STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
|JAMES H. SANDERS,||)|
|v.||)||Appeal No. 17-10011|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR||)|
|ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
The assessment made by the Board of Equalization of St. Louis County (BOE) is AFFRIMED. Complainant James H. Sanders (Complainant) did not present substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE.
Complainant appeared pro se.
Respondent Jake Zimmerman, Assessor, St. Louis County, Missouri, (Respondent) appeared by Counsel Steven Robson.
Case heard and decided by Senior Hearing Officer Amy S. Westermann (Hearing Officer).
Complainant appealed on the ground of overvaluation. Respondent initially set the true value in money (TVM) of the subject property, as residential property, at $250,100. The BOE set the TVM of the subject property, as residential property, at $250,100, thereby sustaining Respondent’s valuation. The value as of January 1 of the odd numbered year remains the value as of January 1 of the following even numbered year unless there is new construction or improvement to the property. Section 137.115.1 RSMo The State Tax Commission (STC) takes this appeal to determine the TVM for the subject property as the property existed on January 1, 2017, under the economic conditions as they existed on January 1, 2017.
The 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 STC.
- Evidentiary Hearing. Complainants waived an oral Evidentiary Hearing, and the parties submitted the case for decision based on the documentary evidence and exhibits.
- Identification of Subject Property. The subject property is identified by parcel/locator number 23V621221. It is further identified as 16556 Birch Forest Drive, Wildwood, St. Louis County, Missouri. (Complaint; Exhibit 1)
- Description of Subject Property. The subject property consists of a .19 acre (approximately 8,276 square feet), residential lot improved by a 1,596 square-foot, ranch-style, single-family home built in 1985. (St. Louis County Real Estate Information database; Exhibit F) The home includes three bedrooms; three full bathrooms; a full basement; 1,200 square feet of “recreation room” area; a two-car attached garage; a porch; a patio; a wood deck; and one fireplace. (St. Louis County Real Estate Information database; Exhibit F) The exterior of the home consists of aluminum and vinyl construction. The subject property has a construction grade factor of C and a condition, desirability, and utility rating of Average. The subject property is located in the Rockwood School District.
- Assessment. Respondent initially valued the subject property at $250,100, as residential, as of January 1, 2017.
- Board of Equalization. The BOE valued the subject property at $250,100, as residential, as of January 1, 2017, thereby sustaining Respondent’s valuation.
- Complainant’s Evidence. Complainant opined that the subject property’s TVM was between $235,980 and $238,000. To state and to support his opinion of value, Complainant offered the following evidence:
|Exhibit A||Zillow.com estimate for Respondent’s Comparable No. 1, 2331 Westclub Terrace Ct., Wildwood, MO; four bedrooms; three bathrooms; 3,000 square feet; off market estimated value $260,832 as of August 2017
|Exhibit B||Zillow.com estimate for Respondent’s Comparable No. 2, 16487 Hollister Crossing Dr., Wildwood, MO; three bedrooms; three bathrooms; 2,013 square feet; sold price $256,000 in July 2016|
|Exhibit C||Zillow.com estimate for Respondent’s Comparable No. 3, 16549 Branchwood Dr., Wildwood, MO; three bedrooms; three bathrooms; 1,650 square feet; sold price $200,000 in July 2015|
|Exhibit D||Zillow.com estimate for Respondent’s Comparable No. 4, 16463 Fullerton Meadows Dr., Wildwood, MO; four bedrooms; three bathrooms; 1,650 square feet; off market estimated value $262,221 as of August 2017|
|Exhibit E||Zillow.com estimate for Respondent’s Comparable No. 5, 16557 Branchwood Dr., Wildwood, MO; three bedrooms; three bathrooms; 1,650 square feet; off market estimated value $269,919 as of August 2017|
|Exhibit F||Redfin.com market estimate for subject property $229,637 as of July 2017, and showing similar homes nearby for sale ranging from $245,000 to $338,900|
|Exhibit G||Change of Assessment Notice for subject property issued to Complainant on May 8, 2017; showing prior appraised value of $195,500 and current appraised value of $250,100; providing Respondent’s five comparable sales with sale dates ranging from September 2015 to July 2016 and actual sale prices ranging from $256,000 to $287,000|
|Exhibit H||Comparison grid for Respondent’s comparables obtained from St. Louis County Department of Revenue website|
|Exhibit I||Letter dated January 29, 2018, from Complainant to STC describing some of the background and procedural facts of the appeal; describing Complainant’s reasoning for his opinion of value; and providing a summary of comparable properties|
Respondent did not object to Complainant’s exhibits, which were received into the record.
In Exhibit I, Complainant argued that the five comparable properties Respondent had used to value the subject property actually were not comparable to the subject property for various reasons. Complainant argued that the homes of some of Respondent’s comparables were larger in square footage than the subject property’s improvements. Complainant also argued that the homes of some of Respondent’s comparables had similar square footage but contained updates, such as “granite countertops in the kitchen, fancy faucets in the bath, stone fireplaces[,] etc.” Complainant argued that one of the comparable properties had a larger lot than the subject property’s lot but was valued at less than the subject property’s lot. (Exhibit H) Exhibit H did not make any market-based dollar adjustments for the differences between Respondent’s comparables and the subject property. (Exhibit I)
Exhibit I provided a list of items that Complainant had replaced or installed since purchasing the subject property in 2007: laminate kitchen countertops were replaced with laminate kitchen countertops; some “inferior quality” carpet was replaced; laminate flooring in kitchen was replaced with vinyl flooring; a patio was constructed to prevent water seeping into the basement. (Exhibit I) Complainant also stated that the “[d]eck was originally constructed of wood and was being patched with wood glue each year [and] a deck repair company [stated] that if we had more than a handful of people on the deck it would collapse.” (Exhibit I) Complainant further stated that the yard of the subject property was “probably one of the worst” in the subdivision because it backed to common ground that was suitable only for the neighborhood children to sled during the winter. (Exhibit I) Complainant stated that the yard of the subject property contained a rock ledge in the center of the yard, which caused roots from trees to emerge above ground, creating problems for grass cutting and backyard activities. (Exhibit I)
Exhibit I listed and briefly described five properties that Complainant believed supported his opinion “of a reasonable assessed value of $235,980” for the subject property:
- 2508 Maple Crossing Dr. 63011 – 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath 1291 square feet. This home sold for $227,000.
- 16415 Pavillion Hill Ct. 63040 – 3 bedroom, 2 bath 1717 square feet. This home sold for $238,000.
- 16949 Kingstowne Place Dr., 63011 – 5 bedroom, 3 baths 1580 square feet. This home sold for $239,900.
- 349 Hunter Spur, 63040 – 3 bedroom, 2.5 baths, 1408 square feet. This home sold for $245,000. In reviewing pictures on Zillow, it appears that this home has many updates, newer fa[u]cets, granite counters, stone fireplace. Our home has none of those updates.
The total selling price was $1,179,900 divided by 5 homes equals the $235,980 estimated value.
- Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent advocated that the BOE’s valuation of the subject property as of January 1, 2017, $250,100, was correct. Respondent offered the following evidence:
|Exhibit 1||BOE Findings and Notice of Decision valuing the subject property at $250,100.
Complainant did not object to Respondent’s exhibit, which was received into the record.
- Presumption of Correct Assessment Not Rebutted. Complainants’ evidence was not substantial and persuasive to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND DECISION
The STC has jurisdiction to hear this appeal and to correct any assessment that is shown to be unlawful, unfair, arbitrary or capricious, including the application of any abatement. The Hearing Officer shall issue a decision and order affirming, modifying, or reversing the determination of the BOE, 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.
Basis of Assessment
The Constitution mandates that real property and tangible personal property be assessed at its value or such percentage of its value as may be fixed by law for each class and for each subclass. Article X, Sections 4(a) and 4(b), Mo. Const. of 1945. The constitutional mandate is to find the TVM for the property under appeal. By statute, real property and tangible personal property are assessed at set percentages of true value in money: residential property at 19%; commercial property at 32%; and agricultural property at 12%. Section 137.115.5 RSMo (2000) as amended.
Issuance of Decision Absent Evidentiary Hearing
The Hearing Officer, after affording the parties reasonable opportunity for fair hearing, shall issue a decision and order affirming, modifying, or reversing the determination of the BOE, correcting any assessment which is unlawful, unfair, improper, arbitrary, or capricious. Section 138.431.5 RSMo; 12 CSR 30-3.080 (2).
The parties agreed to submit the appeal upon the record. The filing of exhibits and evidence establishes the basis upon which opportunity for an evidentiary hearing can be held. The Complainant has the burden to present substantial and persuasive evidence. The Hearing Officer considered all of the exhibits and evidence and then proceeded to ascertain if said exhibits and evidence met the standard of substantial and persuasive evidence to establish the TVM of the subject property.
Investigation by Hearing Officer
In order to investigate appeals filed with the STC, the Hearing Officer may inquire of the owner of the property or of any other party to the appeal regarding any matter or issue relevant to the valuation, subclassification, or assessment of the property. Section 138.430.2 RSMo (2000) as amended. The Hearing Officer’s decision regarding the assessment or valuation of the property may be based solely upon his inquiry and any evidence presented by the parties or based solely upon evidence presented by the parties. Id.
In this case, the parties agreed to submit the case on the exhibits and evidence they would have presented at an evidentiary hearing. Accordingly, the Hearing Officer’s decision is based upon the exhibits and evidence submitted, all of which were received into the record without objection.
Board Presumption and Computer-Assisted Presumption
There exists a presumption of correct assessment by the BOE – the BOE presumption. 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 BOE, then Respondent is required to rebut the BOE presumption.
In the present appeal, the BOE sustained the initial valuation of Respondent, and Complainant is now seeking to lower the BOE’s assessment; therefore, the BOE presumption applies.
The Complainant’s Burden of Proof
To obtain a reduction in assessed value based upon an alleged overvaluation, the complainant must prove the true value in money of the subject property on the subject tax day. Hermel, Inc., v. State Tax Commission, 564 S.W.2d 888, 897 (Mo. banc 1978). True value in money is defined as the price that the subject property would bring when offered for sale by one willing but not obligated to sell it and bought by one willing or desirous to purchase but not compelled to do so. Rinehart v. Bateman, 363 S.W.3d 357, 365 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012); Cohen v. Bushmeyer, 251 S.W.3d 345, 348 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008); Greene County v. Hermel, Inc., 511 S.W.2d 762, 771 (Mo. 1974). True value in money is defined in terms of value in exchange and not in terms of value in use. Stephen & Stephen Properties, Inc. v. State Tax Commission, 499 S.W.2d 798, 801-803 (Mo. 1973). In sum, true value in money is the fair market value of the subject property on the valuation date. Hermel, Inc., 564 S.W.2d at 897.
“’True value’ is never an absolute figure, but is merely an estimate of the fair market value on the valuation date.” Drury Chesterfield, Inc., v. Muehlheausler, 347 S.W.3d 107, 112 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011), citing St. Joe Minerals Corp. v. State Tax Comm’n of Mo., 854 S.W.2d 526, 529 (Mo. App. E.D. 1993). “Fair market value typically is defined as the price which the property would bring when offered for sale by a willing seller who is not obligated to sell, and purchased by a willing buyer who is not compelled to buy.” Drury Chesterfield, Inc., 347 S.W.3d at 112 (quotation omitted).
In order to prevail, the complainant must present an opinion of market value and substantial and persuasive evidence that the proposed value is indicative of the market value of the subject property on January 1, 2017. Hermel, supra. There is no presumption that the complainant’s opinion is correct. The taxpayer in an STC appeal still bears the burden of proof because 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). A valuation which does not reflect the true market value of the property under appeal is an unlawful, unfair, and improper assessment.
Presumption in Appeal
A presumption exists that the assessed value fixed by the BOE is correct. Rinehart, 363 S.W.3d at 367; Cohen, 251 S.W.3d at 348; Hermel, Inc., 564 S.W.2d at 895. “Substantial and persuasive controverting evidence is required to rebut the presumption, with the burden of proof resting on the taxpayer.” Cohen, 251 S.W.3d at 348. Substantial evidence can be defined as such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Cupples Hesse Corp. v. State Tax Commission, 329 S.W.2d 696, 702 (Mo. 1959). Persuasive evidence is evidence that has sufficient weight and probative value to convince the trier of fact. Cupples Hesse Corp., 329 S.W.2d at 702. The persuasiveness of evidence does not depend on the quantity or amount thereof but on its effect in inducing belief. Brooks v. General Motors Assembly Division, 527 S.W.2d 50, 53 (Mo. App. 1975). See also, 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).
There is no presumption that the taxpayer’s opinion is correct. Generally, a property owner, while not an expert, is competent to testify to the reasonable market value of his own land. Cohen, 251 S.W.3d at 348-49; Carmel Energy, Inc. v. Fritter, 827 S.W.2d 780, 783 (Mo. App. W.D. 1992). “However, when an owner’s opinion is based on improper elements or foundation, his opinion loses its probative value.” Carmel Energy, Inc., 827 S.W.2d at 783. A taxpayer does not meet his burden if evidence on any essential element of his case leaves the STC “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. E.D. 1980).
Weight to be Given Evidence
The Hearing Officer is not bound by any single formula, rule, or method in determining true value in money and is free to consider all pertinent facts and estimates and give them such weight as reasonably they may be deemed entitled. 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, as the trier of fact, may consider the testimony of an expert witness and give it as much weight and credit as deemed necessary when viewed in connection with all other circumstances. Beardsley v. Beardsley, 819 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Mo. App. W.D. 1991). The Hearing Officer, as the trier of fact, is not bound by the opinions of experts but may believe all or none of the expert’s testimony or accept it in part or reject it in part. Exchange Bank of Missouri v. Gerlt, 367 S.W.3d 132, 135-36 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012).
In this appeal, no expert witness testified, and no evidence prepared by an expert witness was submitted.
Methods of Valuation
Proper methods of valuation and assessment of property are delegated to the STC. 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, Inc., 564 S.W.2d at 897; 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. 1974).
“For purposes of levying property taxes, the value of real property is typically determined using one or more of three generally accepted approaches.” Snider v. Casino Aztar/Aztar Missouri Gaming Corp., 156 S.W.3d 341, 346 (Mo. banc 2005), citing St. Louis County v. Security Bonhomme, Inc., 558 S.W.2d 655, 659 (Mo. banc 1977). “Each valuation approach is applied with reference to a specific use of the property—its highest and best use.” Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 346-47, citing Aspenhof Corp., 789 S.W.2d at 869. “The method used depends on several variables inherent in the highest and best use of the property in question.” Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 347.
“Each method uses its own unique factors to calculate the property’s true value in money.” Id. “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 348. “Comparable sales consist of evidence of sales reasonably related in time and distance and involve land comparable in character.” Id. (quotation omitted). “This approach is most appropriate when there is an active market for the type of property at issue such that sufficient data [is] available to make a comparative analysis.” Id.
Implicit in this definition are the consummation of a sale as of a specific date and the passing of title from seller to buyer under conditions whereby:
- Buyer and seller are typically motivated.
- Both parties are well informed and well advised, and both acting in what they consider their own best interests.
- A reasonable time is allowed for exposure in the open market.
- Payment is made in cash or its equivalent.
- Financing, if any, is on terms generally available in the Community at the specified date and typical for the property type in its locale.
- The price represents a normal consideration for the property sold unaffected by special financing amounts and/or terms, services, fees, costs, or credits incurred in the transaction.
Real Estate Appraisal Terminology, Society of Real Estate Appraisers, Revised Edition, 1984; see also, Real Estate Valuation in Litigation, J. D. Eaton, M.A.I., American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers, 1982, pp. 4-5; Property Appraisal and Assessment Administration, International Association of Assessing Officers, 1990, pp. 79-80; Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, Glossary.
Complainant’s evidence was neither substantial nor persuasive to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE. Substantial evidence is that which is relevant, adequate, and reasonably supports a conclusion. Cupples Hesse Corp., 329 S.W.2d at 702. Persuasive evidence is that which causes the trier of fact to believe, more likely than not, the conclusion advocated is the correct conclusion. Id.
In particular, Exhibit I did not provide evidence that can be considered relevant, adequate, and reasonable to support a conclusion that the subject property’s TVM was between $235,980 and $238,000 as of January 1, 2017. Exhibit I did not provide evidence that compels the conclusion that, more likely than not, a TVM of between $235,980 and $238,000 as of January 1, 2017, is the correct conclusion. Exhibit I’s description of Complainant’s comparables did not utilize any of the three generally accepted approaches to valuing property for purposes of tax assessment. To the extent that Exhibit I attempted to utilize the sales comparison approach to determining the TVM of the subject property, it is important to note that Exhibit I failed to make any market-based dollar adjustments to the sale prices of the comparable properties to support Complainant’s opinion of the subject property’s TVM. Although Exhibit I attempted to compare properties with some basic similarities as the subject property, Exhibit I lacked important data, such as the dates of the sales, whether the sales were valid as between willing buyers and sellers on the open market, and the proximity of the comparable properties to the subject property.
For example, with regard to Complainant’s first comparable property, 2508 Maple Crossing Dr., a review of the St. Louis County Real Estate database reveals that the most recent transaction was in November 2013 for a price of $0 between related individuals or a corporation, an indication that the sale was not on the open market. With regard to Complainant’s second comparable property, 16415 Pavillion Hill Ct., a review of the St. Louis County Real Estate database reveals that the comparable sold on the open market for $238,000 in September 2017, but the comparable had fewer square feet and fewer bathrooms than the subject property. With regard to Complainant’s third comparable property, 16949 Kingstowne Place Dr., a review of the St. Louis County Real Estate database reveals that the comparable sold on the open market for $239,900 in August 2015, but the comparable had fewer square feet and fewer bathrooms than the subject property. With regard to Complainant’s fourth comparable property, 349 Hunter Spur, a review of the St. Louis County Real Estate database reveals that the comparable sold on the open market for $230,000 in September 2016, but the comparable had fewer square feet. With regard to Complainant’s fifth comparable property, 16544 Birch Forest Dr., a review of the St. Louis County Real Estate database reveals that the comparable sold on the open market $245,000 in September 2016, but the comparable had fewer square feet and fewer bathrooms than the subject property. There was no information indicating that the comparables had any updates or any adverse conditions that affected their sale prices either positively or negatively; rather, the St. Louis County Real Estate database revealed that the construction grade and the condition/desirability/utility rating for these properties was the same as that of the subject property – C and average.
However, Exhibit H, which contained a direct comparison of the subject property to Respondent’s comparables, revealed that Respondent’s comparables all were located within one-half mile of the subject property; had lots of approximately 1/20th of one acre in size, as did the subject property; ranged from 1,499 square feet to 1,650 square feet, similar to the subject property’s 1,596 square feet; were built in either 1983 or 1984, similar to the subject property, which was built in 1985; had construction grades and the condition/desirability/utility ratings of C and average, the same as the subject property; had recreation rooms with square footage similar to or smaller than the subject property; had two-car attached garages, the same as the subject property; had three bedrooms and either two or three full bathrooms, the same as the subject property; had porches, decks, and patios similar in size to the those of the subject property; and had adjusted sale prices ranging from $223,400 to $281,400. The BOE’s determination of the subject property’s TVM fell squarely within that range.
To the extent that Complainant argues that the condition of the subject property should have been factored into its valuation, the record is devoid of any photographs of the condition of the subject property or any estimates for repairs or replacements of components of the subject property that detracted from its TVM as of January 1, 2017. Consequently, based on the evidence presented, the fact finder would be forced to speculate in order to conclude that the subject property’s TVM was between $235,980 and $238,000.
The TVM for the subject property as determined by the BOE is AFFIRMED. The assessed value for the subject property for tax year 2017 is set at $47,519 residential ($250,100 TVM).
Application for Review
A party may file with the STC 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 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 April 10, 2018.
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 sent electronically or mailed postage prepaid this 10th day of April, 2018, to: Complainants(s) counsel and/or Complainant, the County Assessor and/or Counsel for Respondent and County Collector.