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Property Tax Resources

Apr
04

Value the Dirt or the Dollars?

Property taxes should reflect the value of the real estate being taxed, not the needs of governmental entities that share in the tax. However, assessors are under increasing pressure to maintain or enhance property tax revenue. The result is a growing and improper tendency by assessors to use the success of the enterprise occurring in the real estate as an indicator of taxable property value.

Value is the amount a willing and knowledgeable buyer would pay a willing and knowledgeable seller to acquire a property as of a certain date. This simple concept has engendered volumes of appraisal books, hours of testimony and endless discussion of how to segregate the real estate component from the whole of an enterprise.

The willing buyer, willing seller standard mandates the property is available for a buyer's use on the date of sale. For value purposes, any enterprise carried on within the property is absent on the date of sale. The buyer is not buying the business or any part of the business, only the place where the business operates.

The success of the business is independent from the property in which it operates; to approach valuation otherwise leads to invalid and inequitable results. An example would be a building designed and used as a single-screen cinema. One week it features a popular and highly promoted movie, and during that week the ticket sales are great. The theater is full and ticket lines extend outside for each showing. The following week the movie house runs a bad film, and ticket sales are low or non-existent.

To include enterprise value as a component of the value of the real property is to say the theater building is worth more the week it shows a popular movie than when it screens a flop. Meanwhile, a retail building is no more than a structure in which goods enter from the loading dock and exit the front in customers' hands, leaving money or credit behind. Effectively, the building is a conduit for an activity which could occur anywhere in that submarket.

There is little doubt that successful operations will garner higher property taxes than weaker businesses, which is unfair. To some extent, the assessor punishes the taxpayer for a successful enterprise, all too frequently raising the concept of sales per square foot as justification. This rationale also applies to big box national retailers as well as your local mom-and-pop barbeque joint.

Some businesses require government licenses, which may be site-specific and limited to certain people or entities. They do business in properties of specific design that are not easily modified to other uses. Bank charters and licenses for liquor sales or casino gambling are limited to specific facilities at a specific location. What value do these properties hold after the business leaves? Pull the license off the walls, now determine the value of a building that once was one of these enterprises. So, when the old home-town bank building no longer houses a bank, what is it worth?

By law, the former bank building is worth no more or no less than when a bank operated there.

To value it in use is to value the banking activity that occurred there. Taxing business activity isn't an element of property tax at all; it is an enterprise tax, impermissible and unauthorized by law.

Brick-and- mortar retailers are under attack from ecommerce, and the public is subjected daily to photos of dying malls and struggling shopping centers. It is widely accepted that the value of a shopping center drops when the anchor tenant vacates. But the taxable value should be unchanged, because the hypothetical buyer is purchasing a property ready for occupancy.

The prosperous business should not be punished for its success by the improper valuation of the place where the success happens. Dealing with the assessor, the owner must argue that taxable valuation is based on the property being vacant. That means the current occupant is presumed gone on the date of sale.

Any other approach values the enterprise occurring there.

Jerome Wallach is a partner at the Wallach Law Firm, the Missouri member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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Apr
03

Consider Appealing Assessments to Hurricane-Damaged Property

Owners of such damaged property need to explore a number of issues to ensure that their assessments reflect their losses.

Severe flooding and wind dam­age from Hurricane Harvey wrought widespread property damage across Southeast and Central Texas in August 2017. Several large counties, including Harris and Mont­gomery, sustained severe losses. As the deadline for property tax appeals approaches, there are several things to keep in mind, particularly if you own property that was damaged by the storm.

Texas law allows for reassessment of property damaged in a disaster area. A city, county, school district or other taxing jurisdiction may request a reappraisal, and the cost of the reappraisal must be covered by the requesting jurisdiction. The benefit for reappraised properties would be a proration of taxes based on the pre- and post-disaster values.

Only a handful of jurisdictions have approved a reappraisal at this time,but if your property was damaged during Hurricane Harvey, it would be wise to contact the appraisal dis­trict to see if any of the jurisdictions that tax the property have approved a reappraisal. That would take care of any relief that is available for tax year 2017. For 2018, assessed values are based on the condition of the property as of Jan. 1, 2018.

This time of year, appraisal districts across the state are working on their mass appraisal models and conduct­ing field inspections. The 2018 prop­erty tax values may reflect recent flood or wind damage that was not repaired. However, since the dam­age from Hurricane Harvey was vast and widespread, it remains uncertain whether affected counties will be able to adequately capture and reflect the effect of the storm damage in valua­tions. For that reason, it is important for property owners to be on the lookout for the Notice of Appraised Value and appeal that value during the appeal window if the valuation seems exces­sive or unfair.

Deadline Shortened

The property tax appeal deadline has changed from May 31 to May 15. Given the deadline has been moved up two weeks, now is the time to pre­pare for your 2018 property tax ap­peal by gathering the pertinent infor­mation that will be useful in fighting your assessed taxable value. It will be important to assemble documentation that shows the ex­tent of damage sustained due to the natural disaster. Taxpayers will find it beneficial to keep the appraisal dis­trict informed of any changes to the property.

Appraisal district websites have added features to allow property owners to submit information regard­ing damage to their property due to the storm. Keep detailed records of the extent of the damage, along with the cost of repair.

Demonstrating the condition of the property after the storm will go a long way toward ob­taining tax relief, so photographs of the damage are critical. If you hold any inventory or other personal property and typically elect a Sept. 1 inventory appraisal date, you may have suffered significant losses as of that date. If so, it will be especially important to provide records of the goods lost, and docu­ment whether any of the inventory was salvageable as of Sept.1.

If you are a commercial real estate owner and have tenants that were affected by the hurricane, keep track of any concessions in the way of free rent or tenant improvements that you may have given as relief. For owners of hotels or apartments, keep in mind two main consider­ations:

First, if there was damage, the loss in revenue and ability to produce future income may be significant fac­tors that the appraisal districts would be willing to consider and account for.

Second, if your property is undam­aged and in or near an affected area, you may have seen an uptick in rev­enue at the end of the year due to in­ creased demand for temporary hous­ing. The increase in revenue is not realistic stabilized income, however, and shouldnot be used to derive your 2018 taxable property value.

Further even if your property did not sustain physical storm damage, appraisal districts will be consider­ing the effect of flooding and damage to neighborhoods and surrounding properties when making market ad­justments to your property. It is im­portant to consider this when determining whether or not to appeal the value for tax year 2018.

The amount of property tax relief provided in the wake of Hurricane Harvey will largely depend on the amount of damage and where prop­erty owners were in the rebuilding process on Jan. 1. However, to obtain the best result, protest your appraised value on time, keep detailed records of both the damage sustained and the repair cost, and track concessions to tenants and lost income. And remember that, as a general rule, the more detailed and specific your records are, the better they will support a request for a lower prop­erty tax value.

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  • Owners of such damaged property need to explore a number of issues to ensure that their assessments reflect their losses.
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Feb
22

Snakes In The Property Tax Woodpile

Real estate acquisitions and improvements harbor traps for the unwary taxpayer.

Estimating the costs of purchasing or improving real proper ties may seem a simple exercise. However, tax traps await owners who are unaware of the dangers to avoid or otherwise veer off the trail. Prudent investors will be alert to the hidden tax snakes inherent in real estate decisions. Missteps taken at the time of purchase can lead to substantially higher property taxes later. To avoid these snakebites, the prudent investor will carefully research a property's existing tax treatment before closing, consider whether to execute an allocation engagement and ensure that the transaction is properly documented.


In some states, statutory caps limit valuation increases that would oth­erwise rise to reflect the market. For example, California's Proposition 13 limits increases in assessed value to 2 percent per year even if the property's market value is increasing at a faster rate, so long as ownership remains unchanged. Property owners should know that acquisitions and improve­ments can dramatically impact tax values that were previously limited by statutory caps.

In most states, acquisitions trigger reassessments at the next applicable valuation date. In researching existing tax values prior to purchase, prospec­tive buyers often research the taxing authority's online tax records. Online research may fail to distinguish be­tween capped or taxable value versus fair market value, however. If the ac­quisition removes the prior cap and the buyer estimates taxes based on the capped value rather than the fair market value, the new property owner could be in for a very rude awakening come tax time.  

Acquisitions can also change dead­lines for filing tax appeals in some ju­risdictions. For example, the normal filing deadline for appeals in South Carolina is January 15, but most coun­ty assessors will mail new assessment notices during the year following an acquisition. In those circumstances, the filing deadline is 90 days after the date of the reassessment notice.

Failure to take simple but essential steps in documenting a purchase can have substantial tax ramifications. For example, South Carolina law poten­tially exempts as much as 25 percent of a commercial property's purchase price from later ad valorem taxation, but only if the purchaser files for the exemption on or before January 30 fol­lowing the closing. Failure to file can cost purchasers tens of thousands of tax dollars or more. Yet many purchas­ers are unaware of this exemption un­til after they receive the new tax bill, when it is generally too late to file for the exemption.

Closing documents can increase future property tax bills. Many asses­sors calculate taxable value based on the consideration recited in a deed. Purchasers typically acquire income­ producing properties based on existing or potential cash flow.It is the com­bination of the real property, tangible personal property and intangible per­sonal property which generates that cash flow.

The deed consideration should re­flect only the value of the real property and improvements, not the total trans­action value. Similarly, title insurance should reflect the real property's value and exclude value attributable to tan­gible or intangible personal property. A well-thought-out allocation agreement potentially simplifies later record keep­ing and yields significant savings on income, property and transfer taxes, sometimes worth millions of dollars.

For example, operating hotels are generally sold as going concerns. That distinct from the underlying real es­tate. The hotel's intangible personal property, such as its brand, reserva­tion system or on-line presence, may substantially increase cash flow but is generally exempt from ad valorem tax­ation.Using the transaction's value, rather than the value of the real estate and improvements, in the deed not only increases documentary stamps but could lead to unwarranted higher ad valorem taxes.

Pre-purchase cost segregation stud­ies are often useful in documenting these separate values, but many pur­chasers and their lenders are reluctant to engage in this component analysis. For example, large hotel loans typical­ly proceed from a lender 's corporate loan department,not the real estate de­partment, and with good reason. Loan officers can be reluctant to explain to their superiors or to regulators why title insurance values might be lower than the face amount of the note, when the loan is really underwritten on the value of the cash flow and not the in­dividual components contributing to that cash flow. That reluctance could manifest itself in reduced loans being made available for borrowers.

Similarly, loans secured by retail real estate occupied by national credit ten­ants previously garnered less scrutiny from lenders and regulators in assessing loan risk. That laissez faire attitude may be changing as e-commerce erodes sales at brick-and-mortar stores, which continue to close in large numbers.

In some jurisdictions, changes in the property's condition such as a vacancy by a major retail tenant do not trigger a reassessment, and may not be factored into tax bills. The key inquiry in those situations is whether the change in condition occurred after the applicable valuation date.

Property improvements also cre­ate taxation pitfalls. In states that cap taxable property values, the caps may come off when improvements are made. In other words, the cost of im­provements could include not only construction expenses but also a substantially greater tax burden.

The effect of improvements on prop­erty taxes varies by jurisdiction. Flor­ida has adopted a bright-line test that examines whether the completed improvement increases value by at least 25 percent. California law protects properties from reassessment so long as any work is normal maintenance or repair, or the improvement does not convert the property to a state "substantially equivalent to new." Whether new construction or improvements fall into this category is "a factual deter­mination that must be made on a case­ by-case basis," the California statute states. South Carolina law contains no such guidance.

Timing also matters. Most jurisdic­tions prohibit taxing improvements until after the improvements are com­pleted, as defined by applicable stat­ute. If the applicable valuation date is Dec. 31, 2018, an owner might consider delaying completion until after Jan. 1,2019, to delay a major tax increase. Re­gardless, careful analysis and plannirig can help property owners address the hidden cost of increased taxes.With careful planning, the prudent property owner can avoid being bit­ten by the lurking snake of increased property taxes and walk the property tax trail with confidence.

­


Morris Ellison is a partner in the Charleston, S.C., office of the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson LLP. The firm is the South Carolina member of the 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.

Deck - Summary for use on blog & category landing pages

  • Real estate acquisitions and improvements harbor traps for the unwary taxpayer.
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Feb
01

Missing Property Tax Deadlines Costs Money

Put filing deadlines and other key tax dates on the calendar to preserve your rights to appeal and protect incentives.

Timing can be everything when it comes to property tax appeals. Failure to file an appeal on time will almost certainly lead to its dis­missal, and paying taxes too late can lead to the same fate. Those aren't the only important dates to keep in mind when it comes to property taxes, however. Knowing the correct assessment dates, exemp­tion filing periods and other relevant time elements can be critical for a taxpayer looking to minimize its property tax liability.

At a basic level, all taxpayers should know when to file returns, when assessors determine values, when protests and appeals must be filed, when taxing entities issue tax bills and when payment is due. This may seem simple enough, but there is often more than meets the eye. These dates vary from state to state, county to county and even municipality to municipality. Many jurisdictions revalue real property annually, while others do so on a less frequent cycle. In some jurisdictions, such as Florida, a taxpayer may re­ceive a discount for paying property taxes early. The following are some examples of timing issues that a taxpayer should keep in mind.

Assessment, Valuation Dates

Each jurisdiction assesses real and personal property as of a certain date each year. Many states, including Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, use a valuation date of Jan.1. In Alabama, the valuation date is Oct. 1 of the year proceeding the tax year, such as a valuation date of Oct. 1 2017, for the 2018 tax year, with a tax bill due Oct. 1,2018, and tax payments deemed delinquent if not paid by Dec.31,2018. Events occurring at or to the property after the assessment/valuation date are typically excluded from consideration when determining the taxability or value of the property for the relevant tax year.

The assessment or valuation date can have significant implications for the owner's property tax liability. For instance, a casualty event could result in vastly different assessments depending on whether the property damage occurred a few days before or a few days after the applicable valuation date.If a purchaser's new use will result in the property losing an exemption or being assessed at a higher assessment ratio, there might be an opportunity for substantial first-year tax savings if the closing occurs after the relevant assessment or valuation date.

The assessment date will also determine which sales and rent comparable examples the assessor can consider, and which years of income information are relevant. In the case of construction in progress, knowing the valuation date and properly documenting the status of construction as of that date can greatly affect the assessed value.

The assessment date may also dictate who is entitled to receive notices, file property tax protests or claim exemptions, so it is important for a purchaser to consider these issues at closing to ensure that its rights are protected. A prudent purchaser should promptly ensure that the property is assessed in its name and request that the seller immediately forward any tax notices it receives. Tax appeals are often required to be filed in the owner's name as of the assessment date, and in such cases, a purchaser should obtain the right to appeal in the name of the previous owner.

Some jurisdictions reappraise property on an annual basis, with values subject to increase or decrease each year, while others are on longer reappraisal cycles of up to six years. In jurisdictions with multiyear reappraisal cycles,there still may be instances where a value is adjusted before the next appraisal cycle, including new construction, casualty, sale of the property or other conditions.

Assessment, Claim Deadlines

Most states have various exemptions, property tax incentives and favorable assessment classifications that, when applicable, must be claimed with the local assessor. These may include charitable exemptions, current-use valuation for timber or agricultural properties, statutory abatements and the like. In many jurisdictions, properties are broken down into classifications such as commercial or residential, which may be assessed at a higher or lower rate.

In order to receive the benefit of these exemptions or lower assessment rates, it is of utmost importance to comply with all filing deadlines. In certain instances, exemptions and other favorable assessments can be waived if the taxpayer fails to claim them within the prescribed time periods.

Taxpayers must also remember to file personal property returns on time, where applicable. Missing a deadline can result in penalties, incorrect assessments and the waiver of exemptions. The person preparing the return should confirm the correct assessment date to ensure that only those items owned on the applicable assessment date are included on the return.

Protest, Appeal Deadlines

A taxpayer must be diligent in determining when valuation notices are issued (if at all) and the correct deadlines for filing protests to dispute high valuations. The failure to do so may result in missed deadlines, waiver of appeal rights and the payment of excessive taxes. Protest deadlines can vary widely, even within the same state, and are often 30 days or less from the date of the valuation notice. In some instances such as in Alabama when the value has not increased from the previous year, no notice is even required to be sent. Therefore, it is incumbent on the taxpayer to determine when the values were issued and what date protests must be received.

Appeals beyond the initial administrative level typically have specific filing deadlines and other procedural and jurisdictional requirements that must be strictly met in order to maintain an appeal. These requirements may include paying the taxes before they become delinquent, filing of a bond and other procedural requirements that are not always intuitive, so it is important to consult with local professionals who are well acquainted with the requirements in any particular jurisdiction.

Deck - Summary for use on blog & category landing pages

  • Put filing deadlines and other key tax dates on the calendar to preserve your rights to appeal and protect incentives.
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Jan
30

Attorney: Owners Need to Investigate Whether Possible Tax Increases from New Tax Law can be Abated

''While Republicans and Democrats remain divided on the overhaul's benefits, there is a single undeniable fact: The sharp reduction of the corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent will be a boon for most businesses"

President Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the first sweeping reform of the tax code in more than 30 years. Signed into law on Dec. 22, 2017, the plan drops top individual rates to 37 percent and doubles the child tax credit; it cuts income taxes, doubles the standard deduction, lessens the alternative minimum tax for individuals, and eliminates many personal exemptions, such as the state and local tax deduction, colloquially known as SALT.

While Republicans and Democrats remain divided on the overhaul's benefits, there is a single undeniable fact: The sharp reduction of the corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent will be a boon for most businesses. At the same time, employees seem to be benefiting too, with AT&T handing out $1,000 bonuses to some 200,000 workers, Fifth Third Bancorp awarding $1,000 bonuses to 75 percent of its workers, Wells Fargo raising its minimum wage by 11 percent and other companies sharing some of the increased profits with employees. Companies are showing understandable exuberance at the prospect of lower tax liability, but investments many firms are making in response to the changes may trigger increases in their property tax bills.

Some companies already are reinvesting in their own infrastructure by improving and upgrading inefficient machinery or renovating aging structures. Renovations to address functional or economic obsolescence can help to attract new tenants and, most significantly,command higher rental rates for the same space.

The real property tax systems in place for most states are based on an ad valorem (latin for "according to value") taxation method. Thus, the real estate taxes are based upon the market value of the underlying real estate. Since the amounts on tax bills are based on a property's market value, changes or additions to the real estate can affect the taxes collected by the municipality.

Generally speaking, most renovations such as new facades, windows, heating or air conditioning will not change the value or assessment on a property. The general rule is that improvements that do not change the property's footprint or use, such as a shift from industrial to retail, shouldn't affect the property tax assessment. However, an expans1on or construction that alters the layout of a property can -and usually does -result in an increased property assessment. Since realestate taxes are computed by multiplying the subject assessment by the tax rate, these changes or renovations can significantly increase the tax burden.

Tax Exemptions Available for Property Improvements

Recognizing that this dynamic could chill business expansions, many states offer a mechanism to phase-in or exempt any assessment increases. This can ease the sticker shock of a markedly higher property tax bill once construction is complete.

New York offers recourse in the form of the Business Investment Exemption described in Section 485-b of the Real Property Tax Law. If the cost of the business improvements exceeds $10,000 and the construction is complete with a certificate of occupancy issued, the Section 485-b exemption will phase-in any increase in assessment over a 10-year period. The taxpayer will see a 50 percent exemption on the increase in the first year, followed by 5 percent less of the exemption in each year thereafter. Thus, in year two there will be a 45 percent exemption, 40 percent in year three and so on.

Most other states have similar programs to encourage busmess investments and new commercialconstruction or renovations. The State of Texas has established state and local economic development programs that provide incentives for companies to invest and expand in local communities.For example, the Tax Abatement Act, codified in Chapter 312 of the tax code, exempts from realproperty taxation all or part of an increase in value due to recent construction, not to exceed 10 years. The act's stated purpose is to help cities, counties and special­ purpose districts to attract new industries, encourage the development and improvement of existing businesses and promote capital investment by easing the increased property tax burden on certain projects for a fixed period.

Not long ago, the City of Philadelphia enacted a 10-year tax abatement from realestate taxes resulting from new construction or improvements to commercial properties. Similarly,the State of Oregon offers numerous property tax abatement programs, with titles such as the Strategic Investment Program and Enterprise Zones.

Minnesota goes a step further and automatically applies some exemptions to real property via the Plat Law. The Plat Law phases-in assessment increases of bare land when it is platted for development. As long as the land is not transferred and not yet improved with a permanent structure, any increase in assessment will be exempt. Platted vacant land is subject to different phase-in provisions depending on whether it is in a metropolitan or non-metropolitan county.

Clearly, no matter where commercial real estate is located, it is prudent for a property owner to investigate whether any recent improvements, construction or renovations can qualify for property tax relief.



Jason M. Penighetti is an attorney at the Mineola, N.Y., law firm of Koeppel Martone & Leistman LLP, the New York State member of AmericanProperty Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Contact him at JPenighetti@taxcert. com.
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Jan
05

RETAIL SUFFERS FROM EXCESSIVE TAX ASSESSMENTS Assessors attempt to ignore market realities when valuing retail property.

Retail property owners' pursuit of fair treatment in real estate taxation seems to generate a river of appeals and counter-appeals each year. What makes this ongoing melee especially perplexing and frus­trating for property owners is a sense that taxing entities will often ignore market realities and established valu­ation practices to insist upon inequi­table, inflated assessments. This tendency to forsake indus­try norms is rampant, and calls for a dose of reality. This article uses the term "real value" to describe that of­ten ignored element of true property value or genuine value of the real es­tate only, meaning the market value that buyers and sellers recognize as a product of an asset's attributes and the real-world conditions affecting it. Real value in this usage is not a legal term, but encompasses issues that real estate brokers, property owners, appraisers, lawyers and tax managers regularly discuss in retail valuation. The array of issues that affect real value or market value range from the influence of ecommerce on in-store sales to build-to-suit leases, sales of vacant space, capi­talization rates for malls of varying quality, proper ac­counting for eco­nomic or functional obsolesce and more.

All of these important and timely issues find their way into an age-old discussion of how to properly value the real estate, and only the real estate, in retail properties for property tax purposes. Although these topics may involve complex calcula­tions or judgments, buyers and sell­ers regularly use these concepts to ar­rive at mutually agreeable transaction prices, which is exactly the sort of real value that assessors should recognize for taxation. Some taxpayers may be surprised to learn that the arms-length sale of a property on the open market isn't universally accepted among taxing entities as representing that property's real or taxable value. The path to rem­edying assessors' tendency to avoid finding the real value of the real estate only is to educate tax authorities and their assessors by appealing unjust as­sessments, and by sharing the details of beneficial case law that continues to shape tax practices across the country.

Cases in Point
Tax laws vary from state to state so that the applicable principle that comes from the case decision in one region may not fit neatly in another region. Nevertheless, trends and con­cepts are always important guideposts that need to be recognized. Taxpayers who present case law from other re­gions to their local courts can begin the process of introducing the truth of real value in their market. A number of new retail property tax cases have come from the Midwest. These cases deal with issues that tax­ payers coast to coast have argued and continue to argue in the struggle to establish real value in court for retail property. ln 2016, the Indiana Tax Court heard an appeal from the Marion County tax assessor, who was unhappy with an Indiana Board of Tax Review decision that granted lowered assessments on Lafayette Square Mall for the 2006 and 2007 tax years. The assessor had origi­nally valued the property at $56.3 mil­lion for 2006, but the county's Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeal re­duced that amount by more than half. Simon Property Group, which owned the mall during the years in question, appealed to the Board of Tax Review, which further reduced the property's taxable value to $15.3 million for 2006 and $18.6 million for 2007. During the appeal, taxpayer, Simon Property Group, presented evidence of the mall's $18 million sale in late 2007. It stated it had begun to market the property for sale because it was suffering from vacancy and leasing is­sues and the property no longer fit its investment mission. The taxpayer's appraiser indepen­dently verified the sale and concluded it to be arms-length, having been ad­equately marketed and there being no relationship between buyer and seller and no special concessions for financ­ing.This scenario seems like what most of us in the tax assessment community would consider a textbook example of market-defined value. Yet the county assessor appealed the review board's conclusion to the tax court.

What is noteworthy here is that the court affirmed the tax board's conclu­sions, which were also in line with the taxpayer's evidence from a real-world transaction. The sad part about this event is that it required years of review and expense to prove that a sale in the open market reflected value. In Michigan in 2014, the Court of Appeals heard a case presented at the Michigan Tax Tribunal which con­cluded in favor of the taxpayer, Lowe's Home Centers. The case is significant because the court accepted a market­ based value as true taxable value. The taxpayer's expert testified re­garding its appraisals and indicated that they were appraising fee simple interest or the value of the property to an owner, and at the highest and best use as a retail store, valued as vacant. They distinguished between existing facilities and build-to-suit facilities, ex­plaining that the subject property is an existing facility and that the build-to­ suit market rent or sale price is based upon cost of construction, whereas the existing market sale price or rent is a function of supply and demand in the marketplace. Basing his analysis on the above fun­damental premise, the taxpayer's ap­praiser valued the property in detail. Again, what makes this case signifi­cant is that the tribunal accepted the taxpayer's argument, and the court af­firmed that decision.

Incremental Acceptance
While these principles seem univer­sal, they have been rejected in many regions of our country. Tax-assessing communities wage battles to impose excessive values based on a rejection of the actual market. As most tax systems are based in the market value concept, the only resource for these taxing juris­dictions is to distort the concept. These issues are as old as dirt, but resolution remains elusive. The lesson here for the retail prop­erty owner appealing an assessment is to advance arguments that reflect real-world conditions supported by evi­dence. The decisions in these cases and others tell us that someone is listening to those arguments, and taking heed.

​Philip Giannuario is a partner at the Montclair New Jersey, law firm Garippa, Lotz & Giannuario. the New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Philip Giannuario can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Jan
05

Struggling with Vacancy? You May Get a Break on Property Taxes

To determine whether your property may qualify for relief, identify the market occupancy rate for that property type and submarket.

In many states, abnormally high vacancy at commercial properties should mean a lower tax bill. Market transaction evidence essentially dictates this result: States that assess taxable value on commercial properties based on market value, as though leased at market rents, should allow a deduction from that value when the property incurs above-market vacancy and collection losses.

Would buyers pay as much for a vacant income-producing property as they would for an identical property that is fully leased at market rates? Of course not. For the same reason, in states that value the property as though leased at market rents, below-market occupancy should result in a lower property tax assessment.

To determine whether your property may qualify for relief, identify the market occupancy rate for that property type and submarket. Loan underwriting is a good source of this information because lenders underwrite property loans based on the normal, stabilized occupancy rate.

For example, in many areas lenders assume 95 percent stabilized occupancy for shopping centers. In those areas, a shopping center that is only 80 percent occupied has below-market occupancy and, therefore, is worth less than otherwise similar properties with the higher market occupancy rates.

Similarly, the prospect of the imminent departure of a major tenant reduces the price a buyer would pay, even if the property currently enjoys market occupancy. And a vacant anchor space diminishes value even when the owner continues to receive rent on the dark space. All these circumstances signal an opportunity for property tax relief.

Start the process

If any of these circumstances apply, the best first step is usually to contact the tax assessor's office and inform the appraiser responsible for valuing the subject property. Providing data about the vacancy problem may be all it takes to reduce taxable value in the next assessment.

If this fails to achieve a reduced value, consider a property tax appeal. Engaging counsel experienced with property tax matters will help the owner evaluate the merits of appeal opportunities. Counsel may also be able to give the conversation with the assessor's office a fresh try.

An appraisal may be necessary to support a property tax appeal. The property owner's counsel should help select a good appraiser who can testify, if necessary. Counsel will also instruct the appraiser on what will be needed for property tax purposes.

Deduct a vacancy shortfall

In states where below-market occupancy affects property tax valuation, the appraiser should engage in a two-step analysis. First, determine the property's stabilized value. Then estimate the amount of vacancy shortfall to deduct from the stabilized value to account for the costs, risk, effort and skill that a buyer of the property would require to bring it to stabilized occupancy.

The three components of a vacancy shortfall deduction are direct costs, indirect or opportunity costs and entrepreneurial incentive. Direct costs include tenant improvements and leasing commissions that would be required to lease up the vacant space. Indirect costs include lost rent until the space is leased, lost expense recoveries and any free rent or other concessions the new tenants would require, based on market lease terms.

Finally, the entrepreneurial incentive profit margin represents the additional deduction from the stabilized value that value-add investors require for the extra risk, skill and effort required to bring the property to stabilized occupancy. The entrepreneurial incentive profit margin can range from as little as 20 percent to over 100 percent of the vacancy shortfall costs.

Another approach to account for entrepreneurial incentive is to increase the capitalization rate used in the income approach to calculating stabilized value during the first step. That does not show the effect of the abnormal vacancy as clearly. Ideally, step one includes several valuation approaches rather than relying on the income approach alone and concludes a reconciled value as if stabilized. Then the full effect of the abnormal vacancy can be isolated in the second step of the appraisal (i.e., in the vacancy shortfall analysis).

To value property with below-market occupancy, the appraiser must understand how buyers and sellers treat such properties in actual transactions. The appraiser will need to verify comparable sales prices directly with buyers and sellers or their brokers to determine how they determined the selling price for properties that sold subject to below-market occupancy. Though each party to the transaction may differ in its analysis, both will likely have performed this two-part examination to determine the as-is selling price of the struggling property. This market evidence will bolster the subject property's tax appraisal.

Just as a buyer typically would negotiate a lower price for deferred maintenance such as a leaky roof, buyers pay less for properties struggling with vacancy issues. Typically value-add investors expect a significantly higher return to compensate them for the elevated risks of trying to create additional value. Many states appropriately recognize this in lower property tax assessments.

Michelle DeLappe and Norman J. Bruns are attorneys in the Seattle office of Garvey Schubert Barer, where they specialize in state and local taxes. Bruns is the Idaho and Washington representative 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.  DeLappe can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..​
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Dec
30

Time for your Annual Property Tax Check

Question: What do the following have in common? A developer of a new mixed-use power center. The owner-operator of nursing homes or assisted living facilities. A national retailer with a large distribution center. A 100+ unit multifamily owner or manager. The owner of hotel chain. A high-tech manufacturer with a research and development facility. Answer: They all pay property taxes.

Whether you are a real estate investor or need real estate to house and facilitate your business operation, your real estate taxes will be one of your highest expenses, and one that you must pay even if your property is vacant or underperforming. Now is the time for your yearly check-up on your Ohio properties to determine whether the values that form the basis of your property taxes are fair.

Review your assessment

Start by reviewing the assessment on your tax bills. In Ohio, your tax valuation should reflect a reasonable sale price under typical market circumstances for the land and improvements as of the tax lien date of January 1, 2017. Verify that the information in the county records is accurate. For many Ohio counties, including Cuyahoga, much of this information will be online. Double-check building size, land size, year built, number of stories, etc.

Grounds for a change in value

The following are the most common types of evidence considered by boards of revision, which is the initial reviewing body:

Sale

One way to demonstrate value is with a recent, arm's length sale price. Generally, if a sale occurred within two years of tax lien date, did not include any non-real estate items, and was typically motivated, the price will be good evidence of the real estate value for tax purposes.

Appraisal

An appraisal can also be used to justify a change in value. Appraisal done for tax appeals must value the property as of the tax lien date. The appraiser should also be ready to testify at the hearing. Appraisals for tax appeals may have requirements that are not necessarily present for appraisals for other purposes, such as financing, so it is helpful to talk to someone familiar with the process.

Property Conditions

If there are unusual conditions, severe deferred maintenance, sudden changes in occupancy, or ongoing vacancy issues that affect the value of your real estate, that information should be brought to the attention of the board. Recent sales of properties similar to yours that support a lower value for your property may also help demonstrate that your valuation is incorrect.

Filing Deadline

The deadline to contest your assessment for properties in all Ohio counties is March 31. Because it falls on a Saturday in 2018, the deadline will be extended to April 2. The complaint form can be obtained from the county in which the property is located. The form is only one page; however, there are restrictions on who can file a complaint (i.e. what relationship they have to the property) as well as some technical requirements that may be missed by those unfamiliar with them. Generally, only one complaint can be filed per triennial period, although there are some exceptions.Once the deadline has passed for a particular tax year, the chance to contest that assessment is lost.

Procedure

After your complaint is filed, the local school district where the property is located has the opportunity to file a counter-complaint. After the period to file both complaints and counter-complaints has expired, the county board of revision will schedule a hearing. Each county board has its own rules regarding the submittal of evidence, requests for continuances, etc. At the board of revision hearing you will have the opportunity to explain why the assessment of your property is inaccurate. Boards of revision are not generally bound by the Ohio Rules of Evidence; boards are also empowered to conduct their own research. The board of revision may adopt the value you are seeking; it may make no change, or grant you are partial decrease. It may even increase the value, so it is important to consider carefully before filing a complaint.

Appealing the BOR decision

If you do not agree with the decision of the board of revision (BOR), you can appeal it to the county court of common pleas, or the Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) in Columbus. The BTA is an administrative tribunal that only hears tax related cases. Proceedings at this level are more formal than at the board of revision. Prior to September 29 of this year, a decision of the BTA could be directly appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. Now any appeals from the Board of Tax Appeals and courts of appeals to the Ohio Supreme Court are discretionary and not as of right. The Supreme Court can decide not to hear your case. It is unclear yet the consequences of this recent legislative change, but there may be an increase in disparate treatment across the state as a result.

School district increase complaints

All Ohio taxpayers should be aware that Ohio is one of the few states (Pennsylvania is another) where school districts are enabled to file an action to get your tax valuation increased. Usually, this occurs when a recent purchase price is higher than the most recent tax assessment. Be aware of how the taxes will be prorated when you are working on a sale transaction. Depending on the timing of the sale, you may end up owing additional taxes for a period during which you did not actually own the property.

No one enjoys paying taxes, but with some research and preparation, you can make sure that your share of the real estate tax burden is fair.

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Dec
29

Great Big Box Win

In The Court Of Appeals Of The State Of Kansas In The Matter Of The Equalization Appeal Of Target Corporation, For The Year 2015 In Sedgwick County, Kansas.

Syllabus By The Court

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Dec
13

Cecilia J. Hyun, Promoted To Partner Of Siegel Jennings

Siegel Jennings is pleased to announce that Cecilia J. Hyun has been promoted to Partner. Ms. Hyun has been an associate at the firm for the past ten years and represents taxpayers in all aspects of the property tax challenge process from local review boards through the Ohio Supreme Court, reviews and monitors property tax assessments, and counsels investors on tax implications of acquisition and disposition.

Ms. Hyun is the 2017 President of CREW Cleveland, a chapter of CREW Network, an organization of approximately 10,000 commercial real estate professionals of all disciplines located in 70+ major markets in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. She previously served as CREW Cleveland's Director of Communications and as the chapter's CREW Network Liaison. In the last 5 years, she has been recognized as CREW Cleveland's Member of the Year, received the chapter's Leadership Award, named after founding member Deborah Rocker Klausner, as well as the Member to Member Business Award.

Her articles on property tax issues have been published in the Heartland Real Estate Business, Properties Magazine, Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Bar Journal, and the IPT Insider. Her article, "Big-box retail offers property tax lessons for industrial owners" published in the National Real Estate Investor is referenced in the IAAO Library Big-Box Retail Store Valuation Subject Guide.

Ms. Hyun, based in the firm's Cleveland office, received her B.A. from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and her J.D., magna cum laude, from the Cleveland Marshall College of Law. 

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American Property Tax Counsel

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