Thursday, June 19, 2014

Board Finds Tax Sale Purchase of Property Failed to Support Reduction in Assessed Value

Excerpts of the Board's Determination follow:

c) As set forth above, the Petitioner’s exhibits were excluded due to Mr. Hiles’ failure to comply with 52 IAC 3-1-5(d). In lacking documentary evidence to support his claim that the assessment is wrong, Mr. Hiles’ contentions amount to little more than conclusory statements, and conclusory statements do not constitute probative evidence. Whitley Products, Inc. v. State Bd. of Tax Comm’rs, 704 N.E.2d 1113, 1120 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1998). Thus, the Petitioner failed to make a prima facie case that the subject properties assessments should be lowered.

d) The result in this appeal, however, would have been no different even if the Board had considered the Petitioner’s evidence. The photographs of the property Mr. Hiles offered show that the house is in very poor condition. But just showing a property is in poor or in unlivable condition is not enough to establish that the subject assessment is in error. Mr. Hiles needed to offer probative evidence that establishes the effect of that deferred maintenance on the subject property’s market value-in-use as of the assessment date. Without more, Mr. Hiles’ photographs and testimony are not enough to make a prima facie case for changing the assessment.

e) Mr. Hiles did attempt to offer some sales comparison evidence. Specifically, he offered opinions of three realtors, two of whom offered written opinions of value. The two written opinions were based on purportedly comparable sales. The third realtor merely provided MLS listings for purportedly comparable properties.

f) To effectively use any kind of comparison approach to value a property, however, one must establish that the properties are truly comparable. Conclusory statements that properties are “similar” or “comparable” are not sufficient. Long, 821 N.E.2d at 470. The Petitioner is “responsible for explaining to the Indiana Board the characteristics of their own property, how those characteristics compared to those of the purportedly comparable properties, and how any differences affected the relevant market value-in-use of the properties.” Id. at 471.

g) The realtors and Mr. Hiles failed to offer the type of evidence contemplated by Long. Only a small amount of information was provided regarding the purportedly comparable properties, and none of the realtors provided any adjustments for differences between the listed or sold properties and the subject properties.

h) Furthermore, nothing in the record indicates that the realtors’ letters of opinion were prepared in accordance with USPAP or followed generally accepted appraisal principles. Additionally, both of the realtor’s opinion letters are dated November 21, 2013, and neither realtor offered an explanation to relate their opinions of value to the March 1, 2012, valuation date. See Whitley Products, Inc., 704 N.E.2d at 1113, 1119 (explaining that unsupported conclusory statements are not probative evidence). Accordingly, even if these exhibits had been admitted into the record, they do not constitute probative evidence of what the subject property’s 2012 assessment should be.

i) The subject property was purchased at tax sale on January 12, 2012, for $2,423. True, a property’s sale price can be compelling evidence of its market value-in-use. The Petitioner does not say anything else about the purchase, except to say he purchased it at tax sale.

j) The Manual defines “market value.”

The most probable price (in terms of money) which a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, the buyer and seller each acting prudently and knowledgably, and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulus. Implicit in this definition is the consummation of a sale as of a specified date and the passing of title from seller to buyer under conditions whereby:

i. The buyer and seller are typically motivated;
ii. Both parties are well informed and advised and act in what they consider their best interests;
iii. A reasonable time is allowed for exposure in the open market;
iv. Payment is made in terms of cash or in terms of financial arrangements comparable thereto;
v. The price is unaffected by special financing or concessions.

MANUAL at 10.

k) It is apparent from the Manual’s definition that a property purchased at a tax sale may not reflect its market value for reasons such as a lack of exposure to the open market or the seller not being typically motivated. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the party relying upon that sale to offer specific evidence to allay these concerns. See Lake County Assessor v. U.S. Steel Corp, 901 N.E.2d 85, 91-92 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2009) review denied (approving of the use of bankruptcy sales when taxpayer established that such sales were a market norm).

l) The Petitioner offered nothing to show that the subject property was listed on the market and nothing to establish that tax sales were the market norm for the subject property’s neighborhood on January 1, 2012. Under these circumstances, the price that Mr. Hiles paid for the subject property is not probative of its market value-in-use.

m) Thus, even had the Petitioner’s exhibits been admitted, the Petitioner still failed to make a prima facie case that the 2012 assessment was incorrect.

n) Where the Petitioner has not supported their claim with probative evidence, the Respondent’s duty to support the assessment with substantial evidence is not triggered. Lacy Diversified Indus. v. Dep’t of Local Gov’t Fin., 799 N.E.2d 1215, 1221-1222 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2003).