing a group of properties as of a given date using common data, standardized methods, and statistical testing. Assessors using mass appraisal rely upon valuation equations, tables, and schedules developed through mathematical analysis of market data.

Mass appraisal analysis begins with assigning properties to classes or strata based on highest and best use. Valuation models are created for defined property groups, such as industrial or office, and are then calibrated to reflect the market factors for that specific market or submarket.

The International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) sets mass appraisal standards for assessors, by which an assessor can appraise the fee simple interest in property at market value. These standards set the preferred methods for mass application of the three traditional approaches to value (cost, sales comparison, and income). Armed with this information, apartment owners can attack mass appraisal procedures that result in values that don't reflect a property's true market value.

Property Data Errors
IAAO standards dictate that valuation models should be consistently applied to property data that are correct, complete, and up-to-date. However, assessor records commonly contain errors relating to a property's age, total square footage, net leasable area, number of apartments, unit mix, and facility amenities. An error in one of these fundamental property characteristics can significantly increase a property's overall assessment.

When arguing errors in specific property data, apartment owners should be prepared to share a current rent roll with their assessor in order to document the property's square footage, net leasable area, number of units, and unit mix. It may also be helpful to provide the assessor with copies of the property's most recent marketing materials, which show the project's various floor plans and amenities. Finally, pointing out land-size discrepancies or external nuisances such as traffic or airport noise can be helpful in arguing for lower values.

Income Approach
Assessors typically use the income approach in valuing apartments. Mass appraisal application of the income approach begins with collecting and processing income and expense data gathered from the marketplace. Appraisers then compute normal or typical gross incomes, vacancy rates, and expense ratios to arrive at a net income that is capitalized using a market-driven cap rate. This approach is often problematic because it fails to take into account a property's unique economic performance in a dynamic market.

Perhaps the best defense against excessive appraisals is to attack an assessor's mass appraisal income pro forma. Apartment owners should distinguish their property's rental rates and expense ratios from market data by providing current and prior-year operating statements if the numbers support a value reduction. Assessors often overestimate rent and underestimate expenses.

Owners should also provide occupancy reports to portray the property's occupancy trends, compare the property's occupancy level with market comparables, and outline any concessions and allowances the owner provides renters to maintain occupancy. The standardized vacancy and collection loss factor used in a mass appraisal income approach rarely captures the true physical and economic occupancy of a project.

Finally, owners should refute cap rates derived from sales of properties that aren't comparable to the subject.

Mass appraisal is a necessary evil that apartment owners should guard against. Knowing how assessors apply the procedure will help taxpayers in their continued fight to reduce property taxes.


Gilbert Davila is a partner in the law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC , the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Sep
28

Big Box Stores Suffer Excessive Taxation

Careful preparation is the key to contesting these unfair property taxes.

It may be paradoxical that big-box retail has lost property value in real estate markets where commercial property values in general are climbing, but that is the message many owners must convey to achieve a lower property tax bill.

For decades, big-box properties generated significant tax revenue for schools and local governments, but that story is changing. Annual valuation gains of 2 percent to 10 percent annual increases may have become a simple rule of thumb at one time for assessed values, but are no longer expected or acceptable to most big-box owners. Instead, there is now a major struggle between the big-box owners and the local property tax assessor.

Many companies have changed their real estate and marketing strategy to adapt to declining big-box property values. Toys R Us, Kmart, Sears and other stores have either closed stores or no longer exist. Others, including Walmart and Target, have adapted to suit customers who are no longer happy shopping in a mega store, or having to walk to a distant corner of a mega store to pick up a toothbrush, a bottle of milk or a pair of shoes.

Many retailers have achieved positive results by reducing store sizes. Target moved away from the superstore format to stores of 25,000-45,000 square feet, emphasizing the "grab and go" concept rather than the full grocery store.

Some experiments have not worked so well. Walmart opened a number of smaller, "neighborhood" Walmarts, only to close many a few years later. Mega stores still exist, but while commercial real estate values in general may be soaring, the value of these mega stores generally is not.

Yet, the local assessors do not see it that way, applying either a simple, across-the-board increase based on the general market, or using the standard cost, income capitalization and market/sales approaches to perpetuate valuation increases that ignore changing retail dynamics.

Points of contention

The cost approach often results in an inflated and unrealistic value that no one would pay in an open-market transaction. The cost approach should only be used on a relatively new building with little depreciation or obsolescence to take into account. The original cost may also include single-purpose features which have little or no value to a second-generation user.

Finally, if the building is to be repurposed, there is enormous added cost to convert a mega store to multi-tenant occupancy or to a different use with a shallower usable depth; it may not be economically feasible.

The income approach is often unavailable since these stores are most often owner-occupied, and this approach should only be applied for a rental property. An owner-occupied property should never be required to produce income and expenses in the context of a valuation of the property for property tax purposes. Such information values the business that is being operated from the property, and not the bricks, mortar and land.

This leaves the third option, the market or sales approach, as the primary appraisal method. Here starts the war.

First, many assessors see a Walmart, Kohl's, Target or a Lowe's store differently than they do a local mom-and-pop store operated from a similar property. Yet this is wrong, because it violates basic principles of property tax valuations.

A taxing entity cannot collect property taxes on the value to the name as an ongoing business, but only on the bricks, mortar and land. Buildings with comparable size, location, age, quality and other real estate characteristics should have the same value, regardless of whether there is a national name on the building.

Second, most big boxes are owner-occupied. If sold, there would be no lease to transfer to the buyer; the building would be vacant and available to the buyer for its own use or subsequent leasing to a user-tenant. The way to apply this sales approach in such cases is to compare the big box to comparable sales of non-leased property that are, or soon will be, vacant and available.

Such sales in the relevant period are often hard to find. Many of these properties linger on the market for years before they are sold or repurposed. As a result of such few sales for comparison, the assessor will gravitate to using sales of leased properties.

A leased property is a totally different animal from an owner-occupied, big box store. The sale is based on the lease itself – the remaining term on the lease, the net income generated, the tenant's credit and the like. Often, the lease predates the sale by years and does not reflect current market rent. Sometimes the property was a build-to-suit project with rent based on the cost resulting from the user's specific requirements, which resulted in an initial inflated cost to build.

Case in point

This played out in one of my recent cases. The assessor valued a big box at $105 per square foot, based on recent sales of leased properties, with the rent in most of them being established 10-20 years earlier. Some were build-to-suit leases.

There was, however, a recent sale at $75 per square foot of a vacant big box store in a neighboring county. The Colorado Board rejected the assessor's valuation, finding that a vacant store represented the true market value, and reduced the taxable value to $10 million from the assessor's $15 million. This $5 million reduction resulted from digging into the assessor's analysis, pointing out the flaw in the cost and income approaches, and eliminating sales of leased properties.

The battle will soon start anew, and it is never too early to start accumulating the necessary data that will determine the victor.

Michael Miller is Of Counsel at Spencer Fane LLP in Denver, CO. The firm is the Colorado member of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation or property tax attorneys.

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Sep
18

How Property Valuation Differs for Corporate Headquarters

Lack of data makes for more important conversations between advisors and property owners.

Corporate headquarters present unique challenges and opportunities in property valuation discussions with tax assessors. Managing taxes on any real estate property requires an understanding of all three traditional approaches to value, but headquarters are unusual in that good data are hard to find.

This article highlights common sticking points in value discussions for this unique property set. A collaborative discussion between an advisor and property owner on these few areas can lead to a successful tax reduction.

Cost considerations

A headquarters defines an enterprise, but many of its defining improvements lack value to potential buyers.

Especially with newly constructed or renovated projects, or when lacking comparable data, the assessor will often rely heavily on the cost approach to estimate market value. This can result in a high valuation with room for fruitful discussion about ways to support a value decrease.

Under the cost approach, an assessor using reproduction cost will frequently understate depreciation and obsolescence. It is important to also review treatment of the economic age-life method, which is often misapplied. The effective age, rather than the actual age, must be measured against the life expectancy of improvements.

Deferred maintenance also requires deductions. Good appraisal practice mandates that short-lived items should first be costed out by category — items such as windows, HVAC systems, carpet, roofs and restrooms — before determining their remaining useful life and cost of replacement based on capital plans.

If the appraiser resorted to a cost approach due to a lack of data for other approaches, in the case of an older headquarters with functional issues not designed to current standards, a replacement cost approach is preferred.

The replacement method projects the cost to reconstruct the buildings using modern materials, design and layout standards. This eliminates the need to estimate depreciation for superadequacies and poor design. It provides a better indication of the existing improvements' contribution to market value.

With preparation, the taxpayer can tell a powerful story of how to build the functional equivalent of the headquarters.

Income and sales

The income approach to value is seldom helpful, in part because of the difficulty in finding market rents for a single-user property of considerable size. The assessing authority may want to use multi-tenant rent comparables, but an explanation of the costs of the conversion from single- to multi-tenant use will reveal a significantly lower value conclusion.

The sales comparison will be the most relevant approach to value in most cases. Appraisers often use gross building area as a measurement unit of comparison for single users, but comparing by net rentable area (NRA) will go far to account for the reduction in value a building experiences when needs and usage change.

The appraiser must also use NRA for comparable sales. Factors such as remote working, benching and collaborative space needs will make more traditional and formal spaces within the building less valuable. Changes in how the corporate workforce uses office space can render many areas obsolete and deductible from NRA, such as auditoriums or an oversupply of formal conference rooms.

Another argument that helps to manage value in the sales comparison approach is to point out that parcels surrounding improvements should not be valued as fully functional and available building sites. Separating land from a corporate campus can diminish the campus' value.

Determining the economic impact to the comparables' sale prices when excess land might be at issue requires a more thorough analysis than simply looking at a land-to-building ratio and using the ratio as an adjustment criterion. The land-to-building-ratio adjustment alone does not measure the economic productivity of any excess land on the comparables in relation to the economic productivity of the headquarters land. There may be difficulty in developing the site due to terrain, or a corporate user might lose the right to add square footage elsewhere on campus if land is partitioned and sold.

There are good arguments to be made surrounding value adjustments for any renovations in a corporate campus. Often a corporate headquarters is physically complicated and evolving. If renovations add space, there is often an imperfect fit to the existing space. The taxpayer may argue that the new space suffers a discount because of the imperfect efficiency inherent in the blending of new and old.

Discussing conditions of sales comparables with the assessor is useful for appropriate adjustments. Often, the assessor lacks access to detailed offering memoranda or insights into the motivations of the buyer or seller, such as instances where a developer would pay more to acquire an assemblage, or if there is a need for cash, or unusual tax considerations.

Set the stage for a productive discussion with the assessor by first initiating an informative dialogue with the building engineers and manager. Ask them about the changing nature of the campus and their predictions about future changes.

On meeting with the assessor, share capital replacement plans and how the building must be changed due to internal industry needs and external trends. A meeting of the minds with the taxing authority on the cost and market approaches discussed above can lead to a successful value reduction.


Margaret A. Ford, is a member of the law firm Smith Gendler Shiell Sheff Ford & Maher, the Minnesota member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Ford can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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