STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
|)||Appeal No. 21-18285|
|v.||)||Parcel No. 16Q210451|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR,||)|
|ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
Imre Tuba (Complainant) appeals the St. Louis County Board of Equalization’s (BOE) decision valuing the subject residential property at $291,200 as of January 1, 2021. Complainant alleges overvaluation and asserts the true value in money (TVM) of the subject property as $218,400 as of January 1, 2021. The BOE decision is set aside. The TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021 is $258,500.
The evidentiary hearing was held on April 14, 2022, via Webex. Complainant appeared pro se. Respondent Jake Zimmerman, Assessor, St. Louis County, Missouri, was represented by counsel, Tim Bowe. The case was heard and decided by Senior Hearing Officer Benjamin C. Slawson.
FINDINGS OF FACT
- The Subject Property. The subject residential property consists of a 0.3 acre lot improved with a single-family ranch-style home consisting of 2,037 square feet of living space. The house has four bedrooms and two bathrooms and is located at 80 Spring Valley Dr. in Chesterfield, Missouri. Complainant bought the property in 2014 with the intent of living there. The purchase price in 2014 was $170,000 and was sold in an “as is” condition. Complainant testified that at the time of purchase the house was structurally sound, but he and his wife also realized that it was in need of several repairs. Complainant ended up moving to Minnesota due to his wife getting another job there. Complainant comes back to the subject property to intermediately make repairs and upgrades when able. Complainant has not listed the property for sale in the last three years.
- Assessment and Valuation. Respondent determined the subject property’s appraised value was $ $291,200 as of January 1, 2021. The BOE independently determined the subject’s appraised value as of January 1, 2021, was $ $291,200.
- Complainant’s Evidence. Complainant introduced Exhibit A which was admitted without objection. Exhibit A contains 63 pages and includes Complainant’s proposed value and a short description of the property, pictures of the subject property with descriptions of various condition issues, a copy of the 2015 decision of a State Tax Commission Hearing Officer for the 2014 TVM of the subject property, property details of comparable sales found by Complainant, property details of comparable sales used by Respondent, and House Price Index information from the St. Louis Metropolitan area from the federal government.
Complainant testified his opinion of value for the subject property is $218,400. Complainant said that he is basing this value on starting with the previous appraised value by Respondent in 2019 of $198,000. Complainant asserted that there has been little change in the property in the last two years, but agrees that real estate values have appreciated in the subject property’s area. Complainant believes that a percentage of increase for 2021 should be consistent with the House Price Index (HPI) that is published by the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) for the St. Louis Metropolitan area, an average of 10.31%. Increasing the 2019 value of $198,000 by 10.31% results in Complainant’s proposed value of 218,400.
Complainant took issue with the comparable properties used by Respondent for the assessment. Complainant argued that the comparables used, all selling for more than $300,000 and detailed in Exhibit A, are in far better condition than the subject property. Complainant posited that the methodology of making market-based adjustments to these comparables is flawed because of these vast differences in condition. Complainant found three comparable sales, also listed in Exhibit A, and concluded that these sales had a net average price per square foot less than the appraised value per square foot for his property, despite being in better condition than the subject. After examining these comparables, Complainant proposed that a price per square foot of $107.21 is more reasonable for the subject.
Complainant also testified as to the many condition issues and outdated features that the house suffers from that he believes devalue the subject property. These are detailed in Complainant’s Exhibit A and summarized as follows:
- Old-style décor throughout the house
- Entryway has old vinyl floor removed, bare subfloor exposed
- Hardwood floor in family room in poor condition and needs new finish
- Old carpet in living room that needs to be replaced, window trim needs to be installed
- Outdated galley-style kitchen, upper cabinets and lower cabinet doors removed for painting
- Appliances that are dysfunctional in kitchen, sink is old and needs to be replaced
- Carpet removed in hallway and some bedrooms including the master bedroom, bare floor exposed
- Trim around the house and closet shelves currently removed for painting/refinishing purposes
- Outdated and stained carpet in bedroom
- Broken window latches and cracks in window glass in bedroom
- Vintage bathtub in hall bathroom, vintage tile in bathrooms, sink and cabinet currently removed in master bathroom
- Basement with old, outdated vinyl tile transitioning to old, outdated orange carpet
- Walls and ceiling tiles in basement rec room in need of repair, vinyl floor outdated, rec room bar in process of being dismantled
- Old but functional water heater, HVAC system, washer and dryer
- Utility room in basement has old vinyl floor and wood paneling
- Water damage in sunroom ceiling
- Poor condition of wooden deck boards and railing, entire deck needs repair or replacement
- Garage door in older condition, rust present, frame is quite rickety
- Garage wall vertical studs pushed off horizontal studs
On cross examination, Complainant admitted that he is not a licensed appraiser in the state of Missouri, nor does not have classroom or professional training or experience in making market based adjustments in determining the TVM of a subject property.
- Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent introduced Exhibit 1, consisting of the October 29, 2021, BOE decision letter for the subject property. Exhibit 1 shows the BOE valued the subject property at $291,200.
Steven Zahner, a Senior Residential Appraiser for the St. Louis County Assessor’s Office with over 40 years of total appraisal experience, testified on behalf of Respondent. Mr. Zahner possesses a B.S. in Finance in with an emphasis in real estate. Mr. Zahner has also been a certified appraiser in Missouri for over thirty years. As of the date of the hearing, Mr. Zahner had worked for the County for a little under five years. Mr. Zahner’s job responsibilities include valuing residential property for ad valorem tax purposes.
Mr. Zahner examined the evidence provided by Complainant and studied the comparables submitted by Complainant. Mr. Zahner testified that in his professional opinion, he would not have used most of them for determining the TVM for the subject. Mr. Zahner noted that based on his research of the proposed comparables on MARIS, 164 Saddleford Dr. was a rental property and was sold “as is.” He said that “as is” sales are usually made to investors and are not market sales. However, Mr. Zahner admitted on cross examination that the sale was on Multi-Listing Service (MLS) and that there was nothing to indicate that it was not a market sale. Mr. Zahner also mentioned that the photos on the MLS for 164 Saddleford Dr. show that property to be outdated and not in good condition.
Mr. Zahner would not have used 305 Ridge Trail Dr. as a comparable because it is in a different market being a frame ranch, as opposed to brick like the subject. He added that it is also not a good comparable because it is constructed on a concrete slab and thus does not have a basement like the subject. Mr. Zahner noted that the last comparable, 627 Stablestone Dr., is a two-story home, not a ranch like the subject. Mr. Zahner noted that two-story homes tend to sell at a lower price per square foot than ranch homes. With a large selection of ranch home sales during the assessment period in question, Mr. Zahner would not have used this sale.
Mr. Zahner also testified that in comparing properties to determine the TVM of a subject property for appraisal purposes, the price per square foot is not the sole indicator of value to be used. Instead, other factors such as the lot size, the condition of the property, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, basement finish, and garage space also need to be considered by the appraiser.
Mr. Zahner reviewed all the information in Respondent’s file regarding the subject property. In his opinion, the BOE value of $291,200 was a little high given that Complainant’s condition evidence was not provided at the time of the BOE hearing. Based on his experience and training, Mr. Zahner would make an adjustment for the condition issues discussed by Complainant and value the subject property at $258,500 as of January 1, 2021. Mr. Zahner explained that in his professional opinion this is a reasonable estimate given the living condition of Complainant’s house, and would be between $50,000 and $115,000 less than the sales prices of the five comparables used by Respondent. He testified this is about how much value would be needed to add to the subject to reach the condition of those comparable sales.
At hearing during his closing statement, Counsel for Respondent indicated that Respondent agreed that the BOE value of $291,200 was too high and that Respondent was seeking a value consistent with Mr. Zahner’s analysis and conclusions.
- Value. The BOE decision is set aside. The TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021 is $258,500, with an assessed value of $49,115.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
- Assessment and Valuation. Residential real property is assessed at 19% of its TVM as of January 1 of each odd-numbered year. Sections 137.115.1; 137.115.5(1)(a). The TVM is “the fair market value of the property on the valuation date[.]” Snider v. Casino Aztar/Aztar Mo. Gaming Corp., 156 S.W.3d 341, 346 (Mo. banc 2005) (internal quotation omitted). The fair market value is “the price which the property would bring from a willing buyer when offered for sale by a willing seller.” Baptist Children’s Home v. State Tax Comm’n, 867 S.W.2d 510, 512 (Mo. banc 1993). “True value in money is defined in terms of value in exchange not value in use.” Tibbs v. Poplar Bluff Assocs. I, L.P., 599 S.W.3d 1, 7 (Mo. App. S.D. 2020) (internal quotation omitted). The TVM “is a function of [the property’s] highest and best use[.]” Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 346. “Determining the true value in money is an issue of fact for the STC.” Cohen v. Bushmeyer, 251 S.W.3d 345, 348 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008).
“For purposes of levying property taxes, the value of real property is typically determined using one or more of three generally accepted approaches.” Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 346. The three generally accepted approaches are the cost approach, the income approach, and the comparable sales approach. Id. at 346-48. The STC has wide discretion in selecting the appropriate valuation method but “cannot base its decision on opinion evidence that fails to consider information that should have been considered under a particular valuation approach.” Id., at 348.
The comparable sales approach “is most appropriate when there is an active market for the type of property at issue such that sufficient data are available to make a comparative analysis.” Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 348. For this reason, the comparable sales approach is typically used to value residential property. “The comparable sales approach uses prices paid for similar properties in arms-length transactions and adjusts those prices to account for differences between the properties.” Id. at 347-48 (internal quotation omitted). “Comparable sales consist of evidence of sales reasonably related in time and distance and involve land comparable in character.” Id. at 348.
- The hearing officer is the finder of fact and determines the credibility and weight of the evidence. Kelly v. Mo. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., Family Support Div., 456 S.W.3d 107, 111 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015). “Although technical rules of evidence are not controlling in administrative hearings, fundamental rules of evidence are applicable.” Mo. Church of Scientology v. State Tax Comm’n, 560 S.W.2d 837, 839 (Mo. banc 1977).
- Complainant’s Burden of Proof. The taxpayer bears the burden of proof and must show by a preponderance of the evidence the property is overvalued. Westwood P’ship v. Gogarty, 103 S.W.3d 152, 161 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003). The BOE’s valuation is presumptively correct. Tibbs, 599 S.W.3d at 7. The “taxpayer may rebut this presumption by presenting substantial and persuasive evidence that the valuation is erroneous.” (internal quotation omitted). The taxpayer also must prove “the value that should have been placed on the property.” Id. “Substantial evidence is that evidence which, if true, has probative force upon the issues, and from which the trier of fact can reasonably decide the case on the fact issues.” Savage v. State Tax Comm’n, 722 S.W.2d 72, 77 (Mo. banc 1986) (internal quotation omitted). Evidence is persuasive when it has “sufficient weight and probative value to convince the trier of fact.” Daly v. P.D. George Co., 77 S.W.3d 645, 651 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002); see also White v. Dir. of Revenue, 321 S.W.3d 298, 305 (Mo. banc 2010) (noting the burden of persuasion is the “party’s duty to convince the fact-finder to view the facts in a way that favors that party”).
Property owners are competent to testify to the reasonable fair market value of their property. Cohen, 251 S.W.3d at 348. However, if owner’s testimony is based on “improper elements or an improper foundation[,]” it is not substantial and persuasive evidence rebutting the presumptively correct BOE value. Id. at 349.
- Complainant Did Not Produce Substantial and Persuasive Evidence of Overvaluation.
Complainant did not produce substantial and persuasive evidence establishing a TVM of $218,400. Neither Complainant’s exhibits nor his testimony utilized the comparable sales approach, income approach, or cost approach to support his proposed value, nor did he offer an appraisal of the property as evidence of the TVM of the property as of January 1, 2021. While Complainant asserted that the FHFA HPI estimate is not in line with Respondent’s assessment, the FHFA HPI estimate is not an approach to value that is used in Missouri to determine the TVM of a subject property.
Complainant submitted a copy of another Senior Hearing Officer’s decision regarding the value of the subject as of 2014 as evidence of overvaluation here. However, past STC decisions and orders provide “guidance,” not precedent. Administrative agency decisions “are not from courts of law and are not precedential.” Cent. Hardware Co. v. Dir. of Revenue, 887 S.W.2d 593, 596 (Mo. banc 1994). Therefore, an administrative agency “is not bound by its previous decisions, so long as its current decision is not otherwise unreasonable or unlawful.” Laclede Gas Co.’s Verified Application to Re-Establish & Extend the Fin. Auth. Previously Approved By the Comm’n v. Mo. Pub. Serv. Comm’n, 526 S.W.3d 245, 252 (Mo. App. W.D. 2017). In other words, STC decisions and orders are non-binding, persuasive authority aiding the consistent disposition of factually analogous cases. Further, this appeal is distinguished from the current appeal as there is no recent purchase of the subject property in the current appeal. The 2014 decision in setting aside the BOE value was based on the fact that Complainant had recently purchased the subject property, and thus there was evidence of an actual sales price of property to establish value:
Evidence of the actual sales price of property is admissible to establish value at the time of an assessment, provided that such evidence involves a voluntary purchase not too remote in time. The actual sale price is a method that may be considered for estimating true value. The actual sales price, between a willing seller, who is not obligated to sell and a willing buyer who is not compelled to buy, establishes an outer limit on the value of real property. St. Joe Minerals Corp. v. STC, 854 S.W.2d 526 (App. E.D. 1993).
Imre Tuba & Jenmei Xhao v. Jake Zimmerman, Assessor, St. Louis County, 2015 WL 4099465 (Mo.St.Tax.Com.), STC Appeal No. 14-10848, p. 5.
While Complainant offered a list of comparable sales which he believes are more determinative of the value of the subject property than those used by Respondent, these sales are not persuasive evidence. These sales are not persuasive evidence as no adjustments are made using appraisal methods to account for differences between the subject property and these other properties. Further, Complainant’s calculation of an average sale price of the comparables per square foot to determine the fair market value of the subject property is not a generally accepted approach to value property.
However, while Complainant did not prove his proposed value of $218,400, Complainant did persuasively show that the subject property is not in “move in” condition to any potential buyer. With his testimony and the several pictures and descriptions of the subject property in Exhibit A, Complainant established that the living condition of the home is subpar compared to the comparables used by Respondent. But because Complainant is not an appraiser, Complainant could not establish a dollar amount adjustment for these condition issues.
Although not required given the burden of proof, Respondent presented testimony of Mr. Steven Zahner, a certified appraiser with a plethora of experience in residential appraisal, which persuasively supports setting aside the BOE valuation and setting $258,500 as the TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021. Given Mr. Zahner’s experience in appraisal of residential real property, this opinion of value is credible and persuasive. Because the BOE did not consider this ample evidence of condition issues, Mr. Zahner did agree that the BOE valuation of $291,200 was too high. Mr. Zahner reviewed the complete file for the subject property and examined Complainant’s condition evidence as described in Exhibit A and displayed in the pictures found in Exhibit A. In his professional opinion, Mr. Zahner estimated that between $50,000 and $115,000 of repairs and renovations would need to be made to the subject to bring it up to the sales price values of Respondent’s comparables, taking into account adjustments that need to be made to those sales prices to determine the TVM of the subject. Mr. Zahner’s testimony persuasively supports setting aside the BOE valuation and setting $258,500 as the TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021.
CONCLUSION AND ORDER
The BOE decision is set aside. The TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021 is $258,500, with an assessed value of $49,115.
Application for Review
A party may file an application for review of this decision within 30 days of the mailing date set forth in the certificate of service for this decision. The application “shall contain specific detailed grounds upon which it is claimed the decision is erroneous.” Section 138.432. The application must be in writing, and may be mailed to the State Tax Commission of Missouri, P.O. Box 146, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0146, or emailed to Legal@stc.mo.gov. A copy of the application must be sent to each person 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.
The Collector of St. Louis County, and 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 the disputed taxes have been disbursed pursuant to a court order under the provisions of section 139.031.
SO ORDERED November 4, 2022.
Benjamin C. Slawson
Senior Hearing Officer
State Tax Commission
Certificate of Service
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing has been electronically mailed and/or sent by U.S. Mail on November 4, 2022, to: Complainant(s) and/or Counsel for Complainant(s), the County Assessor and/or Counsel for Respondent and County Collector.
 Complainant timely filed a complaint for review of assessment. The State Tax Commission (STC) has authority to hear and decide Complainant’s appeal. Mo. Const. art. X, sec. 14; Section 138.430.1, RSMo 2000. All statutory citations are to RSMo 2000, as amended.
 Rounded to the nearest hundred.