Ronald Fred Miller v. Jake Zimmerman, Assessor, St. Louis County, Missouri

August 26th, 2022

STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI

RONALD FRED MILLER, )
) Appeal No. 21-10001
Complainant, )
) Parcel No. 23M311550
v. )
)
JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR )
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI, )
)
Respondent. )

DECISION AND ORDER

Ronald Fred Miller (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 $646,900.  Complainant alleged overvaluation and proposed that the TVM as of that date was $510,000.[1]  Respondent asserted at hearing that the TVM as of that date was $607,500, based on an appraisal performed by a County employee.  Because Respondent produced substantial and persuasive evidence that the TVM of the subject property was $607,500 as of the assessment date, the BOE decision is set aside.  The TVM of the subject property on January 1, 2021 was $607,500.

The evidentiary hearing was held on April 20, 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

  1. The Subject Property. The subject residential real property is located at 215 Dickson St., Kirkwood, Missouri.  The subject property consists of a single family one story ranch-style home on a 0.4 acre lot.  Complainant testified that he purchased the property around 2010 for $245,000.  The house contains 2,805 square feet of living space and has three bedrooms, two bathrooms.  In 2020, Complainant added on 280 square feet of living space to the master bedroom area.
  2. Assessment and Valuation. Respondent classified the subject property as residential and determined the TVM on January 1, 2021, was $673,900.  The BOE determined the TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021, was $646,900.
  3. Complainant’s Evidence. Complainant offered Exhibit A, which Complainant asserted was an appraisal report of the subject property’s value prepared by Mr. James Shea III, a licensed appraiser. Respondent objected to Exhibit A on the grounds of authentication/lack of foundation and hearsay because the alleged preparer of the report was not present or available to testify.  The objections were sustained.[2]  Exhibit A was made part of the record, but not admitted into evidence for consideration by the Hearing Officer.

Complainant also offered Exhibit B which was admitted without objection.  Exhibit B was prepared by Complainant and contains a “reasonableness” analysis, where Complainant compares the percentage increases in assessed value from 2020 to 2021 of the subject property and neighboring properties, 201 Dickson St. and 2018 Dickson St.  Exhibit B breaks down the appraised land value versus appraised improvement value for each property.  Complainant asserted that the percentage increase of the improvements of his property was 121% from 2020 to 2021, as opposed to the 23% and 16% increases of neighboring properties.  Complainant calculated the appraised value of the additional 280 square foot of living space added to the subject property in 2020 by using the prior rate of assessment per square foot in the prior assessment.  Using the average 2021 percentage increased assessment for appraised improvements of neighboring properties, Complainant then adjusted the total basis to arrive at a TVM of $532,746.  Complainant testified that he is not an appraiser.  Complainant asserted that this method is a reasonable method in determining the TVM of the subject property.

  1. Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent introduced the following Exhibits, which were both admitted into evidence.
Exhibit Description
1 A copy of the October 29, 2021, BOE decision letter determining the subject property’s appraised value as of January 1, 2021.
2 Appraisal report of the subject property by Adam Luesse completed on April 13, 2022.

 

Complainant objected to Exhibit 2 on the grounds that Respondent’s witness only performed an external inspection of the subject property, did not perform the appraisal according to accepted appraisal techniques, and lack of foundation.  The objections were overruled.

Adam Luesse, an Appraiser Senior with the St. Louis County’s Assessor’s Office, testified on behalf of Respondent.  Mr. Luesse’s job responsibilities include reviewing tax appeals that have been appealed to the State Tax Commission on behalf of the County.  He also prepares appraisals of real property, reviews appraisals, and also analyzes outside appraisals for the County in his position.  Mr. Luesse is a Certified Residential Trainee Appraiser in Missouri and also possesses a Missouri Real Estate Broker’s license. Mr. Luesse testified that he prepared Respondent’s Exhibit 2, an appraisal of the subject property performed in April of 2022.

In his appraisal, Mr. Luesse used a sales comparison approach in determining an opinion of value for the subject property as of January 1, 2021.  Mr. Luesse found three comparable sales in 2020 within .4 miles of the subject property.  Mr. Luesse made monetary adjustments to the sales prices of these three properties depending on the features of those properties versus the subject property.  Employing this method, Mr. Luesse arrived at an adjusted value of $607,500 for two of the properties, and $596,000 for the third property.  Examining the comparables further, Mr. Luesse arrived at $607,500 for an opinion of value for the subject property as of January 1, 2021.

Mr. Luesse notes in his report that among the three approaches to value a property, the sales comparison approach is the best valuation method for single-unit residential properties in the subject property’s market.  He goes on to explain that the cost approach is not useful because building cost does not necessarily equate to market value under the current market, and the income approach would not be credible because properties like the subject are rarely rented so there is no reliable data to develop that approach.

Mr. Luesse admitted on cross examination that an exterior inspection of the subject property was performed from the street and no interior inspection was conducted. However, Mr. Luesse also testified that he made extraordinary assumptions of the interior condition of the subject when completing his appraisal, using the condition of the exterior of the property, permit data of the County for the recent renovation of the subject property, and previous condition data in formal appraisals of the subject.  Mr. Luesse testified that he used Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice when conducting the appraisal.  When asked about whether  the fact that one side of the house borders busy Adams Ave. has an impact on TVM, Mr. Luesse testified that in his opinion, based on market conditions, it did not.

  1. Value. The TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021, was $607,500.

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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”).
  3. Complainant Did Not Produce Substantial and Persuasive Evidence of Overvaluation.

Complainant did not produce substantial and persuasive evidence to support his $510,000 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 may believe it is a “reasonable” test for value, Complainant’s method of using average percentage increases in assessed value of neighboring properties and applying it to the subject property is not an acceptable approach to determining the TVM of a subject property.  Additionally, there is no evidence that these comparable properties have been sold recently, and therefore no adjustments could be made to the values for these properties to account for differences between these and the subject property to determine TVM of the subject.  Even if Complainant had rebutted the presumption of correct valuation by the BOE, Complainant has not proven with substantial and persuasive evidence that the TVM of the subject property was $510,000 as of January 1, 2021.

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).

Respondent, although not required to, presented persuasive evidence showing the TVM of the subject property on January 1, 2021, was $607,500.  Respondent’s Exhibit 2 utilizes a comparable sales approach to arrive at that value.  Mr. Luesse’s testimony and Exhibit 2 demonstrate there is an active market for similar single family homes in the subject property’s immediate area (less than .4 miles), and that there are sufficient data to make a comparative analysis.  See Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 348 (noting 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”).  The comparable sales approach utilized in Exhibit 2 is an appropriate valuation method and constitutes substantial and persuasive evidence to value the subject property at $607,500.

CONCLUSION AND ORDER

The BOE’s decision is set aside.  The TVM of the subject property on January 1, 2019, was $607,500.

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.

Disputed Taxes

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 26, 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 August 26, 2022 to: Complainant(s) and/or Counsel for Complainant(s), the County Assessor and/or Counsel for Respondent and County Collector.

Noah Shepard

Legal Coordinator

[1] 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.

[2] Complainant testified that before the hearing he had asked Mr. Shea to appear for the hearing, but Mr. Shea told him he could not attend.  After Respondent’s objections were lodged, a short recess was taken to allow Complainant another opportunity to contact Mr. Shea to see if he could appear at the hearing.  After the recess, it was confirmed that, while Complainant did make contact with Mr. Shea during the recess, Mr. Shea again said he was not available to testify.