STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
|JOHN R. LARKO,||)|
|Complainant,||)||Appeal No. 21-10169|
|)||Parcel/Locator No. 25X540104|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR,||)|
|ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
John Larko (Complainant) appealed the St. Louis County Board of Equalization’s (BOE) decision finding the true value in money (TVM) of the subject property on January 1, 2021, was $462,300. Complainant alleges overvaluation and proposed that the TVM as of that date was $358,650. The BOE decision is affirmed. The TVM of the subject property on January 1, 2021, was $462,300.
The evidentiary hearing was held on April 6, 2022, via Webex. Complainant appeared pro se. Respondent 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 real property is located at 18342 Westwood Dr., St. Louis, Missouri. The subject property consists of a single family ranch-style home on a three acre lot. Complainant testified that he purchased the lot around 1999 and built the home around that time. The house contains 2,500 square feet of living space and has two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, one fireplace, a three-car garage, and an unfinished basement used for storage.
- Assessment and Valuation. Respondent classified the subject property as residential and determined the TVM on January 1, 2021, was $462,300. The BOE also determined the TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021, was $462,300.
- Complainant’s Evidence. Complainant introduced Exhibit A, a three-page document containing Complainant’s argument for overvaluation and a map of the subject property.
In Exhibit A, Complainant made notes distinguishing the characteristics and amenities of the properties used by Respondent from the subject property. Exhibit A also includes four other comparable sales which were selected by Complainant and that Complainant feels are more analogous to the subject property. Complainant believes these sales provide a more accurate valuation of the subject property. Each comparable listed includes a sales price and notes for each property by Complainant to attempt to show overvaluation. For example, for Parcel ID 24Y630074, Complainant noted “[s]old for $385K, even though it has more sq footage, beds, and baths. This compares to the valuation on my home placed at $362k.” Complainant testified that he does not have any training in making market-based adjustments for comparable properties, nor is Complainant a licensed appraiser in the State of Missouri. Complainant did not assign values to particular amenities of the comparable properties he selected (i.e. a five-car garage versus a three-car garage).
Last, Exhibit A included a plat map of the subject property’s lot dimensions and topography, with marks and notes made by Complainant illustrating the existing road easement on two-thirds of the boundaries of the lot. Complainant testified that the road easement prevents him from building outbuildings or a pool close to the street, rendering 75% of the lot unusable. Complainant feels that this negatively affects market value significantly and was not considered by Respondent making his assessment.
Complainant presented these arguments to the BOE but at the time did not present Exhibit A as support. Respondent objected to the admission of Exhibit A on the grounds that the exhibit had not been sent to Respondent prior to the hearing and that he had no notice that Complainant intended to offer it. The objection was overruled at the hearing, and Exhibit A was admitted into evidence.
- Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent introduced the following Exhibits, which were all admitted into evidence without objection:
|1||A copy of the October 29, 2021 BOE decision letter determining the subject property’s appraised value as of January 1, 2021.|
|2||Property record card for the subject property.|
|3||Market Analysis for the subject property prepared by Steven Zahner.|
|4||Photos of comparable properties used in Zahner’s Market Analysis.|
Steven Zahner, a Senior Residential Appraiser for St. Louis County with over 40 years of total appraisal experience, testified on behalf of Respondent. Mr. Zahner has worked for the County for the last four years. Mr. Zahner’s job responsibilities include valuing residential property for ad valorem tax purposes. Mr. Zahner testified that in general this process includes examining a subject property, taking note of various characteristics of that property, and finding sales of comparable properties to make adjustments to determine the TVM of the subject.
Mr. Zahner examined Complainant’s suggested comparable sales. Mr. Zahner testified that in his professional opinion he would not use them for an appraisal of the subject because several were two-story houses and not ranch-style homes. In preparation for the hearing, Mr. Zahner prepared a Market Analysis for the subject property (Respondent’s Exhibit 3). In performing his Market Analysis for the subject, Mr. Zahner searched recent validated sales of ranch-style homes of 2,000 to 3,000 square foot that were around 15 years or older and no more than one mile from the subject property’s location. Mr. Zahner was able to find four such comparables, all of which are subject to utility easements and whose lots are similarly situated to the subject property. Mr. Zahner asserted that the comparable sales in the Market Analysis that sold for between $475,000 and $610,000 were representative of value of a property like the subject property.
While Mr. Zahner stated that in a formal appraisal he would make market-based adjustments to these properties to determine the TVM for the subject property, he did not do so in compiling the Market Analysis. On cross examination, Mr. Zahner admitted that did not look into further characteristic details for each of the comparable properties besides the general search criteria (i.e. square footage assigned to lower level/finished basement, whether the comparable had a pool or outbuilding, additional structures that had value, etc.). However, Mr. Zahner did conclude that based on the comparables he found and the general characteristics of the subject property, the appraised value of $462,300 determined by the BOE is within a range he would feel comfortable with in determining the TVM for the subject property.
- Value. The TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021, was $462,300.
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. Section 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.” Mo. 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). “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.
- Evidence. “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). 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). “It is within the purview of the hearing officer to determine the method of valuation to be adopted in a given case.” Tibbs v. Poplar Bluff Assocs. I, L.P., 599 S.W.3d 1, 9 (Mo. App. S.D. 2020). 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. 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.
- Complainant’s Burden of Proof. The taxpayer bears the burden of proof and must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was 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.” Id. (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”).
- Complainant Did Not Produce Substantial and Persuasive Evidence of Overvaluation.
Complainant did not produce substantial and persuasive evidence to support his $358,650 opinion of value.
The comparable sales approach is typically used to value residential properties. “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.” Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 347-48 (internal quotation omitted).
While Complainant offered a list of four comparable sales of properties which he believes are better comparables than Respondent’s for determining the value of the subject property, these sales are not persuasive evidence as no adjustments were made to the sales prices to account for differences between the subject property and these other properties. In addition, no details were provided regarding the date and nature of the sales. Other additional data on the amenities and characteristics of the properties (such as age of home, style of home, etc.) was also not provided by Complainant.
Complainant also argues that the lot of the subject property is 75% unusable. However, Complainant neither demonstrated that the BOE’s valuation fails to take into account this aspect of his property, nor did he provide proof of the specific monetary impact that the lot characteristics have on the TVM of the subject property.
Even if Complainant had rebutted the presumption of correct valuation by the BOE, Complainant has not proven that the TVM of the subject property is $358,650 as of January 1, 2021. Complainant does not produce a mathematical calculation of how he arrived at his $358,650 opinion of value, nor does Exhibit A establish this value. Complainant offered no other evidence to substantiate this claim and quantify his opinion of value.
While a property owner’s opinion of value is generally admissible, the opinion lacks “probative value where it is shown to have been based upon improper elements or an improper foundation.” Shelby Cty. R-IV Sch. Dist. v. Herman, 392 S.W.2d 609, 613 (Mo. 1965); see also Cohen v. Bushmeyer, 251 S.W.3d 345, 349 (Mo. App. W.D. 2008) (noting a property owner’s opinion of value loses probative value when it rests on an improper foundation).
Complainant did not produce substantial and persuasive evidence showing that the subject property was overvalued. Therefore, Complainant’s evidence does not provide the necessary foundation and elements to support his overvaluation claim. Because the STC “cannot base its decision on opinion evidence that fails to consider information that should have been considered” under a recognized approach to value, Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 348, the BOE decision is affirmed.
CONCLUSION AND ORDER
The BOE decision is affirmed. The TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021, was $462,300.
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 July 29, 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 July 29, 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.