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Property Tax Resources

Dec
13

Building Value

How to Save Money by Allocating Prices in Real Estate Transactions

"Federal regulators recognize operations account for a significant component of hotel income and value..."

By Morris A. Ellison, Esq., as published by Commercial Property Executive, December 2012

Commercial real estate investors generally acquire properties based on total cash flow, rather than on the perceived value of the property's individual components generating that cash flow. Increasingly, however, lenders are attempting to underwrite real estate loans through component analyses by breaking down a property into income-generating elements under the theory that separately valuing components reduces risk.

Taxing authorities already generate separate tax bills, often at different rates, for real property, personal property and business licensing fees. A similar approach from lenders, which are under increasing regulatory pressure to reduce risk, may impinge on commercial real estate financing and slow the industry's recovery.

A purchaser often analyzes components of cash flow when evaluating how to improve a property's operational performance and the impact of taxes on potential returns. Common considerations include real estate transfer taxes, allocation of basis for income tax purposes, real and personal property tax assessments, and segregation of readily depreciable or amortizable assets from non-depreciable or non-amortizable assets. Allocation generally involves four components: (i) land (non-depreciable); (ii) buildings or improvements (generally depreciable); (iii) tangible personal property (generally depreciable); and (iv) goodwill or ongoing business value represented by intangible personal property or business enterprise value (BEV).

Hotel properties are prime examples of component analysis, as the analysis is often a major negotiating point. Hotels are generally sold as going concerns—that is, operating businesses with a value distinct the underlying real estate. Integrating a well thought- out allocation into a purchase agreement potentially simplifies recordkeeping yields significant savings on income, property and transfer taxes, sometimes worth tens millions of dollars. The federal Internal Revenue Code applies different depreciation rates and tax calculations to different property types. Commercial businesses with substantial goodwill associated with operations (such as hotels, shopping centers, healthcare facilities and marinas) can significantly benefit from a comprehensive allocation analysis.

For example, much of the value of healthcare facilities rests in operating licenses. These and other intangible assets are generally not subject to ad valorem taxation, and accurately reflecting value will prevent overpaying property taxes due to an incorrect allocation of value. In states where the federal income tax basis is used to calculate property taxes for purchased assets, an allocation analysis is critical. For federal income tax purposes, the tax basis of purchased assets is allocated according to the residual method, which generally allocates a purchase price into classes of assets. Except for land, certain tangible assets are depreciable for federal income tax purposes.

Valuing such assets typically involves obtaining a real estate appraisal, extracting improvement values from land value and valuing tangible personal property such as furniture using the most appropriate methodology for that asset type. Because the federal income tax basis of property is determined at the time of acquisition, allocating the purchase price should be part of due diligence and not put off until after closing. Closing is a great opportunity to establish the various business assets' tax basis, and separate conveyance documents should be prepared for each major asset to document allocated value.

Property Tax Implications

After closing, governments generally separately assess taxes against the real property, tangible personal property and intangible personal property (usually in the form of a business licensing fee).

Tangible personal property, which is subject to a faster depreciation schedule, includes furniture, fixtures, equipment and supplies. Business enterprise value might include startup costs, an assembled workforce, a reservation system and residual intangible assets. The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), promulgated by the Appraisal Standards Board of the Appraisal Foundation, require separation of a hotel's business value from other components. However, there is no consensus on the method for calculating BEV.

Some taxing authorities contend BEV is an illusion conjured by disreputable appraisers and property owners seeking to reduce ad valorem taxes, but the Appraisal Institute and federal regulators recognize that the operating business of a hotel, for example, accounts for a significant component of its income and overall value.

Since Oct. 1, 2011, the Small Business Administration has required affiliated lenders to obtain a going-concern appraisal for any real estate involving an ongoing business. Affected property types include hospitality, healthcare facilities, restaurants and nightclubs, entertainment venues, manufacturing firms, office buildings, shopping centers and apartment complexes. SBA lenders must obtain an appraisal valuing the separate components from an appraiser who has taken specified courses in valuing going concerns.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates commercial banks, simply requires lenders to use a competent appraiser and does not specify course requirements for the appraiser. While OCC appraisals need only comply with USPAP, stricter standards may apply if required by what the OCC calls "principles of safe and sound banking."

USPAP does not specifically require appraisers to value component elements when appraising going-concern properties. Although USPAP Rule 1-4(g) states, "(w)hen personal property, trade fixtures or intangible items are included in the appraisal, the appraiser must analyze the effect on value of such non-real property items," the Appraisal Foundation has made it clear that this standard does not mandate an appraisal of the property's individual components of value. However, "the appraiser may be required to value the individual components because of what the analysis produces and/or the manner in which the analysis was applied." Thus, USPAP implicitly require an appraiser to allocate values under certain circumstances.

The OCC appears to be seeking to require more. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Improvement Act of 1991 imposed additional requirements on institutions subject to OCC regulations, which require each institution to adopt and maintain written real estate lending policies "consistent with principles of safety and soundness and that reflect consideration of the real estate lending guidelines." Exactly what this means is unclear.

A recent article published by the Appraisal Institute contends that appraisals of going concern properties must allocate values. Although not attributable to USPAP requirements, the FDIC, as well as the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989, may require allocation in order to ensure "safety and soundness." Whether these principles require different interest rates for different components of value remains an open question.

Component analysis makes sense in analyzing operations and in calculating taxes. The ongoing debate over how to calculate BEV, however, illustrates the difficulty of transporting component analysis into transactions and real estate lending. For example, large hotel loans are typically made by a lender's corporate loan department, not the real estate department, and with good reason. Furthermore, incorporating the concept of component analysis into real estate lending seems likely to increase interest rates at a time when available credit is already scarce. That debate is just beginning.

ellison mMorris A. Ellison is a member of the Charleston, S.C., office of the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice L.L.P., and is the South Carolina 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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Nov
18

Are You Being Taxed for your Reputation?

"The taxing jurisdictions argued that "accounting goodwill is not intangible property but rather taxable tangible property..."

David J. Crapo Esq., as published by Commercial Property Executive Blog, November 2012

A recent Utah Supreme Court decision may influence taxes throughout the country by clarifying whether goodwill is a component of taxable real estate value. Most states exclude intangible property from taxation, so identifying intangible components of a business can significantly reduce property tax liability.

In T-Mobile vs.Utah State Tax Commission, the Court declared that accounting goodwill is intangible property and not subject to property tax. The Court defined goodwill as "a business' reputation, patronage, and other intangible assets that are considered when appraising the business."

The taxing jurisdictions argued that "accounting goodwill is not intangible property but rather taxable tangible property." They relied on a 2000 Utah Supreme Court decision in Beaver County vs. WilTel to argue that the synergistic value of a company's intangible property, working together with the tangible property, constituted enhanced value and was taxable because the enhancement value was directly attributable to tangible property.
As the taxing jurisdictions saw it, goodwill was enhancement value, and therefore taxable.

The Court disagreed with the counties and held that goodwill constitutes intangible property and is therefore not subject to taxation. The Court stated that goodwill includes such items as "customer base, customer service capabilities, presence in geographic markets or locations, nonunion status, strong labor relations, ongoing training programs, and ongoing recruitment programs." The Court then stated that these items "are associated with the business being conducted on the property; they are not directly attributable to tangible property."

By clarifying the accounting of goodwill, the Utah case provides a reference point and reminder for taxpayers nationwide. To ensure that property is not over-assessed and thus overtaxed, it is important to make sure the taxing jurisdictions have made all the proper adjustments to remove intangible property. And that entails the exclusion of business value attributable to goodwill.

dcrapo David J. Crapo is a partner in the Bountiful, Utah law firm of Crapo Smith, the Utah 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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Nov
02

Guest Column: Tax Relief for Obsolete Retail Space

"A critical question for the taxpayer is when, if ever, to share that documentation. Appraisal evidence properly prepared with an attorney in advance of litigation will often protect that document from individuals with whom the owner does not wish to share it, and should allow the owner's team the opportunity to present the evidence at the time and place that is most advantageous to the owner..."

By J. Kieran Jennings, Esq., as published by Commercial Property Executive, November 2012

Since 2001, major retailers have closed about 5,000 stores per year. Certainly there are more closings in challenging times, and in other years there are more store openings than closings. There is one constant, however: Real estate owners and operators must determine what to do with vacated space. Assessors also should weigh the impact on the property, and taxpayers should decide how to reduce taxes based on inevitable tenant turnover.

For many years, the assessing community refused to fully recognize the devaluation of a shopping center due to vacancies. Assessors argued that vacant space has worth, and that an income approach to valuation ignores the income-producing potential intrinsic to empty space. In certain instances, the assessor's argument is true, and including an estimate of potential income for vacant space is an integral part of a shopping center assessment. But what should be done when the space no longer has value or becomes a detriment to the property?

Assessors are often reluctant to acknowledge the nominal or negative value of space that no longer adds to a property's value. When that occurs, a financial study of highest and best use can prove that the space simply cannot be reused economically. Specifically, the property owner can show that build-out and other costs required to prepare the space for the highest and best use outweigh the potential rent the space would earn.

Take for instance a small cinema complex that must update to digital projectors or go out of business. An article in the Sept. 30 edition of USA Today described the owner of a four-screen theater who lamented that he lacked the profit margin to support the $250,000 conversion. The cinema operator's plight should raise a question for the real estate assessor. Is the current usage designation of the space, in its current condition, financially feasible? If the answer is no, then the highest and best use study takes a look at the financial viability of either upgrading — in this example, to digital projection — or renovating the space for a different use and user.

When looking at potentially renovating and changing the use of the property, the appraiser or assessor must determine whether the conversion is physically possible. There may be demand for rentable space, but can the existing structure be adapted for that use? Other considerations include whether the use is legally permissible. A bar, hotel or casino may be a great idea, but do zoning and other laws permit the use? The proposed use should also be reasonable and probable. A conversion to a use that harms the rest of the shopping center is not appropriate.

In many secondary markets in particular, the cost of renovation may exceed the amount of rent that would be collected at market rates over the life of the potential lease. Repurposing a cinema, for example, incurs costs that competing retail properties don't have to bear, such as the expense of leveling sloped floors, adjusting ceiling heights and removing lobbies. If the costs do not justify the change, then the appraiser as well as the owner will need to determine if the building is a detriment to the center. In some cases, the only avenue available is demolition of the property, after which the land can be held for future development.

The days of just discussing the issues of obsolete spaces with the assessor are long since over. Chinese Gen. Sun Tzu's famous admonition, "Know your enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be in peril," is apropos in tax contests. A successful appeal requires knowing how the opponent ticks and what proof is necessary.

Owners are often best served in preparing for a hearing or meeting by obtaining an appraisal from a reputable third party. A critical question for the taxpayer is when, if ever, to share that documentation. Appraisal evidence properly prepared with an attorney in advance of litigation will often protect that document from individuals with whom the owner does not wish to share it, and should allow the owner's team the opportunity to present the evidence at the time and place that is most advantageous to the owner.

The final question is, when should the taxpayer raise these arguments? Experience suggests that the taxpayer should attack the issue of obsolete space as soon as the market begins to question the existing use. Tax contests can be lengthy, and profitability — or even survival — may depend upon minimizing non-productive expenses such as taxes.

kjenningsKieran Jennings is a partner with the law firm of Siegel & Jennings, which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania 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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Oct
23

A Taxing Issue

Have Your Intangible Assets Been Included in Your Property Tax Assessment?

"It is important to identify and remove potential intangible assets in any property tax valuation."

By Mark S. Hutcheson, Esq., CMI, as published by Commercial Property Executive, October 2012

What's the difference between an income tax and a property tax? The answer seems simple, but it is one lost on many assessors when valuing property for ad valorem taxation. Most people understand that income taxes reflect the income a business generates. Property taxes, by contrast, are based on the value of the tangible assets of a business. Some assessors lose that distinction when applying the income valuation approach, however, and fail to identify and properly remove non-taxable intangible assets.

As a general rule, assessors determine property tax value using one or more of three methods: the sales comparison, income and cost approaches. For commercial properties, assessors and appraisers favor the income approach because it mirrors the method buyers most often use in the open market. When this approach is used to determine the value of taxable property, however, the net operating income (NOI) must exclude any income stream attributable to an intangible asset. 

Intangible property includes assets that have value but are nonphysical, including franchises, trademarks, patents, copyrights, goodwill, equities and contracts, according to The Dictionary of Real Estate Appraisal. Intangible value cannot be imputed to any part of the physical property.

Many commercial businesses have franchise agreements, contract interests and goodwill. These intangible assets are separate and distinct from the physical assets of the business and are generally nontaxable, so the assessor must remove them when determining a property's taxable value. The first step toward that end is to identify the specific intangible assets that contribute to business income.

The operation of a hypothetical hotel provides a simple illustration. A hotel's income stream clearly includes the owner's taxable return from the land and building, but it may also include a host of intangible items that must be removed before the NOI is capitalized into a taxable value. These items may include the hotel's brand; the assembled and trained workforce; maid, concierge and security services; food and beverage outlets; and spa services. Just as the building and underlying land of a McDonald's should not be valued based on the number of hamburgers the restaurant sells, the service and brand components of a hotel's income must be excluded from the value of the taxable assets. While hotels and restaurants are clear examples, it is important to identify and remove potential intangible assets in any property tax valuation.

The proper identification of intangible assets can be more difficult in properties that primarily derive rental income. The tendency is to assume that if a property rents, all of the income is directly attributable to its tangible assets. While this is generally true, there are a few notable exceptions. Above-market leases are properly classified as intangible assets and should be excluded from property tax valuation. An above-market lease creates a contract right that may not be reproducible on the open market.

The Appraisal of Real Estate, published by the Appraisal Institute, provides that "a lease never increases the market value of real property rights to the fee-simple estate. Any potential value increment in excess of a fee-simple estate is attributable to the particular lease contract, and even though the rights may legally 'run with the land,' they constitute contract rather than real estate rights."

This concept can be expanded to other rental-related agreements, like anchor concessions and a shopping center's tenant mix. For example, assume the owner of a shopping center has relationships with several national tenants that rent space in the owner's centers in other locations. If the owner can persuade a few national tenants to rent space in a new center (possibly through concessions or other business agreements), the result is often a synergy that allows for higher overall rents and less vacancy. In this example, the higher rents are attributable to the owner's business relationships, rather than the location or condition of the center, and must be adjusted to remove the intangible enhancements. Intangible assets are generally nontaxable and exist in almost every business. If your property tax assessment is based on the income approach, make sure the income being capitalized is attributable solely to the taxable, tangible assets of the property.

MarkHutcheson150Mark S. Hutcheson is a partner 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 the American Property Tax Counsel, the national afi liation of property tax attorneys. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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Oct
17

Bay Area Real Estate Recovery Creates Property Tax Appeal Opportunities

The uneven recovery of the Bay Area real estate market over the past year has created opportunities for real estate owners to challenge their property tax assessments. Areas that have experienced the strongest growth, as well as markets in which the recovery is lagging, may be ripe for challenges to property tax assessments.

By Cris K. O'Neall, as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, October 2012

Pregnant propositions

Under California's Proposition 13, property taxes are based on the purchase price paid for a property or on the cost of constructing the property. Thereafter, Proposition 13 caps value increases (and property tax increases) at 2 percent annually.When property values decline, Proposition 8, the bookend to Proposition 13, requires county assessors to reduce taxable property values below Proposition 13 value caps to reflect current market conditions. As real estate values recover following a downturn, assessors restore taxable values back to Proposition 13 levels.

Over the past year or so, core Bay Area markets (primarily San Francisco and the Silicon Valley) have experienced strong growth in market rents and declines in capitalization rates, particularly as compared to other Bay Area real estate markets. Because of the brisk recovery in core markets, county assessors have aggressively moved to restore 2012 values, determined as of Jan. 1, 2012, back to Proposition 13 levels. Such value restorations can bring major increases in assessments and taxes.

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Assessors exercise value judgment

In order to restore property values to Proposition 13 levels, California requires county assessors to evaluate market sales and rental information. In so doing, assessors consider ranges of information on sales and rentals, and exercise their judgment as to whether values should fall in the top, middle or bottom of a range.
While assessors generally determine values for residential properties using computerized mass appraisal techniques, commercial properties tend to be more complex and require individual attention by assessor staff.

This year, the assessors in San Francisco and Santa Clara County have restored property values and assessments to levels at or near Proposition 13 amounts, which, in some cases, has dramatically increased tax bills as compared to 2011. In doing so, assessors may have justified assessments using more recent rental rates or cap rates, rather than using average rates during the 12 months prior to Jan. 1, which tends to accelerate value increases.

In 2012, most Bay Area counties announced increases in their property tax rolls.
The 2012 roll increases are due, at least in part, to increasing sales and leasing activity, which tend to be reflected in higher property tax values and assessments. However, these increases also reflect Proposition 13 value restorations described previously, and highlight those counties which merit increased consideration as far as whether to review and appeal property tax assessments.

Property tax appeal opportunities

The current situation presents several types of property tax appeal opportunities. First, for properties in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, it is possible that assessors have been overly aggressive in restoring values to Proposition 13 levels. Taxpayers should request backup information supporting full or partial restoration of Proposition 13 levels and if the assumptions appear excessive, file an appeal.

This same advice goes for properties in secondary and tertiary markets, particularly where there have been Proposition 13 value restorations. Properties in these markets should also be reviewed, however, to determine whether they have participated in the economic recovery that San Francisco and the Silicon Valley have experienced. Economic recovery among Bay Area counties has been uneven, and hasn't benefited every city within a county consistently. In San Mateo County, for example, property values in Atherton have increased significantly, but values in East Palo Alto have continued to decline. Similarly, in Contra Costa County, values in five cities increased while in the county's remaining 14 cities values generally declined.

Finally, property owners should not assume that a "no change" assessment or that a lower assessment by the local assessor is correct. Values in some areas declined during 2011, which means that market values as of Jan. 1, 2012 may be lower than 2011 values, and should not reflect value increases that have occurred during the first nine months of 2012.

CONeall Cris K. O'Neall specializes in property and local tax matters as a partner in the law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Oct
17

Contingent Fee Consultants Target Large Property Owners for Tax Increases

While the taxing jurisdictions' consultants maintain that they are not doing appraisal work or appraisal consulting work, a review of USPAP definitions suggests differently. The Uniform Standards define appraisal consulting as "the act or process of developing an analysis, recommendation, or opinion to solve a problem, where an opinion of value is a component of the analysis leading to the assignment results."

By John E. Garippa, Esq. & Brian A. Fowler, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, October 2012

As U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall observed two centuries ago, "the power to tax involves the power to destroy." That statement applies today in the Delaware Valley, where taxing jurisdictions are delegating the tax assessment function to outside consultants.

Incredibly, these consultants are compensated on a contingent fee basis for the additional tax revenue they can accumulate for the jurisdiction. In a typical contract, the fee has been 25 percent of the additional revenue received over a three-year period.

In practice, these consultants can pick and choose which properties to recommend for reassessment. It's not surprising that the most valuable commercial assets, which offer the largest potential for gain in a reassessment, attract the most attention from these bounty-hunting consultants.
Here's how the process typically works. Once consultants have determined which properties are under-assessed, the school districts file affirmative appeals to raise the assessments on the affected properties. Property owners who choose to defend their existing assessments must hire attorneys and independent appraisers at considerable cost.

This system of taxation grows less uniform with each reappraisal. And while it may seem absurd to hand over the reins of tax policy to an outside consultant, the practice is becoming routine under current Pennsylvania law.

Taxing questions

Experience has shown that at any given time there will always be disparities in tax assessments within a given jurisdiction. However, most taxpayers assume that the assessment function is being performed by tax assessors in an ethical and uniform manner, and that those assessors are not paid based on the increased revenue they find.

The increasingly prevalent use of tax assessment consultants raises serious issues that communities must address.
First, the Pennsylvania legislature has prohibited contingent fee agreements where it has deemed them to be contrary to public interest. Specifically, Pennsylvania law prohibits real estate appraisers from accepting an appraisal assignment where the fee is contingent on the valuation reached.
While consultants to taxing entities might argue that they are not appraisers, the fact that they are concluding to a value or value range arguably makes their work product an appraisal.

Second, Pennsylvania has adopted the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), which can help to level the playing field for the property owner in appealing an assessment. Those rules include minimum standards for the retention of records, referred to as the "record-keeping rule." An appraiser or consultant must prepare a work file for each appraisal, appraisal review or appraisal consulting assignment.

A work file must exist prior to the issuance of any conclusion, and a written summary of any oral report must be added to the work file within a reasonable time after the issuance of the oral report. Any appraiser or consultant who willfully or knowingly fails to comply with the obligations of this record keeping rule is in violation of the state's ethics rule.

While the taxing jurisdictions' consultants maintain that they are not doing appraisal work or appraisal consulting work, a review of USPAP definitions suggests differently. The Uniform Standards define appraisal consulting as "the act or process of developing an analysis, recommendation, or opinion to solve a problem, where an opinion of value is a component of the analysis leading to the assignment results."

The Uniform Standards also indicate that an appraisal may be numerically expressed as a "range of numbers or as a relationship (e.g. not more than, nor less than) to a previous value opinion or numerical benchmark (e.g. assessed value, collateral value)." Clearly, concluding that certain properties are under-assessed requires a conclusion of value and a comparison to an existing assessment benchmark. The point is, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck--or in this case, an appraisal.

Allowing consultants to wander the tax lists on the basis of bounty hunting for under-assessed properties is essentially a free trip for the taxing authorities, which bear no burden of cost. When the targets are identified and appeals are filed to increase the assessments, the consultants are rewarded for their efforts by being paid a fee contingent on whatever additional revenue is raised.

If taxing authorities had to fund these efforts on an ongoing basis, rather than on a contingent fee basis, much of this bounty hunting would end. Moreover, if state licensing authorities would examine this conduct under existing appraisal law and the Uniform Standards, the inevitable conclusion would be that appraisal consulting services are taking place. Again, this would serve to restrain the current, unbridled practice of targeting large taxpayers.

 

Garippa155 John E. Garippa is senior partner and Brian A. Fowler is an associate in the law firm of Garippa, Lotz & Giannuario with offices in Montclair, N.J., the New Jersey member of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
FowlerPhoto90  
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Sep
28

What Revaluation Means for Chicago

"In Chicago specifically, the most telling statistic may be the lack of property sales. From an average of 50,000 to 55,000 Cook County sales per year in the boom years, sales in the last three years have not exceeded 5,500 per year..."

By James P. Regan, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, September 2012

Cook County, Ill. systematically revalues all properties for taxation every three years, and 2012 is the reassessment year for Chicago. The last revaluation took place in 2009, shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the Great Recession. The county has already sent reassessment notices to real estate owners in the northern sections of Chicago and will notify those in the rest of the city of the proposed assessed value of their properties over the next six months. The 2012 assessment will be used to determine each Chicagoan's real estate taxes through 2014.

Homeowners and business owners alike should pay close attention to this year's revaluation. Real estate has undergone a significant value loss since 2008, and that alone makes the 2012 revaluation a defining event for Chicago's property owners.

Assessment officials strive to make the process as transparent as possible, and the notices contain a wealth of information about the property and its assessment history. At neighborhood meetings throughout the city, officials stress that the proposed 2012 assessment contained in the notice is only the first step in a process, and that every taxpayer has the opportunity to provide evidence which shows that the proposed assessment inaccurately reflects the property's value. The assessor calculates values using mass appraisal techniques applied to data amassed on all segments of the city's real estate markets, but recognizes that each property is unique and that market data can be made more precise by information provided by the property owner.

Despite the efforts at transparency, the process of producing a final tax bill is not restricted solely to valuation. The budgets of local agencies funded by real estate taxes affect the bill as well.

The assessment process

Real estate taxes are an ad valorem tax, or dependent upon how much the property is worth. Illinois relates taxes to the fair cash value of the property. Simply said, the assessor must determine how much the property would have sold for as of Jan. 1, 2012. The primary purpose for assessment valuation is to determine the fair share of taxes and to assure that each property is uniformly taxed in accord with its value.

Value loss must be considered in that context. The real estate markets—residential and commercial—were at the heart of the boom of the last decade. In the last three years real estate has, in turn, felt the full force of the burst bubble. According to the Moody's REAL Commercial Property Price Index, as of the first quarter 2011, office, industrial, apartments and retail properties had all fallen back to 2003 value levels.

regan reevaluationChicago

In Chicago specifically, the most telling statistic may be the lack of property sales. From an average of 50,000 to 55,000 Cook County sales per year in the boom years, sales in the last three years have not exceeded 5,500 per year.

Office vacancy rates in the Central Business District have gone from 11.5 percent in 2008 to more than 20 percent as of the first quarter of 2012, according to MB Real Estate Services. Concessions and rent abatements continue for new tenants.

Retail rents declined from $18 per sq. ft. in 2009 to $16 per sq. ft. by 2011, according to Colliers International. And the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Prices Indices show that Chicago condominium prices in 2010 had fallen to 2002 levels, and that home prices closely followed the downturn in condos. Home prices were down 18.7 percent on an annual basis.

One could strongly argue that the decline in value, together with the paucity of sales, demands new methods to arrive at fair cash value. Income data is available to determine values more accurately determine, even for the residential and condo markets, and extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions.

The budget process

The other contributor to the real estate taxpayer's bill is the aggregate budget requirement of local schools, police, fire, county, city governmental, park districts and libraries, which determines the dollars that must be collected from real estate taxes. The assessment determines the proportion of that aggregate amount the individual taxpayer owes, based on property value.

Chicago's usage classifications further obfuscate the process: Residential properties are assessed at 10 percent of value while commercial properties are assessed at 25 percent. That triggers a state equalization factor, which is included in the computation of every taxpayer's bill. Experienced tax counsel can help taxpayers evaluate all these factors and determine whether to protest their assessment.

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.

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Sep
28

Tax Trap in Dallas

"Just because a value may have decreased from a previous year assessment doesn't translate into a correct assessed value. Make sure that the property is being valued correctly with the appropriate approaches to value—income, cost and sales comparison..."

By John Murphy, as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, September 2012

Since the beginning of the economic decline in 2008, property values have fluctuated in many Texas counties, including Dallas County. Now that the Dallas commercial real estate market is on the mend, commercial property owners must continue to monitor their property values and consider remedies available to appeal errant assessments.

Generally, the Dallas County real estate market has fared well over the past five years, having proven itself largely immune to the effects of the recession. In fact, the Dallas Central Appraisal District (DCAD) in July announced that overall property values increased this year for the first time since 2008, climbing by 1.4 percent. Commercial real estate drove the increase with a 4.6 percent gain that trumped a slight decline in residential values to boost the total tax roll.

Each July, DCAD produces an estimated value report which, after certification by the Dallas County Appraisal Review Board, is published as the Certified Estimated Value Report. This report summarizes tax roll estimates by property type, including commercial, business, personal and residential property. The report also provides a total value for all classes.

It is important to note that the appraisal district bases values on an effective date of Jan. 1 for each year, and that the certified estimated value is 100 percent of market value.

Popp Hutcheson conducted a market research study to determine changes in asking price per square foot for commercial properties in Dallas as of Jan. 1 for each year from 2008 through 2012. Please note, in the chart below, the research data represents an average of the three dominant commercial property types: office, industrial and retail.

dallas-values-600

Asking price per sq. ft. has fluctuated over the five years measured but does not correspond directly to the Dallas County Certified Estimated Values. Although the Dallas market did not suffer nearly as much as most counties in Texas and the U.S., it is clear that the market failed to adjust asking prices appropriately during and after the recession. This is especially true in 2009, when the average asking price increased despite market-wide value declines at the deepest point of the downturn. Arguably, DCAD tracked the recession more appropriately with decreases in Certified Estimated Values for each year.

 

What does this mean for the taxpayer?

The apparent disconnect between market value and asking prices in Dallas underscores the potential for overestimating taxable property values. While this is a macro-level view of certified values and asking prices, the point of all this is quite simple. The property owner must be diligent in tracking assessed value. Carefully review each notice of appraised value from the appraisal district and watch for any increases in assessments.

Just because a value may have decreased from a previous year assessment doesn't translate into a correct assessed value. Make sure that the property is being valued correctly with the appropriate approaches to value—income, cost and sales comparison. For example, an appraiser may value a 15-year-old, income-producing commercial property via the cost approach. That typically isn't the most appropriate method, because an assessor seldom appropriately captures all forms of depreciation (physical, functional and external) using the cost approach.

dallas-values-600

The income approach may be the most appropriate method for appeal purposes, and careful consideration should be taken in applying a true market rent, vacancy rate, collection loss, expense ratio and, of course, capitalization rate to arrive at an appropriate market value. Cost can be used as additional support, however, provided that all forms of depreciation are properly captured. The value indicated via these approaches should be very close, thus arriving at a reasonable concluded value.

Also make sure that the appraisal district has the correct building square footage, age, physical characteristics and land size on its record cards. DCAD, like most jurisdictions, has a difficult job tracking and making sure that each and every property is valued correctly. As with anything, mistakes happen and more often than a property owner may realize.

Additional remedies

Dallas taxpayers, as well as all Texas property owners, have a right to equal and uniform appraisals. Taxpayers need to seek professional help to determine whether their property is valued the same, from an equality and uniformity perspective, as competing properties in Dallas County.

DCAD's shrinking value estimates over the years do not ensure accurate assessments. Inappropriate valuation methods, clerical errors and unequal appraisals can all inflate taxable values, and it is extremely important to keep these risks in mind.

john-murphy-activeJohn Murphy is director of real estate assessments at the Austin, Texas-based law firm Popp Hutcheson which represents taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Sep
23

The Silver Lining of Increased Vacancy

"By demonstrating the scale of the reduction in income to the property and quantifying the precise loss in value through the process of income capitalization, a taxpayer can often reduce its tax burden..."

By Stephen Paul , Esq., as published by Real Estate Forum, September 2012

The clearest way to convey the bright side of declining commercial real estate values is through a residential example. At the height of the real estate boom in 2007, my wife and I received an unsolicited offer for a condominium we owned in Florida. The buyer was persistent and eventually paid us three times what we had paid only four years earlier. But because we still wanted a vacation place in Florida, we purchased a new condo as the market was topping out.

As soon as we moved into our new condo, the market crashed. Similar units in our development were soon selling for half the amount we had paid for ours. When my wife saw our first tax assessment, she was dismayed that our condo's value had dropped so far below our purchase price. But because we intended to hold onto the property for many years, and because our property taxes had decreased, the decline in assessed value actually improved our position.

For commercial real estate, the post-2008 increase in vacancy rates and the collapse of the capital markets have led to a substantial value loss. Value-weighted US commercial property values in June this year were down 30.7% from the peak of January 2010, according to the CoStar Commercial Repeat Sales Index. This cloud has a silver lining for property owners, however. The decline in the market creates an opportunity to reduce taxable value, increase the bottom line and begin to turn the property's value upward. To everything there is a season.

Real estate values, much like the real estate market itself, are largely cyclical. Tax assessors usually calculate commercial property value by capitalizing the property income. As rents decline, property value declines, both for business valuation and tax purposes. A lower assessment also reduces the tax bill.

Logically, any reduction in a major expense will raise net income. Other than debt service, the largest expense for most real estate is property tax. Consequently, as the tax load decreases, the property owner's bottom line increases.

Few local governments assess properties annually. Most properties are reassessed every three or four years, and the tax authority simply adjusts values annually to reflect general market changes. A property may carry an assessment from the market's peak or from a time when the property had less vacancy, thereby overstating the current value.

Assessors will not always reduce a property's assessed value simply because hard economic times have fallen on a region. The problem is further compounded because assessors rarely have access to a property's rent roll. When assessors choose to reduce values generally, the reduction may not be tied to a specific property's actual reduction in tenancy.

In most jurisdictions, however, when a building suffers from an inordinate loss through vacancy, the taxpayer can file a real estate tax appeal requesting an adjustment of the building's assessed value. By demonstrating the scale of the reduction in income to the property and quantifying the precise loss in value through the process of income capitalization, a taxpayer can often successfully and substantially reduce its tax burden. A successful tax appeal and the resulting reduction in tax burden can in turn help offset the loss of income caused by the building's excessive vacancy. Additionally, the lower assessment may remain in effect even as the market improves, resulting in savings for future years.

The tax reduction will boost the property's net operating income. In turn, this will raise the property's market value once the building's increased net operating income is capitalized into anindication of value. This cyclical cause and effect is a built-in economic buffer for owners whose properties suffer from above-normal vacancy rates.

Outside of the tax arena, if a property's expenses decrease and its net income increases, the owner may seek a professional appraisal of the property. An appraisal that accounts for the reduced tax burden may be used to secure more favorable financing, particularly for properties with underwater mortgages. Further, for owners looking to sell their properties, the decrease in the real estate tax load may counterbalance higher-than-average vacancy. A potential buyer will see a better return on investment with a lower tax burden and may be willing to pay more for the property than the occupancy alone would suggest.

By recognizing that there is a silver lining to excessive vacancy and by acting to secure a more favorable assessment, owners can better manage their taxes and keep their property's value elevated in lean times.

paul Stephen Paul is a partner in the law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels, the Indiana 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. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., associate, contributed to this article.

 

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Aug
27

Warning: Your Assessor Doesn't Understand Tax Credit Properties

Strategies for differentiating between LIHTC and conventional apartments

"In most jurisdictions, the assessor's statutory responsibility is to value a property at its market value as of a particular date. Assessors often have difficulty incorporating the restrictions spelled out in a tax credit property's Land Use Restriction Agreement (LURA)..."

By Gilbert D. Davila, Esq., as published by Affordable Housing Finance, July/August 2012

Owners of low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) properties face an unending struggle to keep their property tax assessments at a reasonable level. The fight continues because local assessing authorities receive little guidance from state legislatures and courts on how to account for the unique characteristics of a LIHTC project. Thus, assessors derive a tax credit project's assessment from traditional methods of valuing conventional apartments. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to inflated assessments.

No uniform approach

There is often little consensus across state taxing jurisdictions regarding how to account for tax credits in the valuation equation. Some jurisdictions include the value of the LIHTC allocation as part of a property's net operating income under the contention that the tax credits enhance a project's value in a way that a prospective buyer would take into account when estimating the property's value. The resulting higher property taxes make low-income housing less economically feasible, which undermines the credit program's goal of encouraging the development of affordable housing.

Other jurisdictions exclude tax credits from a project's income, arguing that inclusion of the tax credits leads to excessive assessments. LIHTC property owners should educate themselves on how their local assessor accounts for tax credits in the valuation process. Only then can they begin a meaningful conversation about LIHTC valuations versus conventional complex assessments.

In most jurisdictions, the assessor's statutory responsibility is to value a property at its market value as of a particular date. Assessors often have difficulty incorporating the restrictions spelled out in a tax credit property's Land Use Restriction Agreement (LURA) into their valuation analysis, so they fall back on three classic approaches to value: cost, sales comparison, and income.

It often falls on the LIHTC property owner to show the assessor why tax credit properties defy conventional market value definitions and approaches to value. In that discussion with the assessor, the property owner should incorporate the following points:

Cost and sales-comparison approaches inapplicable

The cost and sales approaches to value are almost never reliable methodologies for tax credit projects, and owners should aggressively protest valuations derived from these approaches.

A cost-based assessment is rarely a reliable value indicator for any multifamily project, much less a tax credit property. And development costs for a LIHTC project usually exceed those of similarly sized conventional projects, given the additional amenities required under the LURA. In addition, a replacement or reproduction cost estimate excludes value associated with the future tax credits and ignores income lost due to restrictions in the LURA.

It is easy to apply the salescomparison approach to a conventional complex because these properties trade frequently in the open marketplace. Sales of LIHTC projects are rare, and the terms and conditions may render the sales data unreliable.

For example, a transfer may occur under a "right of first refusal," in which case the sale price is negotiated well before the transfer date and may not relate to current market value. If the transfer is under a "qualified offer," then the price is based on a statutory formula unrelated to market conditions.

The modified income approach for LIHTC properties

The income approach is the most reliable valuation methodology to derive a tax credit project's property tax assessment, but it requires some special treatment. Typically, assessors using this approach will apply market rents, expense ratios, and capitalization rates into a direct-income pro forma to value the real estate. Owners of tax credit properties should argue for a modified income approach to account for key differences between conventional and LIHTC apartment projects. Here are the major differences:

1. Rents. A tax credit property operates under limited income potential due to the restrictions associated with the LURA and LIHTC regulations. Specifically, rental rate restrictions cause rents per unit to be much lower for a LIHTC project than for conventional properties.

A market rent factor derived from rental data associated with conventional apartment projects will lead to an inflated indication of effective gross income for a LIHTC project and, ultimately, an excessive assessment. Tax credit owners should argue for the use of their actual restricted rent amounts in the income analysis to arrive at a realistic representation of the property's income potential.

2. Expenses. Tax credit properties require management expertise and administrative duties that run up operating costs above those of conventional projects. Tax credit properties also see higher turnover rates than conventional apartments, so make-ready costs are greater.

Finally, rental rates are limited but expenses are not, so the actual expense ratios for tax credit projects are often well above the ratios assessors are willing to use for conventional apartments. LIHTC owners should provide the assessor with a copy of the LURA and point out the requirements that cause expenses to exceed conventional levels.

3. Marketability and capitalization rate. In their income analyses, assessors rely on a capitalization rate, or a buyer's initial annual rate of return based on price and the property's net income.

Assessors typically derive capitalization rates from sales of conventional apartments sold under the willing buyer, willing seller concept associated with most market value definitions.

As previously discussed, tax credit properties rarely sell. If a LIHTC complex does sell, the LURA dictates who the property can be sold to. What's more, tax credits expire after 10 years, but the restrictions may last for another 20 years, and the property's restrictions survive a sale. A purchaser would, in effect, be buying only the restrictions without getting the benefit of the credits. These factors make for an extremely illiquid and unmarketable asset.

A tax credit owner should argue that the assessment take into account the subject property's illiquidity, and the most logical place to do that is in the capitalization rate. The capitalization rate for a tax credit property should be higher than the rates used for conventional projects.

Using these talking points will help LIHTC owners demonstrate to the assessor the differences between tax credit and conventional apartments, which will ultimately lead to reduced assessments and property taxes.

 

GilbertDavila150 Gilbert Davila is a partner with Austin, Texas, law firm Popp Hutcheson, PLLC. The firm devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax matters and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Davila can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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