Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Board Finds Petitioner's Appraisal Supported Reduction of Property's Value

Excerpts of the Board's Determination follow:

c) First, the Board turns to the Petitioners’ purchase of the subject property. The Petitioners testified that they purchased the subject property for $37,000 in 2006. However, the Petitioners purchased the property six years before the relevant valuation date and they offered no evidence to relate their purchase price to the March 1, 2012, valuation date. Thus, the Petitioners’ purchase price has no probative value. While the Petitioners’ $440-per-month rental income appears to be timelier, they offered no evidence as to how that income converts to property value. Thus, the Petitioners’ evidence regarding the rental contract has no probative value as well.

d) The Petitioners did, however, offer an appraisal. Specifically, an appraisal conducted by Mr. Reith, a certified appraiser, performed in accordance with USPAP. Mr. Reith estimated the subject property’s value at $25,000 as of December 31, 2011. An appraisal performed in conformance with generally recognized appraisal principles is often enough to establish a prima facie case that a property’s assessment is overvalued. See Meridian Towers, 805 N.E.2d at 479. Further, the appraisal’s effective date is only two months removed from the assessment’s valuation date. Thus, the Board finds that the Petitioners raised a prima facie case for reducing the assessment to $25,000.

e) Once the Petitioner establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the assessing official to rebut the Petitioner’s evidence. See American United Life Ins. Co. v. Maley, 803 N.E.2d 276 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2004). The assessing official must offer evidence that impeaches or rebuts the Petitioner’s evidence. Id.; Meridian Towers, 805 N.E.2d at 479.

f) The Respondent first attempted to impeach the Petitioners’ appraisal. Specifically, she claimed that the appraiser chose invalid sales in his sales-comparison analysis. However, the Respondent failed to offer any actual evidence that the appraiser was biased or that the appraisal was flawed. It is well within an appraiser’s expertise to choose sales he deems most comparable to the property under appeal and apply adjustments to those comparable properties to value the differences between them. Absent evidence to the contrary, the comparable properties the appraiser chose, or the adjustments he made in a USPAP-compliant appraisal will be deemed reasonable. Conclusory statements that the appraiser used invalid sales are not sufficient to rebut the Petitioners’ case here. See Hometowne Associates, L.P. v. Maley, 839 N.E.2d 269, 278 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2005) (“In none of these exchanges, however, did Mr. McHenry offer evidence rebutting the validity of Mr. Russel’s calculations. Rather, he merely made conclusory statements”). The Respondent, therefore, failed to rebut or impeach the Petitioners’ evidence that their property was over-valued for the 2012 assessment year.

g) The Respondent also tried to rebut the appraisal offered by the Petitioners by offering a competing sales-comparison analysis. The Respondent argued hers was superior to the Petitioners mainly because they were properties that sold in valid “arms-length transactions.” However, the Respondent failed to make a meaningful comparison of the properties. Conclusory statements that a property is “similar” or “comparable” to another property do not constitute probative evidence of the comparability of the properties. Long, 821 N.E.2d at 470. Instead, the proponent must identify the characteristics of the subject property and explain how those characteristics compare to the characteristics of the purportedly comparable properties. Id. at 471. Similarly, the proponent must explain how any differences between the properties affect their relative market values-in-use. Id. Aside from stating that her comparable properties were valid “arms-length transactions,” the only other comment the Respondent made when comparing the properties to the subject property was that the comparables were located in Mentone, like the subject property. This is not a meaningful comparison.

h) The Respondent did make a few adjustments to the sale prices on her comparable properties to take into account for differences. But those adjustments were not explained. While the appearance of her analysis may not differ significantly from those made by a certified appraiser in an appraisal report, the appraiser’s assertions are backed by his education, training, and experience. The appraiser also typically certifies that he complied with USPAP. Thus, the Board, as the trier-of-fact, can infer that the appraiser used objective data, where available, to quantify his adjustments. And where objective data was not available, the Board can infer that the appraiser relied on his education, training and experience to estimate a reliable quantification. There is no evidence that the Respondent is a licensed appraiser in Indiana. Moreover, she did not certify that her analysis complied with USPAP. The Board therefore finds that the Respondent’s sales-comparable analysis is insufficiently reliable to be probative of the property’s market value-in-use.

i) The Respondent did not support the assessment with substantial evidence.

j) In the alternative, the Board finds the credability of the appraisal offered by the Petitioners to outweigh the Respondent’s evidence of value.