STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
|LIJUN WANG and XIAOLONG QIU,||)|
|v.||)||Appeal No. 16-14268|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR||)|
|ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
The assessment made by the Board of Equalization of St. Louis County (BOE) is SET ASIDE. Complainants Lijun Wang and Xialong Qiu (Complainants) did not present substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE. Respondent Jake Zimmerman, Assessor, St. Louis County, Missouri, (Respondent) presented substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE.
Complainant Lijun Wang (Ms. Wang) appeared pro se. Complainant Xialong Qiu appeared not.
Respondent appeared by counsel Steven Robson.
Case heard and decided by Senior Hearing Officer Amy S. Westermann (Hearing Officer).
Complainants appealed on the ground of overvaluation and discrimination. Respondent initially set the true market value (TMV) of the subject property, as residential property, at $79,300. The BOE sustained 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 true value in money for the subject property as the property existed on January 1, 2016, under the economic conditions for January 1, 2015.
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. Complainants timely appealed to the STC.
- Evidentiary Hearing. The issue of overvaluation was presented at an evidentiary hearing on March 22, 2017, at the St. Louis County Government Administration Building, 41 South Central Avenue, Clayton, Missouri.
- Identification of Subject Property. The subject property is identified by parcel/locator number 14K430772. It is further identified as 3541 Gordon, Saint John, St. Louis County, Missouri. (Exhibit A; Exhibit 1)
- Description of Subject Property. The subject property consists of a 6,750 square-foot residential lot improved by a 988 square-foot, one-story single-family home built in 1965. (Exhibit 1) The subject property includes three bedrooms; one full bathroom; one half bathroom; a full basement with 600 square feet of finished area; and a one-car carport. (Exhibit 1) The exterior consists of brick construction. (Exhibit 1)
- Assessment. Respondent set a TMV for the subject property of $79,000 residential, as of January 1, 2016.
- Board of Equalization. The BOE sustained Respondent’s TMV of the subject property at $79,000.
- Complainant’s Evidence. Ms. Wang testified on behalf of Complainants. Ms. Wang testified that Complainants had taken title to the property from Ms. Wang’s daughter through a Quitclaim Deed in November 2016. Ms. Wang’s daughter had purchased the subject property in July 2013 for $43,000. Ms. Wang testified that the subject property was not encumbered by a mortgage. Ms. Wang testified that the subject property had not been listed for sale or appraised within the three years prior to the evidentiary hearing. Ms. Wang testified that no improvements had been made to the subject property between January 1, 2015, and January 1, 2016.
Ms. Wang testified that Complainants’ opinion of the subject property’s TMV as of January 1, 2016, was $45,000. To support their opinion of value, Complainants offered the following as evidence:
|Exhibit A||Copies of the Complaint for Review of Assessment filed with the STC and the Quitclaim Deed filed with the St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds|
|Exhibit B||Copy of email sent by Complainants to STC and to Counsel for Respondent stating the assessed valuations of four neighboring properties|
|Exhibit C||Copy of email sent by Complainants to STC stating that Ms. Wang’s daughter had quit claimed the subject property to Complainants and the BOE Notice of Decision letter issued to Ms. Wang’s daughter in September 2015|
Respondent did not object to Complainants’ exhibits, which were received into the record.
- Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent offered as evidence the testimony of Missouri State Certified Residential Real Estate Appraiser Debbie Freukes (the Appraiser). The Appraiser opined that the subject property’s TMV as of January 1, 2015, was $62,000, which was lower than the BOE’s valuation. In support of the Appraiser’s opinion of value, Respondent offered as evidence Exhibit 1, the Appraiser’s report. Complainants did not object to Respondent’s exhibit, which was received into the record.
The Appraiser testified that, in arriving at her opinion of TMV, she considered the cost approach and the income approach in developing an opinion of value but determined these approaches were neither reliable nor applicable to the subject property due to its age and the lack of homes rented at the time of their sale. The Appraiser relied on the sales comparison approach to develop an opinion of value of the subject property because that approach reflected the actions of typical buyers and sellers in the local market, which was relatively stable. (Exhibit 1) In the report, the Appraiser noted the sale of the subject property in July 2013 for $43,800 was a government sale. (Exhibit 1) The Appraiser conducted an exterior inspection of the subject property. The Appraiser noted that, at the time of viewing, “the exterior appeared consistent with the C3 rating” and that the appraisal was based on the “extraordinary assumption” that the interior condition was the same as the observed exterior condition. (Exhibit 1)
The Appraiser’s report analyzed five comparable sales. The five comparables had been sold between October 2013 and November 2015. (Exhibit 1) The sale prices of the comparables ranged from $55,000 to $63,500. Although all of the sales were arms-length transactions, the Appraiser made market-based adjustments to account for financing or concessions related to the sales. (Exhibit 1) The Appraiser made other market-based adjustments for lot size; the number of bedrooms and bathrooms; finished area in the basements; whether the comparables included a carport or garage; whether the comparables included a porch, patio, or deck; and exterior construction. The Appraiser found that the subject property and all of the comparables had quality of construction ratings of Q5, which the report defined as:
Dwellings with this quality rating feature economy of construction and basic functionality as main considerations. Such dwellings feature a plain design using readily available or basic floor plans featuring minimal fenestration and basic finishes with minimal exterior ornamentation and limited interior detail. These dwellings meet minimum building codes and are constructed with inexpensive, stock materials with limited refinements and upgrades.
The Appraiser found that Comparable No. 1 was inferior in condition to the subject property, which required a market-based adjustment. The subject property and Comparable Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5 had condition ratings of C3, which the report defined as:
The improvements are well maintained and feature limited physical depreciation due to normal wear and tear. Some components, but not every major building component, may be updated or recently rehabilitated. The structure has been well maintained.
The Appraiser noted that all of the comparables were within less than one-half of a mile of the subject property. The Appraiser considered and weighed all of the comparables equally. The adjusted sale prices of the comparables ranged between $59,000 and $67,750. (Exhibit 1)
- Presumption of Correct Assessment Rebutted – True Market Value Established. Complainants’ evidence was not substantial and persuasive to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE. However, Respondent’s evidence was substantial and persuasive to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE and to establish the TMV of the subject property as of January 1, 2016, to be $62,000.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND DECISION
The STC 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 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 true value in money 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.
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.
During the hearing, the Hearing Officer inquired of Ms. Wang and of the Appraiser.
Board Presumption and Computer-Assisted Presumption
There exists a presumption of correct assessment by the BOE – the BOE presumption. 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 BOE, then Respondent is required to rebut the BOE presumption.
The computer-assisted presumption is applicable only if (1) the BOE lowered the value of the Assessor and Respondent is seeking to sustain the original assessment and (2) 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 lowered the initial valuation of Respondent, and both Complainants and Respondent are now seeking to lower the BOE’s assessment; therefore, the BOE presumption applies.
Complainant’s Burden of Proof
To obtain a reduction in assessed valuation 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).
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. 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.” Westwood Partnership, 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. W.D. 1991).
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).
Respondent’s Burden of Proof
Respondent, when advocating a value different from that determined by the original valuation or a valuation made by the BOE, must meet the same burden of proof to present substantial and persuasive evidence of the value advocated as required of the Complainant under the principles established by case law. Hermel, Inc., 564 S.W.2d at 895; Cupples-Hesse, 329 S.W.2d at 702; Brooks, 527 S.W.2d at 53.
In this case, Respondent presented the Appraiser’s report as evidence indicating a lower valuation than the value finally determined by the BOE and lower than the value previously determined by Respondent; thus, the Appraiser’s report was received to be considered in light of Respondent’s argument that the BOE’s valuation of the subject property should be lowered to $62,000 as of January 1, 2016.
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).
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.
In this case, Complainants’ 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.
Complainants primarily argued that the subject property’s TMV should be based upon the price Ms. Wang’s daughter paid for the property in July 2013. Complainants also argued that the subject property’s assessed valuation must be incorrect when compared to the assessed valuation of neighboring properties. However, Complainants did not present any specific, market-based evidence comparing the neighboring properties to the subject property. Without such evidence, Complainants’ argument that the assessed valuation of neighboring properties was correct while the assessed valuation of the subject property was incorrect is not persuasive.
On the contrary, Respondent presented substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE. The Appraiser, a state certified residential real estate appraiser, used one of the three court-approved methods for valuing residential property to arrive at an opinion of TMV for the subject property, the sales comparison method. The Appraiser’s report analyzed sales data from comparable properties in the same geographic area as the subject property. The Appraiser weighed the comparables equally. The Appraiser testified that she performed an exterior inspection only of the subject property and that the exterior appeared to be consistent with the C3 rating. The appraisal report was based upon the “extraordinary assumption that the interior condition is the same as the observed exterior condition.” Complainants did not refute that assumption. Notably, the Appraiser testified that she did not use the July 2013 sale of the subject property as a comparable sale because that sale was not an indicator of TMV given that had been a government/foreclosure sale through an auction and not a market sale.
The TMV for the subject property as determined by the BOE is SET ASIDE. The assessed value for the subject property for tax year 2016 is set at $11,780 residential ($62,000 TMV).
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 11, 2017.
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 11th day of April, 2017, to: Complainants(s) counsel and/or Complainant, the County Assessor and/or Counsel for Respondent and County Collector.
 Ms. Wang testified that Complainants had not conducted any statistical analysis and did not have any evidence other than the assessed values of neighboring properties to support the claim of discrimination. Accordingly, the claim of discrimination was deemed waived.