STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
|THOMAS & LINDA K. O’HARE,||)|
|v.||)||Appeal No. 15-15932|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR||)|
|ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
The assessment made by the Board of Equalization of St. Louis County (BOE) is AFFIRMED. Complainants Thomas and Linda K. O’Hare (Complainants) did not present substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE. Respondent Jake Zimmerman, St. Louis County Assessor, (Respondent) presented substantial and persuasive evidence to support the BOE’s valuation of the subject property as of January 1, 2015.
Complainants appeared pro se.
Respondent appeared by Steven Robson, Assistant County Counselor.
Case heard and decided by Senior Hearing Officer Amy S. Westermann.
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 $400,800. The BOE sustained Respondent’s valuation. The Commission takes this appeal to determine the TMV of the subject property on January 1, 2015.
The Senior 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 State Tax Commission.
- Evidentiary Hearing. The issue of overvaluation was presented at an evidentiary hearing on July 21, 2016, 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 29L430621. It is further identified as 10123 Tanbridge Rd., St. Louis County, Missouri. (Complaint; Exhibit 1)
- Description of Subject Property. The subject property consists of an 8,201 square foot residential lot improved by a 2,098 square foot, single-family, detached villa style home built in 2002. (Exhibit 1) The subject property includes three bedrooms; two full bathrooms; a 2,026 square foot basement with 1,000 square feet of finished area that includes a recreation room, one bedroom, and one full bathroom; a two-car attached garage; two fireplaces; and a patio and deck. (Exhibit 1) The exterior consists of frame/vinyl construction. (Exhibit 1)
- Assessment. Respondent set a TMV for the subject property of $400,800 residential, as of January 1, 2015.
- Board of Equalization. The BOE sustained Respondent’s TMV of the subject property.
- Complainant’s Evidence. Complainants testified in their own behalf. Complainants testified that they had purchased the subject property in 2002 for approximately $383,000. Complainants testified that the subject property had not been listed with a realtor because it was newly constructed when they purchased it. Complainants testified that the subject property was encumbered by a mortgage of approximately $43,000. Complainants testified that the subject property had not been listed for sale or appraised within the three years preceding the Evidentiary Hearing, that they had not received any offers to purchase the subject property, and that they had not made improvements to the subject property between January 2013 and January 2015. Complainants opined that the subject property’s TMV as of January 1, 2015, was below $400,000. In their Complaint for Review of Assessment, Complainants had proposed a value of $281,400.
Complainants offered as evidence to support their opinion of value (1) a summary of Complainants’ position, including the argument that Respondent’s valuation was flawed because two of the comparable properties used by Respondent had features that the subject property did not have and had sold for higher purchase prices than their appraised values; (Exhibit A); (2) a printed comparable sales analysis report for Respondent’s comparables (Exhibit B); a packet containing printed listings obtained from MLS/MARIS describing Respondent’s comparables (Exhibit C1-C3); a packet containing printed listings obtained from MLS/MARIS describing Complainants’ comparables (Exhibit D1-D3); a packet containing a table summarizing data regarding 54 villas in the subject property’s neighborhood along with listings obtained from MLS/MARIS describing three additional comparables (Exhibit E1-E5); photographs of part of the exterior of the subject property and parts of the exterior of two of Respondent’s comparable properties (Exhibit F); and a printed version of Respondent’s webpage on the St. Louis County Government website along with testimony regarding Complainants’ difficulty in obtaining courteous service from Respondent’s office when Complainants sought information about the assessment of the subject property (Exhibit G).
Respondent objected to Exhibits B and E for lack of relevance and specifically asked for the handwritten notations on Exhibit B to be stricken. The Senior Hearing Officer overruled the objections as to relevance but sustained the objection requesting the striking of the handwritten notations on Exhibit B. Respondent objected to Complainants’ testimony related to Exhibit G as hearsay. The Senior Hearing Officer overruled the objection and received both Exhibit G and Complainants’ testimony related to Exhibit G into the record. Respondent did not object to Complainants’ other exhibits, which were received into the record.
- Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent offered as evidence the testimony of Residential Appraiser Senior Sharon Kuelker (the Appraiser) along with the Appraiser’s report containing the Appraiser’s professional credentials. (Exhibit 1) The Appraiser opined that the TMV of the subject property as of January 1, 2015, was $432,000.
Complainant did not object to Respondent’s evidence, 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 Board and to establish the true value in money as of January 1, 2015, to be $281,400 as proposed.
The evidence presented by Respondent was received and considered only for the purpose of sustaining the BOE’s valuation of $400,800 and not for increasing the valuation of the subject property in this appeal.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND DECISION
The Commission 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 Senior Hearing Officer shall issue a decision and order affirming, modifying or reversing the determination of the Board of Equalization, 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 Commission, 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 Senior Hearing Officer inquired of Complainants.
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.
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 Commission “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 Senior 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 Senior 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 Senior 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 Senior 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).
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 it also would be applicable to the Respondent.
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 sustained the initial valuation of Respondent, and Complainant is seeking to lower the BOE’s assessment; therefore, only the BOE presumption applies.
Methods of Valuation
Proper methods of valuation and assessment of property are delegated to the Commission. 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.
Evidence of Increase in Value
In any case in charter counties or St. Louis City where the assessor presents evidence indicating a valuation higher than the value finally determined by the assessor or the value determined by the BOE, whichever is higher, for that assessment period, such evidence will only be received for the purpose of sustaining the assessor’s or board’s valuation, and not for increasing the valuation of the property under appeal. Section 138.060, RSMo; 12 CSR 30-3.075.
The evidence presented by Respondent was substantial and persuasive to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the Board and establish the fair market value of the property under appeal, as of January 1, 2015, to be $432,000. However, under the Commission rule just cited and Supreme Court decision, the assessed value cannot be increased above $400,800 in this particular appeal. State ex rel. Ashby Road Partners, LLC et al v. STC and Muehlheausler, 297 S.W.3d 80, 87-88 (Mo 8/4/09).
Complainant Fails To Prove Discrimination
Where there is a claim of discrimination based upon a lack of valuation consistency, Complainants have the burden to prove the level of assessment for the subject property in 2015. This is done by independently determining the market value of the subject property and dividing the market value into the assessed value of the property as determined by the assessor’s office.
Complainants must then prove the average level of assessment for residential property in St. Louis County for 2015. This is done by (a) independently determining the market value of a representative sample of residential properties in St. Louis County; (b) determining the assessed value placed on the property by the assessor’s office for the relevant year; (c) dividing the assessed value by the market value to determine the level of assessment for each property in the sample; and (d) determining the mean and median of the results.
The difference between the actual assessment level of the subject property and the average level of assessment for all residential property, taken from a sufficient representative sample in St. Louis County must demonstrate a disparity that is grossly excessive. Savage, supra.
Complainants’ discrimination claim fails because they failed to establish the market value of their property. Without establishing their market value, they cannot establish their assessment ratio. Without establishing their ratio, they cannot establish that they are being assessed at a higher percentage of market value that any other property.
However, even if Complainants had established their market value, their discrimination claim would still fail because they have not demonstrated that a statistically significant number of other residential properties within St. Louis are being assessed at a lower ratio of market value than their property. Complainants’ claim of discrimination is based upon their argument that some properties have had improvements that are not recognized in the assessment of those properties because the improvements were not reported by the properties’ owners. While this argument is potentially based in fact, Complainants did not present specific, statistical evidence to support it.
Because Complainants have failed to establish the market value of their property and have failed to establish that they are being assessed at a higher percentage of market value than a statistically significant number of other residential properties in St. Louis County, they have failed to establish discrimination.
Complainants’ evidence was neither substantial nor persuasive to support an opinion that the TMV of the subject property as of January 1, 2015, was $281,400. 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 argued that they had provided “valid alternative comps in [their] subdivision and one outside [their] subdivision” that Respondent had refused to consider. Complainants’ comparables sold between July 2013 and May 2014. (Exhibit D1-D3) Complainants’ comparables had sale prices ranging from $315,000 and $465,000. (Exhibit D1-D-3) However, Complainants did not present a properly performed sales comparison analysis showing market-based adjustments for the differences and similarities between their comparables and the subject property. Significantly, two of Complainants’ comparables were 1.5-story villas and one of Complainants’ comparables was located in a different neighborhood. Complainants argued that these comparables should have been used to determine the TMV of the subject property instead of Respondents’ chosen comparables because Respondent’s comparables within the subject property’s neighborhood had four-season rooms, a large patio, stone retaining walls, and professional landscaping that the subject property lacks. However, Complainants’ evidence of comparables amounted to raw data, which would require the trier of fact to speculate in order to believe the TMV of the subject property was $281,400 on January 1, 2015.
On the contrary, Respondent’s evidence of TMV through the Appraiser’s report reveals that the Appraiser developed an opinion of value relying upon an established and recognized approach for the valuation of real property – the sales comparison or market approach. The sales comparison approach is generally recognized to be the most reliable methodology to be utilized in the valuation of single-family residences. The adjustments made by the Appraiser were consistent with generally accepted guidelines for the appraisal of property of the subject’s type. The adjustments properly accounted for the various differences between the subject and each comparable. Specifically, the Appraiser made adjustments accounting for the differences, such as four-season rooms, between Respondent’s comparables and the subject property.
The Appraiser testified that she had chosen three comparable properties located within one-fifth of a mile or less of the subject property and that had sold between April 2014 and June 2014. In arriving at an opinion of value, the Appraiser placed equal weight on all of the comparables. The Appraiser testified that she had reviewed comparables of the same style as the subject (villa/ranch), within the same neighborhood (The Enclave at Nottinghill), and had accounted for the presence of four-season rooms by calculating the total number of square feet that were heated and air conditioned. The sale prices of Respondent’s comparables ranged from $374,000 to $437,000. The Appraiser made market based adjustments to the comparables for the number of bedrooms; total square footage of and finished square footage in the basement; number of full versus half bathrooms in the basement; number of fireplaces; and size of patios. (Exhibit 1) The adjusted prices of the comparables ranged from $419,400 to $440,000. (Exhibit 1)
The Appraiser viewed only portions of the exterior of the subject property from the street due to the Appraiser’s inability to gain access from Complainants. At the time of her viewing, the Appraiser concluded that the exterior appeared consistent with the C4 rating for condition, i.e., the subject property showed signs of some minor deferred maintenance and physical deterioration due to normal wear and tear. The Appraiser assumed the interior condition was consistent with the observed exterior condition. The Appraiser gave all of the comparables the same C4 rating.
Respondent’s evidence supported the BOE’s valuation of the subject property as of January 1, 2015, of $400,800.
The true market valuation for the subject property as determined by the BOE is AFFIRMED. The assessed value for the subject property for tax years 2015 and 2016 is set at $76,150 residential ($400,800 TMV).
Application for Review
A party may file with the Commission an application for review of this decision within thirty 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 October 4, 2016.
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 4th day of October, 2016, to: Complainants(s) counsel and/or Complainant, the County Assessor and/or Counsel for Respondent and County Collector.
 Although Complainants claimed both overvaluation and discrimination in their Complaint for Review of Assessment, Complainants did not present a statistical study and analysis prepared by an expert in statistical analysis and supported by sworn testimony from the expert. At the evidentiary hearing, Complainants argued that they had been discriminated against because they had pulled permits for home improvements made to the subject property, causing Respondent to assess/appraise the subject property at a higher TMV than properties whose owners had not complied with local ordinances and had not pulled permits. In order to obtain a reduction in assessed value based upon discrimination, the Complainants were required (1) prove the true value in money of their property on January 1, 2015; and (2) show an intentional plan of discrimination by the assessing officials resulting in an assessment of their property at a greater percentage of value than other property, generally, within the same class within the same taxing jurisdiction. Koplar v. State Tax Commission, 321 S.W.2d 686, 690, 695 (Mo. 1959). Evidence of value and assessments of a few properties does not prove discrimination. Substantial evidence must show that all other property in the same class (residential), generally, is actually undervalued. State ex rel. Plantz v. State Tax Commission, 384 S.W.2d 565, 568 (Mo. 1964). The difference in the assessment ratio of the subject property and the average assessment ratio in the subject county must be shown to be grossly excessive. Savage v. State Tax Commission of Missouri, 722 S.W.2d 72, 79 (Mo. banc 1986). No other methodology is sufficient to establish discrimination. Cupples-Hesse, supra. Complainants failed to prove their proposed TMV of the subject property and failed to present evidence that residential property in St. Louis County, as a class, was appraised at a value lower than the subject property; therefore, the claim of discrimination in this case also fails.
 Although the Appraiser’s report indicated that the TMV of the subject property was higher than the BOE’s valuation and Respondent’s initial valuation, Respondent did not advocate increasing the subject property’s valuation; rather, Respondent utilized the Appraiser’s report only as support for an opinion that the BOE’s valuation should be affirmed.