b. The Assessor relied on Williamson’s analysis of the sales of six properties that he described as being comparable to the subject property. The sales-comparison approach “estimates the total value of the property directly by comparing it to similar, or comparable, properties that have sold in the market.” MANUAL at 2. For such an analysis to be probative, however, it must comply with generally accepted appraisal principles. The Board therefore looks more closely both at Williamson’s analysis and at Yum’s criticisms of it.
c. Williamson followed the sales-comparison approach in form, if not always in substance. He identified vacant properties that were generally similar to the subject property in terms of characteristics that tend to affect value. For example, he compared average daily traffic counts for the roads bordering the properties and the quality of access to the properties. Both those factors likely affect the comparability of the properties. The same is true for other characteristics he examined, such as zoning and topography.
d. Williamson qualitatively adjusted each property’s sale price by rating the property as superior, inferior, or equal to the subject parcel for each element of comparison. He then determined an overall rating for the property. But Williamson did not explain how he arrived at his overall ratings. For example, he did not describe the relative significance of his various elements of comparison.
e. He also overlooked an important factor that likely affects the subject parcel’s market value-in-use—it is burdened by an easement that prohibits any building being constructed on it. Williamson admitted that he did not know whether any of his comparable properties were burdened by similar restrictions on their use. It is unlikely that they were; the buyers all built restaurants after they bought the properties.
f. Nonetheless, Williamson did not feel that the restrictions were significant. As he testified, the subject parcel is not used independently but rather as part of the operations of the Taco Bell restaurant on an adjoining parcel. It is not entirely clear whether that is an accurate characterization—the Assessor offered little information about the Taco Bell parcel. For example, it is unclear whether the same entity owns both parcels. But if one takes Williamson’s characterization that the parcels are operated together as essentially one property at face value, the subject parcel’s value cannot easily be divorced from the market value-in-use of the larger property as a whole. Yet Williamson sought to value the subject parcel independently of the rest of the property.
g. Granted, Yum may have steered Williamson in that direction by appealing only the subject parcel’s assessment and not the Taco Bell parcel’s assessment. But that does not change how the subject parcel was being used, and the Assessor might have presented both properties as a single economic unit for valuation purposes.
h. Questions about easements and the relationship between parcels aside, Williamson’s failure to investigate the sales that he used in his analysis further detracts from the reliability of his valuation opinion. At most, Williamson consulted either sales disclosure forms or other records that reflect sale prices taken from those forms. He did not confirm the sales with the parties or brokers or otherwise investigate the circumstances surrounding the sales. For example, he had no idea about the extent to which the properties were exposed to the market. Indeed, Williamson gave little assurance that he followed generally accepted appraisal principles in forming his valuation opinion. When asked if he complied with USPAP, Williamson replied only that he followed USPAP’s ethics rule and code of conduct but not the provisions that apply to appraisers.
i. Taken as a whole, Williamson’s valuation opinion is too unreliable to be probative of the subject parcel’s market value in use. The only other evidence that the Assessor offered was Williamson’s testimony that the parcel was assessed using a land rate taken from a study performed by MAI appraisers. But he offered no details about how the appraisers reached their conclusions or how those conclusions apply to the subject parcel. His vague testimony about that land study therefore lacks probative value.
j. Because the Assessor offered no probative evidence to show the subject parcel’s market value-in-use, she failed to meet her burden of proving that its 2012 assessment was correct. That assessment must therefore be reduced to the previous year’s level of $298,100.