STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
|Complainant,||)||Appeal No. 21-18409|
|)||Parcel No. 20N640292|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR,||)|
|ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
Matthew Cerretti (Complainant) appeals 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 $470,600. Complainant alleges overvaluation and asserted at hearing that the TVM as of that date was between $370,000 and $380,000. Complainant did not produce substantial and persuasive evidence of overvaluation. The BOE decision is affirmed. The TVM of the subject property on January 1, 2021, was $470,600.
The evidentiary hearing was held on April 21, 2022, via Webex. Complainant appeared pro se via phone. Respondent Jake Zimmerman, Assessor, St. Louis County, Missouri was represented by counsel, Tim Bowe who appeared by Webex. The case was heard and decided by Senior Hearing Officer Benjamin C. Slawson.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. The Subject Property. The subject residential real property is located at 1 Clayton Downs Ln., St. Louis, Missouri. The subject property consists of a lot a little less than one acre and a 1954 single family ranch home built on a concrete slab. The house has approximately 1,500 square feet of living space and includes a two-car garage, three bedrooms, three and half bathrooms, but no basement. Complainant testified that he ended up purchasing the subject property in 2018 for about $418,000 after the contracted price of $433,500 was reduced before closing. Complainant made an improvement to the home in 2020, adding the two-garage. Complainant did not recall the cost of the improvement. The old garage area was absorbed into the house as additional living space. Complainant resides in the home and has not listed the subject property for sale in the last three years.
2. Assessment and Valuation. Respondent classified the subject property as residential and determined the TVM on January 1, 2021, was $470,600. The BOE also determined the TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021, was $470,600.
3. Complainant’s Evidence. Complainant introduced Exhibit A, which was admitted into evidence without objection. Exhibit A is five pages and consists respectively of (1) a picture of the office building and warehouse across the street from the subject property which was recently constructed, (2) a photograph of an intersection in the subject property’s neighborhood, (3) a photograph of the subject property, (4) a photograph of 19 Clayton Downs Ln., a neighboring property across the street from the subject property, and (5) information about 19 Clayton Downs Ln.
Complainant testified that he is not a licensed appraiser, nor does he have any educational background or professional training in the field of appraisal. Complainant testified that he believes that the BOE overvalued his property due to two main issues, both of which he presented to the BOE.
First, Complainant argued that the recent ongoing construction of a commercial three-story office building across the street devalued his property significantly. Complainant claimed that the construction of the building resulted in light pollution, additional traffic and the addition of a stop light in the neighborhood, less privacy, and a less scenic view from his property. Complainant testified that as of January 1, 2021, the houses across the street had been leveled and the lot prepared for construction, but the office building had not yet been built. Complainant also noted that when he first purchased the home in 2018, there was little development and the area was largely residential. Now, the neighborhood has expanded significantly and more commercial property has been built. While Complainant admitted he did not have the specialized training to quantify how much these changes have affected the subject property, Complainant believes the TVM of the subject property has been reduced significantly.
Second, Complainant asserted that the 2021 sale of 19 Clayton Downs Ln., a neighboring property that he believes is similar and a good comparable sale, shows that his property was overvalued. According to the information shown on Exhibit A, 19 Clayton Downs Ln. was sold on January 6, 2021 for $370,000. That property includes a 1954 ranch-style home of 2,286 square foot of living space and is situated on a 1.07 acre lot. According to Complainant, 19 Clayton Downs Ln. is across the street from the subject property and is very similar in composition and size to the subject. Unlike the subject, he notes that the comparable has a finished basement and an attached garage.
4. Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent introduced Exhibit 1, the BOE’s October 29, 2021, Decision Letter. Complainant did not object. Respondent’s Exhibit 1 was admitted into evidence.
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 and a half 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, analyzing various characteristics of that property, and finding sales of comparable properties to make adjustments to determine the TVM of the subject.
Before the hearing, Mr. Zahner reviewed data regarding the comparable offered by Complainant, 19 Clayton Downs Ln. He noted that while the house was of similar size to the subject property, it was in far worse condition than the subject at the time of its sale in 2021. Mr. Zahner also noted from his research that it was marketed at a lower sales price to account for needed updates and any personalization of the home that the buyer might desire. Mr. Zahner was able to look at photos of the subject from the Multi-Listing Service (MLS) taken near the time of the 2018 sale to Complainant and determined that it was in very good condition, including a newly remodeled kitchen and remodeled bathroom. Mr. Zahner noted that in his professional opinion, he would not have used 19 Clayton Downs Ln. as a comparable for the subject property because it would have required significant upward adjustments to arrive at a TVM for the subject.
Concerning the commercial building construction, Mr. Zahner stated from looking at Complainant’s photographs that he did not believe it would significantly affect value of the subject. Mr. Zahner explained that in his opinion, value of subject property is not greatly affected because the building is across the street from the rear of the subject and the subject’s back yard includes a privacy tree line. Last, Mr. Zahner confirmed that in his opinion, the BOE assigned value of $470,600 was reasonable for the TVM of the subject property.
5. Value. The TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021, was $470,600.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
1. Assessment and Valuation. Pursuant to Article X, Sections 4(a) and 4(b), Mo. Const. of 1945 real property and tangible personal property is 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. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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”).
4. Complainant Did Not Produce Substantial and Persuasive Evidence of Overvaluation.
Complainant did not produce substantial and persuasive evidence to support his opinion of value of between $370,000 and $380,000 for the subject property.
The comparable sales approach is typically used to value residential properties improved with a single-family home. “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 comparable sale of a property, which he believes is determinative of the value of the subject property, this sale is not persuasive evidence as no adjustments were made to the sales price to account for differences between the subject property and this other property. Other additional data on the amenities and characteristics of the property (such as number of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.) was also not provided by Complainant for one to be able to use the other sale as a comparable from an appraisal standpoint.
Complainant also feels that his property is worth less now than when he purchased it in 2018 for $418,000 due to the commercial building construction across the street from his back yard. However, Complainant neither demonstrated that the BOE’s valuation fails to take into account this construction, nor did he provide proof of the specific monetary impact that the commercial construction has 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 between $370,000 and $380,000 as of January 1, 2021. Complainant does not produce a mathematical calculation of how he arrived at this range of value, nor does Exhibit A establish a TVM in this range. Complainant offered no other evidence to substantiate this claim and quantify his opinion of value. Complainant did not produce substantial and persuasive evidence that these other sales prove overvaluation.
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 $470,600.
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 August 12, 2022.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
Benjamin C. Slawson
Senior Hearing Officer
Certificate of Service
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing has been electronically mailed and/or sent by U.S. Mail on August 12, 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.