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Dec
31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec
18

South Carolina Taxpayers Play 'Dating Game'

Inconsistencies and confusion reign in determining effective date for valuing commercial properties.

"The practical implementation of the mandated five-year county-wide reassessment program further compounds the dating confusion. Many counties delay county-wide reassessment for one year, as authorized by statute, and in some cases, two years..."

Commercial property owners in South Carolina already faced an unsettled and confusing issue in trying to determine he valuation date for ad valorem taxes. Now, the South Carolina Court of Appeals has further complicated the issue.

Determining the valuation date should be simple: South Carolina law states the pertinent date of value for a given tax year is Dec. 31 of the preceding year. For example, logic suggests the valuation date for 2013 property taxes hould be Dec. 31, 2012. But that logic is often mistaken. South Carolina statutes require local assessors to engage in a countywide reassessment every five years. The process is referred to as an "equalization and reassessment program," and is intended to equalize the tax burden on property owners. Logic suggests the equalization program will equalize values, but that logic is also mistaken.

Act No. 388 and its Wake

Approximately seven years ago, the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act No. 388 which, among other things, capped value increases resulting from a county-wide equalization and reassessment to 15 percent of the property's prior assessed value, so long as the property had not changed hands in the past five years. However well-intentioned, the effort to lower property tax burdens wrought havoc with the concept of equalization.

The legislature also created the concept of an assessable transfer of interest, which eliminated the cap in some situations, such as in certain transfers of interest within the ownership entity, or following construction of improvements. In a sense, the legislation penalizes a landowner from a tax standpoint for improving a property's economic performance with new construction.

By their nature, caps erode the principal of uniformity since taxes for some properties go uncapped. Competing properties may have identical uses and financial performance, but taxes may be capped on one property, but not on the other. Under Act No. 388, two economically identical properties could be taxed using different valuation dates.
In fact, Act No. 388 promulgates a potential for four alternative valuation dates.

In an effort to address some of the outcry over the inequality engendered by Act No. 388, the legislature in 2012 provided an exemption of up to 25 percent of the purchase price of commercial properties. Unfortunately, this provision adds yet another little-known filing deadline, since the application for the exemption is due on or before Jan. 31 of the applicable tax year. In other words, a property purchaser must file for this exemption prior to the first Jan. 31 after acquisition. Failure to do so likely invalidates the exemption.

The practical implementation of the mandated five-year county-wide reassessment program further compounds the dating confusion. Many counties delay county-wide reassessment for one year, as authorized by statute, and in some cases, two years. For example, after delaying a scheduled 2004 reassessment to 2005, Charleston County delayed its next scheduled county-wide reassessment from 2010 to 2011 and decided to use a Dec. 31, 2008 valuation date rather than Dec. 31, 2010. The question is what date to use for valuation in the county-wide reassessment. Should it be the date on which reassessment was scheduled to occur or Dec. 31 of the year prior to implementation?
The correct answer is unclear.

Interim Appeals Defy Logic

So, what happens if a property owner wants to appeal the value of a property in the middle of the fiveyear period because of a change in economic performance? For example, is it fair to tax a property based on its economic status as of the valuation date used in the last county-wide reassessment, when it may have lost its anchor tenants since then? Logic and the clear language of state statutes suggest the valuation date should be the lien date, or Dec. 31 of the year prior to the year in which taxes are due, in order to treat properties equally based on economic performance.

According to the South Carolina Attorney General, however, that logic again would be wrong. In 2010, the attorney general opined that county assessors should ignore the unambiguous statutory language regarding valuation date and use the effective date of the last county-wide reassessment. County assessors are implementing this opinion regardless of logic.

In the 2013 case of Charleston County Assessor vs. LMP Properties, the South Carolina Court of Appeals further complicated the dating problem. In this case, the parties agreed to a Dec. 31, 2003, value date because 2004 was the date of the county's last county-wide reassessment. However, the Court determined Dec. 31, 2007, was the proper date for determining the property's highest and best use. In other words, the Court held an appraiser should use one date to determine the property's value and a different date to determine the property's highest and best use. How licensed appraisers meet these requirements and satisfy professional standards under the Uniform Systems of Professional Appraisal Practice defies logic. Logic suggests that assessors should use a uniform date, the lien date, for valuing real property. Logic also suggests the property's economic performance as of the lien date should control for interim appeals. But, then again, whoever said that dating — in love or taxes — had to
be logical?

ellison mMorris A. Ellison is a partner in the Charleston, S.C., office of the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP. The firm is the South Carolina member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Morris A. Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Dec
09

Answer to a Question Posed to Members of the Real Estate Forum Editorial Advisory Board

"How will market conditions in 2014 be different from what we saw in 2013?"

Stephen H. Paul, Esq., President of APTC, answered as follows:

"As Congress has been prone to "kick the can" down the road on tough budget issues, I believe many financial institutions holding large amounts of real estate mortgage paper have been kicking the can down the road over the past few years on many of their loans that have been underwater for some time, extending balloon payback dates into the future in hopes of having their troubled properties recover from their lagging performance. At some point, these financial institutions will have to fish or cut bait as to those properties that haven't recovered during their period of leniency. To the extent these institutions swallow hard and take their hits, we could see a large number of properties come onto the market at attractive prices for investors during 2014 — a reprise of 2010-2012.

"As to those properties that have recovered during this forgiveness period, to the extent they come back to the market, if the they're higher quality retail and office assets, we could see some slight appreciation in prices during 2014, certainly in primary, and most probably in good secondary markets as well."

Real Estate Forum, December 2013

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Stephen H. Paul is a Partner in the Indianapolis law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, the Indiana member of the American Property Tax Counsel. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Dec
09

Is History Repeating Itself in Multifamily Rental Space?

One of the bright spots that have emerged in the real estate market over the past five years of the economic recovery has been the multifamily rental segment. Of the 49 major metropolitan markets tracked by Cassidy Turley, only 17 have a multifamily vacancy rate above 5% and only two have a vacancy rate above 7%, according to the Firm's US Multifamily Forecast Report for Summer 2013.

Rental rates have increased in virtually all markets, with the strongest growth in top-tier cities. In Chicago, for example, rents at class A buildings have increased 21% since 2009. And at the national level, multifamily transaction volume quadrupled between 2009 and 2012. Despite these robust indicators, however, some observers worry that the industry may be overestimating the extent of the US multifamily recovery, and that developers are setting the stage for the next bubble.

Since 2012, construction has come to the fore. Almost 60,000 new multifamily units are expected to reach completion by the end of 2013 in the top 10 markets. The bulk of the new construction is class A buildings, which feature amenities such as a doorman, concierge services, work-out facilities, pools and in-unit washers and dryers.

Millenials, born between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, appear to be driving the rental market. They are renting instead of buying for several reasons. Some have limited opportunities to finance the purchase of a home. Others want to remain mobile while pursuaing their careers. New construction is highest in cities like Austin, Washington, Chicago and New York, which are some of the prime designations for millenials.

While optimism is warranted, there are signs that the sector may have ignored the lessons of the 2008 recession. The availability of capital alone cannot be the determining factor driving development in a segment of the market that has become dominated by the addition of new supply. The real estate market must operate within the parameters of the greater economy, and that overall economy merits far less enthusiasm than the multifamily boom would suggest.

The liklihood of an over-supply in the apartment market raises interesting property tax concerns. The prospect of lower fundaments raises risk and lowers revenue expectations. Ultimately, it must be anticipated that pricing will change and values will decline.

Real estate taxes are based on market value, but the development of new values for real estate taxes lag well behind the market. In many places, the decline in value over the past five years still has not been fully recognized in the values established by assessors. Developers must have strategies in place which accelerate assessors' recognition of value changes taking place in the market. The key strategy to help owners keep real estate taxes in line with value changes is assiduous appeal of property tax assessments.

In 1989, the response to the savings and loan crises, the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice were promulgated by the Appraisal Standards Board. These standards govern both the mass appraisal practices of assessors and the appraisal of individual properties by private appraisers, and will take into account the changes in the market as they arise. Thus apartment owners need to diligenty scrutinize their tax assessments in the next several years to ensure that these assessments reflect the changes in market values, and where they don't file an appeal.3

reganJames Regan is the managing partner of the Chicago law firm of Fisk Kart Katz and Regan, the Illinois member of the American Property Tax Counsel. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. His Fish Kart colleague Antonio Senagore also contributed to this article and he can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Nov
30

Eagle Ford Shale Ignites Boom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

approved for drilling.

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

MelissaRamirez150Melissa Ramirez is a principal with the Austin law firm of Popp Hutcheson P.L.L.C., which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Ms. Ramierz can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Nov
20

Will Flood Insurance Changes Put Property Values Under Water?

"Both residential and commercial policy holders currently benefitting from subsidized rates will see a 25 percent yearly rate increase until each rate reflects "true flood risk" according to the new flood insurance maps to be generated by FEMA. New risk tables will not be available until June 2013, making the magnitude of the adjustments uncertain..."

In Texas, flooding is a part of life. Between the Galveston hurricane of 1900 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, seven major hurricanes and destructive tropical storms have ravished the Texas Gulf Coast. The people of Texas have lived through, and re-built, in the wake of these and many other flooding events.

Congress enacted the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 to create the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), intended to provide an insurance alternative to help property owners meet the escalating costs of repairing damage to buildings and other property losses. The program insures roughly 5.5 million homes, the majority of which are in Texas and Florida. The NFIP also provides building-and-contents flood insurance for businesses.

Communities participating in the program must adopt and enforce a floodplain management ordinance to reduce flood risks in zones recognized as Special Flood Hazard Areas. In exchange, the federal government will underwrite flood insurance for these high-risk communities. The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 made the purchase of flood insurance mandatory for the protection of property within designated special flood hazard areas. Later, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2004 further modified the national flood insurance program to reduce losses to property owners with repetitive claims.

Rates for policies under the national program are in most cases substantially lower than privately available insurance, and are the only coverage available for some high-risk locations. Policy premium rates are depicted on flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) and the mapping process is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees the flood insurance program.

Since 1978, the national flood insurance program has paid more than $38 billion in claims, and in 2012, it insured roughly $1.2 trillion worth of property. In January 2009, mostly as a result of the devastating 2005 hurricane season, the national flood insurance program owed the U.S. Treasury approximately $19.2 billion, with yearly interest payments of more than $730 million. The program's worrisome financial health brought it under scrutiny during the 2009 re-authorization process, and the Government Accountability Office issued multiple reports on the program.

Congress passed the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 to modify the way FEMA manages the national flood insurance program. The act will require the program's rates to reflect true flood risks, a premium hike that should make the program more financially stable. The 2012 act also calls for FEMA to change the way it implements flood insurance rate maps: Under the act's provisions, actions such as buying a property, allowing a policy to lapse or purchasing a new policy can trigger rate changes, effectively ending subsidies and grandfathered policies.

Both residential and commercial policy holders currently benefitting from subsidized rates will see a 25 percent yearly rate increase until each rate reflects "true flood risk" according to the new flood insurance maps to be generated by FEMA. New risk tables will not be available until June 2013, making the magnitude of the adjustments uncertain.

The uncertainty about rates presents a hazard to property values in high risk areas. The greatest uncertainty and risk to property values, however, may be updates to flood insurance maps, which FEMA is currently preparing.

Some policy changes, such as ceasing to recognize private levies and revisions to historical flood lines, may change the risk rating of many properties. For properties where the risk severity and availability of subsidies are changing, the overall economic viability of the property may be at risk.

Changes to the national flood insurance program have created economic obsolescence affecting the values both of properties currently in the program and of properties not in the program, which may have their risk rating changed by the flood maps' pending revision.

While the magnitude of the change in property values may be unknown for several more months, enough information is available to argue that the additional risk these regulatory changes introduce will reduce taxable values of potentially affected properties. Once all the variables are known, affected property owners should undertake an in-depth analysis of the effect of the regulations on property value to determine whether a tax appeal is necessary to obtain a fair property tax assessment.

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

 

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Oct
31

The Price of Air - New York Ponders Fair Value for Right to Develop Taller Buildings

In order to fund proposed transit improvements in the vicinity of Grand Central Terminal, New York City is considering an air-rights zoning change to allow construction of perhaps a dozen buildings, primarily office towers, that would stand taller than is currently permitted. Developers would be asked to pay the city about $250 per square foot to acquire these new air rights, and the city would use the monies to carry out its proposed public improvements.

The pricing of new air rights under the proposal stands to pit the city against some New York property owners, who could see the value of their own air rights slashed as a result. A question with implications for commercial property owners is, how did the city determine the square-foot charge of $250? An article by Laura Kusisto in the Aug. 13 edition of the Wall Street Journal explores the brewing controversy.

The Landauer Valuation & Advisory organization calculated an estimate of value for the city. Landauer is a division of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, a well-known real estate advisory firm.

Landauer first determined the value of office land in the Grand Central area, then applied a 35 percent discount. According to Robert Von Ancken, its chairman, residential or hotel uses were not considered in valuing the proposed air rights. Landauer relied on current market data and a methodology used in the past by market participants.

Argent Ventures, which already has a dog in this argument because it owns the air rights above Grand Central, has termed $400 a more accurate unit value. Argent's president has asserted that air rights should not be discounted off underlying land values and might even be worth more than land with the same development potential.

Argent bases this on work performed for it by Jerome Haims Realty Inc. and backed by another appraisal firm. However, as Kusisto notes in her Wall Street Journal article, "Argent has an interest in putting a higher price tag on the air rights because it will have to compete with the city to sell air rights to developers if the rezoning passes."

This controversy obviously sets an existing stakeholder against a municipality that needs to encourage growth in a particular submarket. The value of Argent's Grand Central air rights will be sharply influenced by the city's offerings. The city probably cares as much about creating tax flows from the buildings that would float on the newly created air rights as it does about the selling price, although the Wall Street Journal article does not mention this point.

From a valuation perspective, it would be interesting to review the Landauer and Haims studies, if only to learn in detail how these firms valued the right to create what apparently will be millions of square feet of new office product. Issues such as absorption, the impact of the transportation improvements proposed by the city on market values and the data relied upon to upport the appraisers' conclusions could offer a textbook tudy of a very complicated topic.

Ultimately, the New York City Council must vote on the creation and price of the new air rights.

Pollack_Headshot150pxElliott B. Pollack is a member of Pullman & Comley in Hartford, Connecticut and chair of the firm's Valuation Department. The firm is the Connecticut member of American Property Tax Counsel. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

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Oct
30

A Reason to Challenge Tax Assessments

"The varying directions of price trends demonstrate that now, more than ever, Atlanta property owners should closely review property tax assessments and make specific determinations regarding the correctness of the valuation. General sales trends and perceptions provide insufficient basis for deciding whether or not to appeal the county assessment notice..."

There is a common perception among assessors that an increase in real estate sales activity is a sign of an improving economy. For a commercial property owner on the receiving end of a tax assessment increase, however, it is a good idea to analyze how the assessor came to his/her conclusions and then decide if the increase is justified, or if a protest is in order.

Sales of office, retail, hotel, multi-family and industrial properties in Atlanta increased in number from early 2010 to late 2012, according to CoStar Group, a national researcher. But does that increase automatically result in higher valuations? What trends do the sale prices over this period indicate on a per-square-foot, per-room, or per-unit basis? More importantly, what conclusions, if any, should the taxpayer or assessor draw regarding valuation of individual properties?

Retail properties accounted for the largest number of commercial, arms-length sales transactions in Atlanta from the beginning of 2010 through 2012. Narrowing the focus of sale price data reveals that the average price per square foot paid for retail properties in that period actually decreased by 20 percent. Full-year data for 2013 is not yet available, but sales through July suggest that the downward trend in average price per square foot for Atlanta's retail properties is continuing.

Atlanta's highest percentage increase in number of sales from 2010 through 2012 occurred in the hotel market; despite the uptick in volume, the average price paid on a per-room basis for hotel properties decreased by about 17 percent. Available year-to-date data for 2013 indicates that the average room rate for hotel properties may be increasing, with an associated effect on hotel valuations, but each property will require a closer analysis of the class of property sold, its location, and other relevant facts.
Atlanta's multifamily sector posted a compelling percentage increase in the number of sales completed from early 2010 through 2012. In this group, the average sale price per unit increased over that same period. But again, valuing a specific property would require an examination of all factors, such as quality and location.

The market's office sales increased significantly in number from the beginning of 2010 to year-end 2012. During that time, the average sale price per square foot increased, but like other categories, specific factors must be examined to arrive at a fair value.

Finally, while industrial properties experienced a dramatic increase in the number of sales from the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2012, the average price per square foot for these properties in Atlanta decreased steadily in 2011 and 2012. Whether this trend will continue in 2013 is unknown. Sales would need to be examined for specific industry types or sub-categories of properties in order to draw worthwhile conclusions about the value of a particular parcel.

The varying directions of price trends demonstrate that now, more than ever, Atlanta property owners should closely review property tax assessments and make specific determinations regarding the correctness of the valuation. General sales trends and perceptions provide insufficient basis for deciding whether or not to appeal the county assessment notice.

Research regarding many personalized, property-specific factors and criteria are involved in making a determination of value, including an analysis using the income approach. Atlanta commercial property owners should question any assessor's suggestion that sales volume recovery in the Atlanta marketplace equates to an increase in the value of their properties.

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

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Oct
27

Madness in the Method Inflates Property Assessments

Though a few large companies may be expanding in the Portland region, it won't necessarily be a boon to property owners.

"The madness is in the method of assessment, because it is impossible for the assessor to physically inspect and appraise each property on its rolls. Instead, the assessor will typically add up a taxpayer's historical investments in a property as reported each year..."

The real estate headlines in Oregon newspapers this month kindled cautious optimism that the economy is in full recovery. One article touted a boom in the residential and commercial markets of Canby, a Portland suburb, while another trumpeted a bash to kick off a $25 million, mixed-use development in downtown Portland.

These positive headlines added to the stimulating effects of last year's expansion announcements by Nike and Intel. News of those companies' plans for growth in Hillsboro bolstered the industrial, office, and residential markets in the Sunset Corridor.

Industrial property owners, be vigilant. This uptick in the economic outlook does not mean there should be a corresponding increase in a property's real market value and a corresponding over-assessment of the property.

It should be simple to spot an inflated assessment. By statute, a property is assessed at its real market value, defined as what a willing buyer and willing seller would agree upon in an open market transaction. Assessments are also subject to Measure 50's maximum assessed value limitations. The assessed value is the lower of the maximum assessed value or the real market value.

Yet over-assessments are common, and the reasons numerous. Despite the economic uptick, there are still significant economic impacts to industry in Oregon resulting in over-valuation of property by the Counties and the Department of Revenue.

The madness is in the method of assessment, because it is impossible for the assessor to physically inspect and appraise each property on its rolls. Instead, the assessor will typically add up a taxpayer's historical investments in a property as reported each year, and equate the cumulative sum of those investments to the real market value of the property — without any regard to market conditions.

Market conditions that impact a company and the real market value of the property can be significant, particularly for an industrial property. Take a high tech campus that was built in the 1970's and designed for a single user. Back then, tech firms favored flex buildings designed for manufacturing, research and development, assembly, and distribution with a typical floor plate of 40,000 square feet. No thought went into an exit strategy when planning the design or layout of the access, parking, integrated utility systems, and location of the buildings on the property.

Fast forward to 2013, when globalization generally calls for overseas assembly plants and distribution centers located strategically to the company's global market. The need for a single-user campus with six or more dated, 100,000-square-foot flex buildings that share interconnected utilities on a single tax lot is gone. Globalization is an economic force that is external to a company and one that drives down the market price of these facilities. It is a form of obsolescence that is rarely accounted for in a property valuation.

Another factor that assessors typically overlook at industrial sites is functional obsolescence. Consider a facility built 30 or 40 years ago. Technology for the manufacturing processes may have advanced over the years, but the building design, including the ceiling height or floor load, may limit the use of the new technology. The overall utility of the property suffers from functional obsolescence that impairs the market value.

The assessor often lacks the people power to drill down into the details of every property. Because property value reflects not only local market conditions, but also the inherent functional and economic obsolescence unique to the property, a property being taxed solely on a trending basis may be over-assessed.

CfraserCynthia M. Fraser is an attorney at Garvey Schubert Barer where she specializes in property tax and condemnation litigation. The firm is the Oregon and Washington member of the American Property Tax Counsel the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Ms. Fraser can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Oct
19

Use Quality Data to Fight Unfair Tax Assessments

Owners appealing unfair tax assessments must aggressively and specifically examine the general economic climate.

"While area bankers express high hopes for the coming year, that optimism is not reflected in actual lending practices for the past year. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, commercial and industrial loan volume in the United States totaled $16.4 billion in 2012, up slightly from $14 billion in 2011."

By accident or design, assessors tend to punish commercial property owners by increasing the assessed value of properties that outperform the market, thereby generating more taxes for the local government. The problem arises from real property valuations based upon a cash flow analysis, which fails to take into account intangible qualities that boost cash flow but are unconnected to intrinsic real estate value.

Intangible qualities that can increase a commercial property's cash flow include the skills of the management and general business reputation of the owners. Assessors have a tendency to value the business rather than the real property. Consequently, assessors punish owners for efficient and successful management. In order to guard against such an outcome, owners appealing unfair tax assessments must aggressively and specifically examine the general economic climate. In analyzing commercial property, appraisers dedicate pages within each appraisal report to the local economy. Time after time, appellate reviewers in their rush to focus on the cash flow of the specific property simply skip over the plethora of general economic data that fills appraisal reports.

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Two measures of local market performance are particularly important in appealing an assessment, however. One metric is retail sales, which provide a clear barometer of general economic conditions. Sales reflect the health of the consumer base and, most notably, employment. With diminished employment, sales fall in the marketplace. The other dataset to examine is the availability of credit for commercial property acquisition and/or development. While valuation authorities rarely acknowledge the relationship, retail sales and credit are inextricably linked.

Follow Sales Tax Receipts

A look at retail sales and availability of credit in the St. Louis marketplace provides a far better foundation for value analysis than do the population counts and various economic facts tacked onto assessors' reports.

In the city of St. Louis, total sales tax receipts increased every year from 2008 through 2012, with just a slight decline in 2010 (see chart). In 2013, however, the trend's trajectory has changed. The city of St. Louis has collected $30.7 million in sales tax receipts year-to-date through May, down 4.9 percent from $32.3 million during the same period a year ago.

Annual sales tax receipts for 2013 in St. Louis based were previously projected to reach just over $120 million based on the actual receipts for the first five months of 2013 and previous years' receipts during the last seven months of the year. However, the closing of a Macy's store in downtown St. Louis in May will dim this picture even further. Banks are feeling regulatory pressure to lower the concentration of commercial real estate loans in their portfolios. Lending to acquire or develop commercial buildings or residential subdivisions tanked during the Great Recession. Today, lenders give more scrutiny to a potential borrower's creditworthiness than before the downturn. The credit quality of borrowers or developers has in many respects become an important factor in the intrinsic value of the project or the real estate itself.

While area bankers express high hopes for the coming year, that optimism is not reflected in actual lending practices for the past year. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, commercial and industrial loan volume in the United States totaled $16.4 billion in 2012, up slightly from $14 billion in 2011. Compared to the market's peak loan volume of $26 billion originated in 2008, credit availability in the sector is clearly constrained.

Focus On Fair Market Value

Property owners should keep in mind that the determination of fair market value is based upon not only a willing seller, but also a willing buyer. A willing buyer must obtain financing, and the St. Louis market has tightened up considerably in that regard. A tax appeal based on the scrutiny of credit availability and retail sales will go a long way toward ensuring that careful, prudent entrepreneurship and management will go unpunished by an excessive tax burden.

Wallach90 Jerome Wallach is a partner at The Wallach Law Firm, the Missouri 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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