State Tax Commission of Missouri
|v.||)||Appeal # 15-13352|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR||)|
|ST. LOUIS CO., MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
The assessment made by the Board of Equalization of St. Louis County (BOE) is AFFIRMED. Complainant Brent Furrow did not present substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE. Assessed value in money for the subject property for tax year 2015 is set at $33,250 residential ($175,000 true market value or TMV).
Complainant appeared pro se.
Respondent appeared by attorney Steven Robson.
Case heard and decided by Senior Hearing Officer Amy S. Westermann.
Complainant appealed on the ground of overvaluation. Respondent initially set the true market value (TMV) of the subject property, as residential property, at $175,000. The BOE sustained Respondent’s valuation. The Commission takes this appeal to determine the TMV of the subject property on January 1, 2015.
The Senior Hearing Officer, having considered all of the competent evidence upon the whole record, enters the following Decision and Order.
FINDINGS OF FACT
- Jurisdiction. Jurisdiction over this appeal is proper. Complainant timely appealed to the State Tax Commission.
- Evidentiary Hearing. The parties agreed to submit the appeal on the evidence and exhibits without an evidentiary hearing.
- Identification of Subject Property. The subject property is identified by parcel/locator number 06G310364. It is further identified as 4679 Behlmann Farms Blvd., Florissant, St. Louis County, MO 63034. (Complaint; Exhibit 2)
- Description of Subject Property. The subject property consists of a 10,350 square foot lot improved by a 2,245 square foot, single family, ranch-style residence built in 2005 with a full basement, three bedrooms and 2½ baths. The subject property has a three-car attached garage, one fireplace, a deck and a patio. The exterior consists of aluminum and vinyl. (Exhibit 1)
- Assessment. Respondent set a true market value (TMV) on the subject property at $175,000 residential, as of January 1, 2015.
- Board of Equalization. The BOE sustained Respondent’s TMV of the subject property.
- Complainant’s Evidence. Complainant offered as evidence a typed letter (Exhibit A); four photographic images (Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E); and two typewritten pages containing data concerning the subject property and properties nearby (Exhibit F).
Exhibit A set forth Complainant’s opinion that the subject property should be valued at $150,000 when compared to other properties in the neighborhood and when taking into consideration the condition of the roof and wood trim of the subject property. Specifically, Exhibit A stated:
I’ve included some Comps for [the] area, and while a few homes of extreme size in [the] neighborhood have sold for several hundred thousand dollars, those homes have a second-level ([the subject property] is a smaller ranch-style), and have much more square footage than [the subject property].
I’ve included pictures of a ‘rippled’ roof due to hail that needs to be replaced, and wood trim all around the eves of the house that also needs repaired. These improvements, which I have not been able to make thus far, also decrease the value of [the subject property].
Exhibit B was a photograph that showed a section of roof guttering and rotting trim along a fascia board beneath the guttering. Exhibit C was a photograph that showed peeling or missing paint and rot on a segment of the edge of a fascia board. Exhibit D was a photograph that showed peeling or missing paint from a horizontal board, but the location of the board in relation to the entire subject property was otherwise unidentified. Exhibit E was a photograph that showed damaged shingles on the roof, but the location of the damaged shingles in relation to the entire subject property was otherwise unidentified.
Exhibit F contained a list of 23 different properties identified by street addresses and parcel locator numbers. The subject property was included in the list. The list also included what appeared to be sale dates and sale prices for each of the properties, including the subject property. The list included what appeared to be descriptive elements for each property, such as the exterior composition (aluminum/vinyl or masonry and frame); the design style (conventional or ranch); the year built; the square footage; the type of foundation (full basement); and the number of bedrooms and baths.
Respondent did not object to Complainant’s exhibits, which were received into the record.
- Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent offered as evidence the Written Direct Testimony (WDT) of State Certified Residential Real Estate Appraiser Mark Stuart (the Appraiser). Respondent also offered Exhibit 1, which consisted of the professional qualifications of the Appraiser; Exhibit 2, which consisted of the Appraisal Report of the Appraiser; an addendum to the Appraiser’s WDT; and Exhibit 3, which was an addendum to Exhibit 2 and contained photographs of the subject property.
In preparing Exhibit 2, the Appraiser gathered basic data from the St. Louis County database and MARIS/MLS for the time period of January 1, 2015. (Appraiser’s WDT) The Appraiser also gathered basic data from other sources, including public records, planning and zoning offices, other governmental and public offices, and various publications. (Exhibit 2) The Appraiser obtained specific information concerning the subject property by personally viewing the exterior of the property on or about March 18, 2016, but the Appraiser did not view the interior and portions of the exterior of the subject property due to his inability to gain access from Complainant. (Exhibit 2)
The subject property had been purchased from FNMA, which was considered a government sale, on February 19, 2013, for $164,900. (Exhibit 2) No sales of the comparable properties were noted within one year from the date of sale of the subject property in the sales comparison approach for each of the comparable properties. The Appraiser reviewed market data and determined that the property values in the neighborhood of the subject property had been relatively stable. (Exhibit 2)
The subject property was a 2,245 square foot single-family ranch style house situated on a 10,350 square foot residential lot. (Exhibit 2) The subject property was built in 2005, had 3 bedrooms, and had 2½ bathrooms. (Exhibit 2) The subject property had a vinyl and aluminum exterior; a 2,158 square foot unfinished basement; a natural gas heating system with central air conditioning; a three-car garage; a deck and patio; and one fireplace. (Exhibit 2) The quality of construction was rated at Q5, indicating that the subject property featured economy of construction and basic functionality as main considerations and featured basic finishes with minimal exterior and limited interior detail. (Exhibit 2) The subject property was not located in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s identified 100-year flood plain. (Exhibit 2) The photographs showed a front exterior view of the subject property. One of the photographs showed a view of the street scene in relation to the front exterior of the subject property. (Exhibit 3) The Appraiser opined that the TMV of the subject property, as of January 1, 2015, was $175,000. (WDT; addendum to WDT; Exhibit 2)
Complainant did not object to Respondent’s evidence, which was received into the record.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND DECISION
The Commission has jurisdiction to hear this appeal and correct any assessment which is shown to be unlawful, unfair, arbitrary or capricious, including the application of any abatement. The Senior Hearing Officer shall issue a decision and order affirming, modifying or reversing the determination of the Board of Equalization, and correcting any assessment which is unlawful, unfair, improper, arbitrary, or capricious. Article X, Section 14, Mo. Const. of 1945; Sections 138.430, 138.431, 138.431.4, RSMo.
Complainants’ Burden of Proof
In order to prevail, Complainants must present substantial and persuasive evidence as to the proper taxation of the subject property on January 1, 2015. Hermel, supra. There is no presumption that the taxpayer’s opinion is correct. The taxpayer in a Commission appeal still bears the burden of proof. The taxpayer is the moving party seeking affirmative relief. Therefore, the Complainant bears the burden of proving the vital elements of the case, i.e., the assessment was “unlawful, unfair, improper, arbitrary or capricious.” See, Westwood Partnership v. Gogarty, 103 S.W.3d 152 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003); Daly v. P. D. George Co., 77 S.W.3d 645 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002); Reeves v. Snider, 115 S.W.3d 375 (Mo. App. S.D. 2003); Industrial Development Authority of Kansas City v. State Tax Commission of Missouri, 804 S.W.2d 387, 392 (Mo. App. 1991).
Weight to be Given Evidence
The relative weight to be accorded any relevant factor in a particular case is for the Hearing Officer to decide. St. Louis County v. Security Bonhomme, Inc., 558 S.W.2d 655, 659 (Mo. banc 1977); St. Louis County v. STC, 515 S.W.2d 446, 450 (Mo. 1974); Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company v. STC, 436 S.W.2d 650 (Mo. 1968). The Hearing Officer is not bound by any specific method.
Owner’s Opinion of Value
Although an owner is competent to testify regarding the appropriate valuation of the owner’s property, “[w]here the basis for a test as to the reliability of the testimony is not supported by a statement of facts on which it is based, or the basis of fact does not appear to be sufficient, the testimony should be rejected.” Carmel Energy at 783. A taxpayer does not meet his burden if evidence on any essential element of his case leaves the Commission “in the nebulous twilight of speculation, conjecture and surmise.” See, Rossman v. G.G.C. Corp. of Missouri, 596 S.W.2d 469, 471 (Mo. App. 1980).
Board Presumption and Computer-Assisted Presumption
There exists a presumption of correct assessment by the BOE. In charter counties or the City of St. Louis, there exists by statutory mandate a presumption that the Assessor’s original valuation was made by a computer, computer-assisted method or a computer program – the computer-assisted presumption. These two presumptions operate with regard to the parties in different ways. The BOE presumption operates in every case to require the taxpayer to present evidence to rebut it. If Respondent is seeking to prove a value different than that set by the Board, then it also would be applicable to the Respondent. The computer-assisted presumption only comes into play if the BOE lowered the value of the Assessor and Respondent is seeking to sustain the original assessment and it has not been shown that the Assessor’s valuation was not the result of a computer assisted method. The BOE’s valuation is assumed to be an independent valuation. In the present appeal, the BOE sustained the valuation of the Assessor; therefore, the computer-assisted presumption does not come into play in the present appeal.
Methods of Valuation
Proper methods of valuation and assessment of property are delegated to the Commission. It is within the purview of the Hearing Officer to determine the method of valuation to be adopted in a given case. See, Nance v. STC, 18 S.W.3d 611, 615 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000); Hermel, supra; Xerox Corp. v. STC, 529 S.W.2d 413 (Mo. banc 1975). Missouri courts have approved the comparable sales or market approach, the cost approach, and the income approach as recognized methods of arriving at fair market value. St. Joe Minerals Corp. v. STC, 854 S.W.2d 526, 529 (App. E.D. 1993); Aspenhof Corp. v. STC, 789 S.W.2d 867, 869 (App. E.D. 1990); Quincy Soybean Company, Inc., v. Lowe, 773 S.W.2d 503, 504 (App. E.D. 1989), citing Del-Mar Redevelopment Corp v. Associated Garages, Inc., 726 S.W.2d 866, 869 (App. E.D. 1987); and State ex rel. State Highway Comm’n v. Southern Dev. Co., 509 S.W.2d 18, 27 (Mo. Div. 2 1974).
Opinion Testimony by Experts
An expert’s opinion must be founded upon substantial information, not mere conjecture or speculation, and there must be a rational basis for the opinion. Missouri Pipeline Co. v. Wilmes, 898 S.W.2d 682, 687 (Mo. App. E.D. 1995). The State Tax Commission cannot ignore a lack of support in the evidence for adjustments made by the expert witnesses in the application of a particular valuation approach. Drey v. State Tax Commission, 345 S.W.2d 228, 234-236 (Mo. 1961), Snider v. Casino Aztar/Aztar Missouri Gaming Corp., 156 S.W.3d, 341, 348 (Mo. 2005).
The testimony of an expert is to be considered like any other testimony, is to be tried by the same test, and receives just so much weight and credit as the trier of fact may deem it entitled to when viewed in connection with all other circumstances. The Senior Hearing Officer, as the trier of fact, has the authority to weigh the evidence, is not bound by the opinions of experts who testify on the issue of reasonable value, and may believe all or none of the expert’s testimony, accepting it in part or rejecting it in part. Beardsley v. Beardsley, 819 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Mo. App. 1991); Curnow v. Sloan, 625 S.W. 2d 605, 607 (Mo. 1981); Scanlon v. Kansas City, 28 S.W.2d 84, 95 (Mo. 1930).
In the present appeal based upon overvaluation, Complainant failed to present substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of true market value advocated by Respondent.
Complainant argued and presented evidence purporting to show that the subject property had unrepaired damage to the roof and the wood trim around the eves of the house that justified a reduction in the TMV and supported Complainant’s proposed value of $150,000. Complainant provided Exhibit A, the letter in which he stated his arguments, and Exhibits B, C, D, and E, the photographs showing the damage to the roof and the wood trim. However, Complainant did not provide any estimates for the repair of these damages that would support a $25,000 reduction in the TMV of the subject property.
Additionally, Exhibit F, which listed sales of properties near the subject property, provided factual data, such as date of sale, square footage, sales price, and sales date, which alone are not accurate indicators of the value of the subject property. Exhibit F did not contain any adjustments to the value of the comparable properties to assist the fact finder in determining the similarity or dissimilarity between the comparables and the subject property. The sale prices of the properties in Exhibit F ranged from $87,401 to $370,361. The dates of sale of the properties in Exhibit F ranged from January 6, 2012, to December 5, 2014. Notably, Exhibit F lacked any information concerning the condition or the amenities of the comparable properties in relation to their sale prices.
Although Complainant presented evidence to support his opinion of the subject property’s TMV, it is neither substantial nor persuasive because, if relied upon, the fact finder would be required to resort to speculation to conclude the TMV of the subject property on January 1, 2015, should be $150,000.
Conversely, Respondent presented substantial and persuasive evidence to support his conclusion that the TMV of the subject property was $175,000 on January 1, 2015. In arriving at an opinion of value, the Appraiser considered all three approaches to value the subject property: the cost approach, the income approach, and the sales comparison approach. The Appraiser ultimately utilized the sales comparison approach because the cost approach and the income approach were not applicable to valuing the subject property.
The Appraiser selected three comparable sales located in the same or similar marketing areas and made adjustments to the comparables. Specifically, the Appraiser made positive or negative adjustments to the price of the comparables to account for differences in the number of main floor full baths and main floor half baths; for differences in the square footage of gross living area; for differences in the finished square footage of basements and the added utility of lower level baths; for differences in the number of garage stalls; for differences in exterior construction; and for differences in miscellaneous extras such as three-season rooms, fireplaces, patios, decks, and pools. The sale prices of the comparable properties ranged from $177,000 to $208,000. The dates of sale of the comparable properties ranged from April 5, 2013, to August 9, 2015. The Appraiser gave equal weight to the all three comparable properties. The appraiser found that all three comparable sales provided a reasonable value estimate for the subject property.
Given Respondent’s substantial and persuasive evidence, it is reasonable to find and conclude that the TMV of the subject property on January 1, 2015, was $175,000.
The true market valuation for the subject property as determined by Respondent for the subject tax day and sustained by the BOE is SUSTAINED.
The assessed value for the subject property for tax years 2015 and 2016 is set at $33,250 residential ($175,000 TMV).
Application for Review
A party may file with the Commission an application for review of this decision within thirty days of the mailing date set forth in the Certificate of Service for this Decision. The application shall contain specific facts or law as grounds upon which it is claimed the decision is erroneous. Said application must be in writing addressed to the State Tax Commission of Missouri, P.O. Box 146, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0146, and a copy of said application must be sent to each person at the address listed below in the certificate of service.
Failure to state specific facts or law upon which the application for review is based will result in summary denial. Section 138.432, RSMo
The Collector of St. Louis County, as well as the collectors of all affected political subdivisions therein, shall continue to hold the disputed taxes pending the possible filing of an Application for Review, unless said taxes have been disbursed pursuant to a court order under the provisions of Section 139.031.8, RSMo.
Any Finding of Fact which is a Conclusion of Law or Decision shall be so deemed. Any Decision which is a Finding of Fact or Conclusion of Law shall be so deemed.
SO ORDERED May 13, 2016.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
Amy S. Westermann
Senior Hearing Officer
Certificate of Service
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing has been electronically mailed or sent by U.S. Mail on this 13th day of May, 2016 to:
Brent Furrow, Complainant, 4679 Behlmann Farms Blvd., Florissant, MO 63034
Steven Robson, St. Louis County Associate County Counselor, SRobson@stlouisco.com
 Exhibit 2 initially contained a photograph purporting to show the front view of the subject property. Complainant objected to the photograph on the ground that the photograph depicted a different property belonging to one of Complainant’s neighbors. Respondent acknowledged that an error had occurred. Respondent thereafter submitted the addendum to the Appraiser’s WDT along with Exhibit 3.