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Property Tax Resources

Feb
22

Tax Matters: Critical Issues for Taxpayers Desiring Tax Reductions

"Many assessors routinely send Chapter 91 requests to taxpayers seeking information about income producing property."

By John E. Garippa, Esq., as published by Globest.com Commercial Real Estate News and Property Resource, February 22nd, 2008.

New Jersey taxpayers need to know about two critical issues as they consider possibilities for property tax relief.

The first issue is the filing deadline. All property tax appeals in New Jersey must be filed no later than April 1, 2008. This date requires that the appeal be received by the Tax Court on that date. Merely mailing the appeal with a postmark of April 1st will result in a dismissal. As a precaution, taxpayers would be well advised to file their appeal anytime after January 1, 2008. When the appeal is filed, all property taxes due and owing must be paid in order for the appeal to be considered by the court.

The second issue revolves around the need to timely respond to Chapter 91 requests that have been made by the assessor. Many assessors routinely send Chapter 91 requests to taxpayers seeking information about income producing property. These requests, which must be answered within 45 days of receipt, are sometimes ignored by taxpayers. That is a fatal error. If the assessor sends out such a request, it must be answered in order for the taxpayer to have the right to file a tax appeal the following year. Many valid tax appeals have been dismissed for this failure.

GarippaJohn E. Garippa is senior partner of the law firm of Garippa, Lotz & Giannuario with offices in Montclair and Philadelphia. He is also the president of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Feb
08

ICAP Would Trim Developers' Incentives

Under the proposed ICAP legislation, retail facilities benefits would be dramatically reduced

"Most knowledgeable developers disagree with restricting the program's benefits and eligibility and want the program extended unchanged."

By Joel R. Marcus, Esq., as published by Real Estate New York, February 2008

The Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program is New York City's largest commercial real estate incentive program, with approximately 15,000 applications filed since its 1984 inception. KIP provides partial real estate tax exemptions for new and renovated industrial and commercial buildings in most areas of the city. While the program's renewal seems certain, it's likely to undergo significant legislative revisions.

Critics contend that lClP operates at a substantial fiscal loss for the city, with approximately $371 million in real estate tax revenues foregone in 2006 alone. The city demands reforms to the current ICIP. Specifically, they want to restrict benefits to commercial and manufacturing buildings in geographic areas that truly require special real estate tax incentives to encourage construction, stimulate employment and foster significant new economic activity. Most knowledgeable developers disagree with restricting the program's benefits and eligibility and want the program extended unchanged. In the proposed legislation, three elements are particularly noteworthy:

1. Abatement vs. Exemption

The current IClP offers tax exemption for new and renovated buildings based upon building assessment increases directly attributable to construction, i.e. "physical increases" described in the application. Industrial and commercial buildings located in special exemption areas also qualify for exemption from assessment increases arising from inflation or market value appreciation, i.e. "equalization increases." It appears ICIP amendments will provide a tax abatement rather than an exemption. For that reason, the revised legislation is generally referred to as the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program. While exemptions reduce the amount of assessment subject to real estate taxation, abatement's are tax credits that directly reduce tax liabilities imposed upon the property. A project's abatement base will reflect the difference between the assessed value of the completed building and 11 5% of its pre-construction assessed value.

2. Reduction of Retail Eligibility

Under the proposed new lCAP legislation, benefits for retail facilities would be dramatically reduced and would depend upon the type of project and its location. Critics of KIP contend that new retail facilities frequently displace sales from existing locations in the city rather than create new economic activity. Retail space within newly constructed or renovated commercial buildings in Manhattan south of City Hall would remain eligible for [CAP benefits. Commercial buildings in Manhattan between City Hall and 59th Street would not be eligible for abatement benefits on any retail space greater than 5% of the total floor area. In regular commercial benefit areas, retail space in excess of 10% of the building's floor area would not qualify for abatement benefits.

3. Reduction of Eligible Construction Period

The old ICIP program called for commercial or industrial construction work to be performed between the date the first building permit is issued and the sixth taxable status date (Jan. 5) there after. Failure to meet these construction benchmarks would not mean denial of benefits but merely serves as a cap on the exemption base.

Under ICAP, owners generally would have to complete new buildings within five years of the permit date and renovation projects within two years of the permit date. Failure to complete construction within these periods would mean revocation of all abatement benefits granted from inception. The abatement base would be limited to physical assessment increases within three years after the permit date for new buildings and one year after the permit date for renovations. ICAP would reduce the lClP construction period from almost six years to one to three years, depending upon whether the project is a new or renovated structure. Clearly, ICAP offers far less generous benefits than those available under KIP. To capture lClP benefits, owners must 1) file a preliminary application with the New York City Department of Finance prior to June 30,2008 and 2) obtain a building permit no later than July 31,2008. These dates are critical if owners want to qualify their projects under IClP rather than ICAP.

MarcusPhoto290Joel R. Marcus is a partner at the law firm of Marcus & Pollack LLP: a member of American Property Tax Counsel, an 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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Feb
08

When the Cost Approach Proves Unfair

Using comparable market sales for taxation can correct errors assessor errors.

"The tax professionals' initial work identified three relatively recent sales of comparable properties that suffered from functional and external obsolescence, much like the taxpayer's property."

By Stewart L. Mandell, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor, February 2008

Assessors typically value industrial and commercial properties using a cost approach that starts with land value, adds the cost of property improvements and subtracts some physical depreciation, often based on the property's age. Deducting only the physical depreciation from a property tax valuation often results in egregiously excessive taxation. However, by applying data regarding comparable market sales, taxpayers can remedy this problem, sometimes with extraordinary results.

Seldom are such factors as functional or external obsolescence, which can dramatically diminish property values, used in assessors' property tax valuations. Functional obsolescence arises from the flaws that exist in a property. Examples include an abnormal size, shape, or height, concrete floors that are exceptionally deep or too shallow and so forth.

External obsolescence results from outside forces such as industrial properties becoming vacant because production moves offshore, or a change in tax laws that reduces commercial property values. Fortunately, data from comparable property sale can be used to identify specific amounts of functional and external obsolescence; amounts that must be deducted from assessors' valuations to eliminate unlawfully excessive taxation.

Consider an industrial facility with above market operating expenses that houses manufacturing barely surviving global competition. In an actual case similar to this example, the assessor made a mere 4% reduction for functional and external obsolescence even after the taxpayer had fully described the obsolescence. Ultimately the taxpayer retained property tax professionals who knew how to use sales of comparable properties to demonstrate the diminished values the obsolescence caused.

How the process works

Assessor's records commonly contain errors in a property's age, total square footage, net leasable area, number of units, unit mix, and facility amenities. An error in the property's basic data can significantly increase a property's overall assessment. Providing a current rent roll to the assessor can help correct mistakes in a property's basic data. An owner may also wish to produce a site plan for the property along with the most recent marketing materials that show the project's different floor plans and amenities. Correcting basic errors in the assessor's records remains the simplest path to lower a tax assessment.

The tax professionals' initial work identified three relatively recent sales of comparable properties that suffered from functional and external obsolescence, much like the taxpayer's property. The professionals used these sales to quantify depreciation in a way that enabled them to reasonably estimate the obsolescence in the taxpayer's property. Using the steps followed by the professionals, taxpayers can garner stunning property tax reductions. Here's how:

  • Determine the value of improvements by subtracting the value of the land from its sale price for each of the comparable properties.
  • Determine the construction cost of improvements when new by researching construction costs in national estimating services such as Marshall Valuation.
  • Calculate the property's total depreciation by subtracting the value of the improvements today from the cost to construct the improvements.
  • Ascertain physical depreciation by dividing the property's effective age by its life expectancy.
  • Estimate functional and economic obsolescence by subtracting the physical depreciation from its total depreciation.

The taxpayer's reward

Completing this analysis for the three comparable sales produced an indication of functional and external obsolescence that was far greater than the assessor recognized in his assessment. Having established a 40% to 48% range for obsolescence, the professionals then determined whether any further adjustments were warranted such as those due to differences between the sold properties and the taxpayer's property.

For example, unlike the sold properties, the taxpayer's property was both excessively large and had an unusual shape. These features would cause the taxpayer's property to suffer from even greater obsolescence than the sold properties.

As a result of the analysis, the assessor agreed that a proper cost approach required both the physical depreciation originally calculated plus an additional 40% reduction for obsolescence, an $8 million assessment reduction.

This example demonstrates that the property owner was able to deduct functional and external obsolescence without relying on an income analysis. In this case, property was located in a market where virtually all of the industrial properties were either owner occupied or vacant, making it impossible to obtain income information.

In the cost approach, where physical depreciation represents the only deduction, taxpayers should expect that properties with functional and external obsolescence will be overvalued.

When that happens it is crucial that taxpayers take action. To paraphrase the renowned philosopher, Mick Jagger, when it comes to property taxation, taxpayers may not be able to get what they want, but armed with the right information and professional assistance, they may be able to get what they need.

MandellPhoto90Stewart L. Mandell is a partner in the law firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, the Michigan member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC). He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Feb
08

Taxpayers Beware: New Jersey Sets Revaluation

"Over the past 18 months, the residential market has faced significant erosion and downward pricing pressure with the subprime mortgage meltdown reducing the value of most residential property. The increasing inventory of unsold housing units causes additional downward pressure."

By John E. Garippa , Esq. as published by Real Estate New Jersey, February 2008

At the start of a new year, it is vitally important for New Jersey taxpayers to understand the challenges they should expect regarding property tax assessments. For 2008, many taxing jurisdictions have completed municipal-wide revaluations. Under New Jersey law, in a revaluation all tax parcels are valued at 100% of fair market value. The revaluation set for the 2008 tax year values all property as of October 1, 2007.

The difficulty in properly completing this assignment arises because it generally takes 18 months to properly complete an accurate revaluation. Most often, in the process of their work, revaluation firms consider comparable sales data and comparable income data derived during a 12-month period prior to the October 1 st date. They place greater reliance on that data which is closest to the October 1 st date.

Problems occur with revaluations when the data relied upon does not accurately measure the true value of property at October 1, 2007. In some markets, where a significant value change takes place, accuracy is almost impossible. This year that market will almost certainly be residential revaluations.

Over the past 18 months, the residential market has faced significant erosion and downward pricing pressure with the subprime mortgage meltdown reducing the value of most residential property. The increasing inventory of unsold housing units causes additional downward pressure. Revaluations commencing in 2008 are relying upon sales dating back to 2006, still a period of strength for the residential market. Taxpayers should carefully review their tax notices to determine if these revaluation notices accurately reflect the value of their property as of October 1, 2007.

In Commercial, a continuing challenge will be the fact that now most assessors routinely send Chapter 91 requests to taxpayers every year. These requests are designed to assist the assessor in determining current information about all income-producing property within a taxing jurisdiction. A taxpayer has 45 days to respond to this inquiry.

A failure to respond results in the automatic dismissal of any tax appeal filed thereafter for that tax year. Every year, hundreds of tax appeals are dismissed by the Tax Court because taxpayers failed to properly respond to these requests. While all taxpayers should be diligent in answering Chapter 91 requests, owners with larger portfolios need to stay particularly vigilant regarding these requests.

Taxpayers owning income-producing property also face challenges. High vacancies continue to be seen in many office markets, and the prospect of a slowdown in the economy puts pressure on many commercial values as well. Likewise, with the subprime mortgage market affecting other sectors, retail properties will face price pressure.

All of this makes valuing these properties difficult during 2008. Many of these properties will be worth less in the months after October 1, 2007, than they were prior to October 1. While that fact may not assist in reducing an assessment for 2008, it can be useful in negotiating assessments for 2009.

Key Points You Need to Know: Remember, it is not unusual during the tax appeal process for a tax assessor to request a dismissal for a prior year in order to reduce the following year's tax assessment. This allows the assessor to reduce an assessment for a subsequent year prior to collecting any taxes. The ploy puts the taxing jurisdiction in a position where they will not have to pay any property tax refunds.

The law in New Jersey presumes that assessments are correct. The burden falls on the taxpayer to demonstrate through probative evidence that the value placed by the assessor isn't correct. This makes it especially difficult for taxpayers when market value changes month to month and value must be proven as of October 1, 2007.

Once the tax rolls are closed and certified, a procedure that takes place by the end of the prior tax year, only by filing a valid tax appeal can an assessment be lawfully changed. The tax appeal process can be difficult and expensive, requiring significant proofs. Each taxpayer needs to be aware of the significant difficulties involved, and the fact that these problems are even more pressing when significant economic issues come into play.

Valuing real property in normal static times is difficult enough, valuing them during times of significant change can be almost impossible. Taxpayers face significant obstacles throughout all of 2008 as they try to obtain equitable tax assessments. Bringing together the combined knowledge and expertise of your entire tax team will benefit taxpayers in this tough environment.

GarippaJohn E. Garippa is senior partner of the law firm of Garippa, Lotz & Giannuario with offices in Montclair and Philadelphia. Mr. Garippa is also the president of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Feb
08

Simple Steps To Slicing Your Property Tax Bill

Correcting basic errors in the assessor's records remains the simplest path to lower a tax assessment

"A multifamily owner should definitely appeal an assessment if the assessor's value exceeds the owner's estimate of the property's market value."

By Gilbert D. Davila, Esq., as published by Apartment Finance Today, February 2008

Simple Errors Can Cost Big Money

An assessor's records indicate that a particular project has a net leasable area of 175,000 square feet and has been valued at $45 per square feet, which equates to an assessment of $7.875 million. In reality, however, the project only contains 160,000 square feet and should be valued at $7.2 million. This one error alone results in a significant $675,000 over-assessment. Were the owner to find a second mistake in the records, such as the valuation of a $150,000 swimming pool that did not exist at the property, the excessive valuation based on errors in basic data would be even more egregious.

The two recording errors in the scenario would amount to $825,000 in excessive valuation, or more than 10 percent of the initial valuation. A review of the assessor's records in this example would have netted the owner almost $25,000 in tax savings in a jurisdiction with a $3 mill rate for every $100 of value.

Property tax expenses can have a huge impact on a project's bottom line. Multifamily developers and owners must constantly monitor their property tax valuations to make a decision about whether to appeal the assessment. Once the valuation is appealed, the owner must decide how to combat the excessive valuation. An overview of the common mistakes made by assessors can help owners develop arguments for lower tax assessments. In most jurisdictions, assessors have a statutory responsibility to value a property at its market value as of a particular valuation date. A multifamily owner should definitely appeal an assessment if the assessor's value exceeds the owner's estimate of the property's market value.

Three factors should be considered before making a decision to appeal. First, procedural and valuation laws vary from state to state. Owners should discuss the procedures for appeal and the possibility of success with a tax specialist in the state where the property is located.

Second, the costs associated with an appeal and the potential tax savings from such an appeal should be evaluated to ensure that the protest makes economic sense. Third, the practical aspects of the appeal must be considered, such as the time and resources required for the appeal and the documents needed to make an effective case.

After working through these issues, most multifamily owners find it worth while to proceed with an assessment appeal. Once the appeal decision has been made, the next step is organizing the valuation arguments and gathering the documents that support the property owner's opinion of value.

Most often, a successful assessment appeal is based on outlining and attacking errors made by the assessor in the valuation process. Answering the following five questions will help you mount your argument.

1. Is my property data correct?

Assessor's records commonly contain errors in a property's age, total square footage, net leasable area, number of units, unit mix, and facility amenities. An error in the property's basic data can significantly increase a property's overall assessment. Providing a current rent roll to the assessor can help correct mistakes in a property's basic data. An owner may also wish to produce a site plan for the property along with the most recent marketing materials that show the project's different floor plans and amenities. Correcting basic errors in the assessor's records remains the simplest path to lower a tax assessment.

2. How did the assessor arrive at my valuation?

Assessors will commonly derive a market value using one or more of the three classic approaches to value: cost, income, or sales comparison. The cost approach is arguably the least reliable approach to value if the property is more than several years old, especially given the difficulties of estimating depreciation and obsolescence factors for older properties. An assessor will most likely rely on an income and/or sales comparison approach when determining an apartment's valuation. Value reductions can be gained by disputing how the assessor has applied a valuation methodology to a specific property.

3. How did the assessor apply the income approach?

In an income approach, assessors typically use market-driven rent, vacancy, and expense factors to arrive at a net operating income (NOI) figure that is then capitalized using a market capitalization rate. Conversely, multifamily owners typically estimate market value based on the actual cash flow generated by the property. The differences between actual cash flows and market factors can often support a value reduction. Owners should challenge the market factors used by the assessor and support the challenge with data taken directly from the property's current and previous year's operating statements, if such data is in the owner's favor.

Often, the market factors used in the assessor's income approach rely on data taken from properties that are not truly comparable to the property being assessed. A property's operating statement can help distinguish the owner's property from "comparable" properties that lead to higher assessments. Pointing out specific income and expense items can show trends in rental rates, occupancy, and expenses that differ from the market trends alleged by the assessor.

Many times in an income approach the assessor will understate the allowance for vacancy and for concessions provided to tenants. Owners can present assessing authorities with rent rolls and monthly occupancy reports to portray the property's occupancy trends, compare the property's occupancy levels with market comparables, and outline concessions and allowances given to maintain occupancy.

Finally, assessors often apply artificially low capitalization rates to NOI to support a higher valuation. The capitalization rates are usually derived from sales of comparable properties that are either not truly comparable or have unique characteristics that do not qualify the sales as true market transactions. Owners should push the assessor to provide data that supports the capitalization rates being used and, thus, distinguishes the comparable sales as not truly comparable.

4. How did the assessor apply the sales comparison approach?

Aggressive assessments often result from the assessor's reliance on the recent sales prices of comparable properties. A property owner can usually discredit comparable sales by outlining the physical and economic differences between the properties sold and the assessed property. More specifically, the owner can point out to the assessor that the factors influencing a buyer's decision to purchase a property cannot be known unless the assessor was a party to the transaction.

For example, a purchaser may have obtained below-market financing or might have been motivated by time constraints or income tax consequences when acquiring the comparable property. The assessor cannot categorize a sale as comparable unless all the purchasing factors are known. Apartment owners must make sure that assessors under stand the meaning of comparability.

A common mistake made by assessors is assuming that a purchase price equals market value. An apartment owner should not avoid a tax appeal simply because the recent purchase price of their complex was higher than the taxable value of the property. Owners pay for properties based on their analysis of factors beyond real estate. As a result, a purchase price should provide no more than a touch stone for an assessor. Taxpayers arguing against a purchase price as the basis for value should outline for the assessor the factors that were considered in purchasing the property, such as special financing considerations and how the actual performance of the property differs from projections made at the time of purchase.

5. Did the assessor consider equality and uniformity?

Most taxing jurisdictions require that assessments among comparable properties be equal and uniform. The fact that assessors often value apartment projects without considering the assessment of like properties presents an additional opportunity for owners to argue for a reduced assessment.

A taxpayer's assessment should fall within a uniform range of values when compared to other comparable properties. Apartment owners should compare their property's assessment to other comparable properties on a square footage and per-unit basis, with the owner's market survey usually being a good place to begin. If an owner's property is assessed disproportionately higher than the comparable properties, an argument can be made for a value reduction based on equality and uniformity, regardless of the assessor's market value claims.

DavilaPhoto90Glibert D. Davila is a partner with the Austin, Texas law firm of 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. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Feb
08

New Approach Produces Hotel Property Tax Reductions

"Generally, the fee simple income approach has not been explicitly applied to hotel properties."

By Jim Popp, Esq., as published by Hotel News Resource, January 9th, 2008

A two step process has become the most common method used to value a hotel for property tax purposes. The first step calls for applying the income approach, which values the total assets of a hotel's business. The next step requires an allocation of the total assets of the business to segregate the real property, personal property and business enterprise components. Although this approach is well accepted in the appraisal community and the appraisal literature, it often draws opposition from property tax authorities. To address this opposition, the following alternative valuation method has been employed successfully in negotiations with tax authorities. Its success results from the fact that the approach is similar to the methodology tax authorities frequently use on less complex properties. That makes it easy to explain and tax authorities are comfortable with its use.

The key issue in this alternative valuation method involves the use of fee simple principles applied to the income approach. A distinction exists in the application of the income approach generally used for property tax purposes (the fee simple approach) and the application used for acquisitions, due diligence or financing considerations (leased fee approach).

In using fee simple, income parameters are developed from the overall market rather than from the specific parameters of the property being assessed. Specifically, the fee simple approach determines market rent/income and occupancy and utilizes these factors in developing market values. Conversely, the leased fee approach uses the actual rent/income of the property and the actual occupancy. The differences in resulting value may be significant.

The concept of the fee simple income approach has been generally applied and accepted with regard to office buildings, apartments, retail centers and similar properties and is uniformly used by tax authorities. They are familiar with its application and derivation. Generally, the fee simple income approach has not been explicitly applied to hotel properties.

However, several hotel owners and appraisers have successfully applied the approach to hotel properties. They determined the fee simple characteristics of the hotel in comparison to its leased fee characteristics and then made an adjustment to deduct the business enterprise component from the income stream.

Of course, the first step requires the taxpayer to determine the hotel's competitive set. Then, a review of the income attributes of the competitive set is conducted to determine such components as REVPAR, room rates and occupancy. The market place rate for these components should be determined and then applied to the taxpayer's hotel. For example, if the REVPAR of the competitive set equals $100 and the REVPAR of the hotel property comes in at $120, the income stream of the hotel for purposes of the property tax income approach should be adjusted to the market REVPAR of $100.

The result of this adjustment process produces the fee simple income approach value attributable to the total assets of the hotel's business. The next step calls for subtracting the remaining business enterprise value portion. The hotel's brand name represents the most significant business value component. Some, but not all of this was subtracted in the REVPAR analysis. The remainder of the brand name is removed in this step. In addition, deductions should be made for such business intangibles as work force in place, working capital and profit centers.

This alternative approach has been used successfully in the property tax trial of a major brand full service hotel. In point of fact, a most practical use of the approach lies in negotiations with tax authorities. The breaking of the process into steps provides tax authorities with a more understandable and comfortable approach under which to evaluate possible tax reductions.

JimPopp140Jim Popp is a partner with the Austin, Texas law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC. The firm devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. Popp can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Dec
11

Big Boxes and Industrial Plants Unfairly Taxed

Assessors' misuse of highest and best use principle proves costly.

"To support inflated values, taxing units attempt to narrowly define the highest and best use of the property."

By Michael Shapiro, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor, December 2007

In many states, the war over property tax assessments based on "value to the owner" as opposed to "market value" has ended with a clear victory for market value. Nonetheless, some jurisdictions continue to try changing this outcome by misusing "highest and best use."

Assessors' attempts to misuse highest and best use can be seen most often in buildings used by big-box retailers and manufacturers, as opposed to properties such as hotels, office buildings and shop-

ping centers, typically valued using the income approach.

To support inflated values, taxing units attempt to narrowly define the highest and best use of the property. They claim that a taxpayer's comparable sales aren't evidence of market value because the sale properties have a different highest and best use than the property being assessed.

Two methods, two results

An assessor may contend, for example, that only stores purchased by Jones Corporation can be used to value a store used by Jones Corporation. This effectively eliminates comparable sales as a basis for valuation. One tax court addressed this issue when it held that a property's highest and best use cannot be defined "so narrowly that it precludes analysis and value based on market data."

The accompanying chart demonstrates the difference between the assessor's valuation of two big-box stores based on his narrow definition of highest and best use and the actual selling price of those same stores in the open market.

The assessor defined highest and best use as that use being exercised by that specific retailer. That definition led the assessor to value big-box store No. 1 at $62 per sq. ft. and big box store No. 2 at $58 per sq. ft. Actually, store No. 1 sold to another retailer for $49 per sq. ft. and store No. 2 was bought by a different retailer for $38 per sq. ft.By narrowly defining highest and best use, the assessor ignored market data and over assessed the property.

The relevance of a comparable sale's highest and best use was addressed in the case of Newport Center v. City of Jersey City. The New Jersey Tax Court held that a comparable sale should be admissible evidence of value, regardless of its highest and best use, if the claimed comparable sale provides logical, coherent support for an opinion of value.

Many jurisdictions want to effectively reinstate value to the owner, in legal terms called "value-in-use," as the lawful standard for property tax valuations, thereby inflating assessments by eliminating from consideration the sales-comparison approach to value. In the sales comparison approach, sales often provide the best indication of a big box or manufacturing property's market value.

Sales prices reflect loss in value from replacement cost due to obsolescence. That obsolescence generally includes a significant amount of external obsolescence, which represents loss in value caused by some negative influence outside the property.

For example, external obsolescence could result from limited market demand for a big-box store or manufacturing plant built to meet the needs of a specific user. Value may also be adversely influenced by functional obsolescence, a loss in value due to design deficiencies in the structure, such as inadequate ceiling heights, bay spacing or lighting.

Shapiro_Big_Boxes_NREI_Dec07_clip_image002

What's a comparable sale?

Appraisers are taught to only use sales comparables with the same or similar highest and best use to that of the property being appraised. However, even this limitation is too restrictive.

For example, years ago a former automobile assembly plant was offered for sale and eventually sold for demolition and construction of a shopping center. No automobile manufacturer, or for that matter any other manufacturer, was willing to pay more for this property than the developer who bought it to build a shopping center.

Thus, the market spoke and defined the market value of the former automobile plant. In short, if a property is physically similar to the property being valued, but sells for an unusual use, that sale should not necessarily be disregarded as a comparable sale.

The sale of the former automobile assembly plant for use as a shopping center may not be the ideal comparable sale to value industrial property. However, that sale certainly puts a cap, or limit, on the value of a similar industrial facility, subject of course to adjustments for relevant differences such as location or size.

By understanding the issues involved in using comparable sales to achieve market value assessments, taxpayers can successfully appeal property tax assessments when they are based on the misuse of highest and best use.

SHAPIRO_Michael2008Michael Shapiro is a partner in the law firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, the Michigan member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC). 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
08

421a Changes Increase Property Taxes

By Joel R. Marcus, Esq. as published in Real Estate New York, December 2007

The new law also curtails exemption benefits for as-of-right areas

"The new law, however, greatly expanded the exclusion zones throughout the city to include all of Manhattan and most of Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope, Sunset Park and Downtown Brooklyn; along with parts of Long Island City, Astoria, Woodside, Jackson Heights and Willets Point in Queens."

On Aug. 24, Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed into law three bills that dramatically revamped New York City's 421a exemption program. The program was created in 1971 to encourage the construction of new multifamily dwellings by granting a partial exemption from increases in real estate taxes resulting from the new residential construction.

The new law compared to the old law. The previous law covered only projects commend prior to July 1,2008 and made 421a benefits available in any area of the city, except for those areas identified as geographical exclusion areas. The areas not classified as exclusion areas are commonly called "as-of-right' areas. The exclusion areas generally included portions of Manhattan between 14th and 96 th streets and the Williamsburg-Greenpoint areas of Brooklyn. Projects qualified for benefits in the exclusion zones if at least 20% of the units were created as affordable housing or if the developer purchased negotiable certificates for creation of affordable housing units off-site.

The new law, however, greatly expanded the exclusion zones throughout the city to include all of Manhattan and most of Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope, Sunset Park and Downtown Brooklyn; along with parts of Long Island City, Astoria, Woodside, Jackson Heights and Willets Point in Queens. Projects started between July 1,2008 and Dec. 27,2010 in these areas qualify for benefits only if at least 20% of the building's units are affordable to families whose income at initial occupancy doesn't exceed 60% of the area median income.

The new law reduces 421a benefits outside the exclusion zones. The controversy surrounding the new citywide exclusion zones may obscure the fact that the new law dramatically curtails 421a exemption benefits for as-of-right areas.

Under the old law, all assessment increases in excess of the pre-construction assessment, commonly known as the mini-tax, were exempt. Under the new law, benefits for as-of right projects are restricted to the first $65,000 in assessed valuation per dwelling unit. The cap increases by 3% each year, beginning in 2009/10. For the current tax year, the cap is equal to $7,750 in actual taxes per unit ($65,000 x 11.928%).

The new law also dramatically reduces tax benefits for nonresidential space in new multifamily dwellings. Under the old law, up to 12% of the building area could be used for commercial purposes, without loss of exemption. Developers often incorporated valuable retail space in their buildings to lease at market rates while enjoying full 421a exemption benefits. Under the new law, all commercial space in a building is considered one unit and is subject to the $65,000 exemption cap, greatly reducing the tax break for commercial space.

To demonstrate the effect of the exemption cap, consider a new 100,000-sf condominium building with 100 dwelling units and one retail unit constructed in an as-of-right area. The building includes 12,000 sf of retail space and carries a $100,000 mini-tax. The completed building is assessed for $1 5 million. Under both the old and new laws, the project would qualify for a 15-year exemption benefit.

Under the old law, taxes during the construction period and for the first 11 years after completion equaled the mini-tax multiplied by the tax rate. Assuming that the 2007/08 tax rate of 11.928% remains in effect, annual taxes for the entire building would equal $1 1,9280 approximately $118 per residential and retail unit. The exemption would not be affected by the retail space as it does not exceed 12% of the building's floor area. Under the new law, taxes for the entire building, including the retail space, would still be the same mini-tax ($100,000) each year during construction. However, for the first 11 years after construction is completed, the 101 - unit building would be subject to the exemption cap, as adjusted. For the first year, only $6,565,000 (101 units x $65,000) of the building's $15-million assessment qualifies for exemption. Taxes for the fiat year of the benefit period would exceed $1 million for the building or approximately $9,960 per residential and retail unit, a 1,000% increase. The new law will likely affect the feasibility and pricing of all new projects.

MarcusPhoto290Joel R. Marcus is a partner at the law firm of Marcus & Pollack LLP: a member of American Property Tax Counsel, an 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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Dec
08

Freeze Act May Reduce Your Property Taxes

"When the taxpayer rejects the protection of the Freeze Act, they must file a tax appeal and prosecute it in the normal course of events. More often than not, a taxpayer thinks twice, or maybe more, about rejecting the Freeze Act's protection, since filing tax appeals requires significant expenditures of time and capital."

By John E. Garippa, Esq., as published by Real Estate New Jersey, December, 2007

New Jersey taxpayers have long struggled against high tax assessments and property taxes imposed by the tax authorities. Historically, even when taxpayers successfully reduced high assessments, there were taxing jurisdictions that filed appeals year after year to increase those reduced assessments. Despite the fact that a taxpayer successfully reduced his assessment in a court proceeding, there was nothing to prevent an increase in assessment for the following tax year.

As a result of this abuse of the system, the Legislature passed New Jersey Statute 54:51A-8, a law commonly referred to as the Freeze Act. The single greatest defensive tool any taxpayer in New Jersey can employ, it was passed to protect taxpayers from the need to file and prosecute annual tax appeals. Now more than ever, it has become crucial that taxpayers have a clear understanding of how the Freeze Act works and under what conditions it may not work.

For the Freeze Act to apply, a final judgment by the Tax Court must have been rendered regarding a real property tax assessment, and that judgment must be binding and conclusive on all parties, including the taxing district and municipal assessor. Generally, the Act makes that final judgment of the Tax Court binding for the next two successive assessment years.

However, exceptions exist to this general rule. If the taxpayer's property increased in value more than the general rate of increase in value of all other property in that taxing jurisdiction, the jurisdiction must file an appeal to void the Freeze. For the most part, the Tax Court has strictly interpreted this change in value standard in a manner that protects taxpayers.

The appeal process requires the tax authority to take two steps. In the first, they have to prove an increase in value more than other properties in the area. Second, they still bear the burden of proof in substantiating the correctness of their valuation of the property.

Some unusual external changes have precipitated the voiding of the Freeze Act protection. For instance, the increase in value of property in close proximity to the proposed casino district in Atlantic City gave rise to an increase in property value that voided the Freeze Act protection.

Another example of how the Freeze act was voided involved the development of a super regional mall near a commercial property that was protected under the Freeze Act. The court concluded that the construction of the super-regional mall and the development of the casino district in Atlantic City, in each instance, caused a substantial change in property values to commercial property in those vicinities.

The following four other conditions cause the Freeze Act to be voided: A complete reassessment or revaluation of all property in the taxing jurisdiction, the subdivision of a property, a zoning change to the property and any construction change to the property that results in an added assessment. In each of these conditions, the taxing jurisdiction merely asserts that one of these is met at the subject property. No need then exists for the court to determine if a change in value has occurred.

In certain circumstances, the taxpayer may determine that it is in their best interests to waive the protection of the Freeze and seek an even lower assessment. This situation may take place where real estate values continue to deflate. When the taxpayer rejects the protection of the Freeze Act, they must file a tax appeal and prosecute it in the normal course of events. More often than not, a taxpayer thinks twice, or maybe more, about rejecting the Freeze Act's protection, since filing tax appeals requires significant expenditures of time and capital.

The use of the Freeze Act and the decision to waive its protection requires an exercise of professional due diligence, which calls for the taxpayer to appraise the property to determine whether continued erosion in the value of the property or a change in the ratio of assessment to value in that taxing jurisdiction has been experienced. If a review of either of these determinants indicates that the property continues to be over assessed, it might be prudent to forsake the protection of the Freeze Act and proceed in filing an appeal.

However, this is not a step to be taken lightly because, in dealing with New Jersey property taxes, prudence is often the better part of valor.

GarippaJohn E. Garippa is a senior partner of the law firm of Garippa, Lotz & Giannuario of Montclair and Philadelphia. He is also the president of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Dec
07

New Opportunity for Hotel Property Tax Reductions

"In 2001, the Appraisal Institute developed Course 800, to provide the theoretical and analytical framework for separating the tangible and intangible assets of operating properties."

By Raymond Gray, Esq., as published by Hotel News Resource, December 7th, 2007

Disputes over hotel property taxes continue to mount all across the country and basically for one reason. Taxing authorities attempt to include both the real estate and the non-real estate values in developing their tax assessments when the law states that property taxes can be levied against only the real estate.

The appraisal profession established standards requiring that real estate must be separated from non-real estate interests for valuation purposes. Although the message is abundantly clear, the separation and measurement of the value of the tangible and intangible assets of operating properties, such as hotels, has been a challenge.

In 2001, the Appraisal Institute developed Course 800, to provide the theoretical and analytical framework for separating the tangible and intangible assets of operating properties. In 2005, Course 800 was slated for updating by the Institute and should have returned to the Institute education schedule in short order.

However, it appears that the course was lost in the rush to redevelop the entire Appraisal Institute curriculum due to the significant change in required hours for licensing and certification mandated by the Appraisal Foundation. Thus, the course was not offered by the Institute, leading a number of taxing jurisdictions and their experts to claim that Course 800 had been repudiated by the Institute and that the principles of the course were inapplicable to hotel valuation. The key underlying principles included economic and business value concepts such as:

  1. Defining and describing the 'total assets of the business' as distinguished from the 'going concern' concept,
  2. Providing a methodology to segregate and value individual income streams associated with a business enterprise, and
  3. Defining and describing the concept of 'capitalized economic profit'.

The Appraisal Institute has recently contracted with several members of the original development team, plus a couple of new contributors, to update Course 800. The preliminary outline suggests much of the original content will be incorporated in the update, especially the economic principles and business value concepts. There will be more real property case studies - highlighting the fact that this is not a 'hotel valuation course', but a course on valuing each of the value components of an operating property. The new course, anticipated to hit the market in mid-to-late 2008, is likely to take the form of a two-day seminar.

Hotel owners and managers will benefit greatly from the 'new Course 800'. As the appraising and assessing community become better educated on the principles espoused in this updated course, property owners and managers will find even greater success in appealing tax valuations that include anything other than tangible property.

raymondgray154x231pxRaymond Gray is a partner with the Austin, Texas law firm of 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. Gray can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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