Questioning Property Tax Assessments

Both property tax assessors and owners may assume that valuations are on the rise when prices and sales are trending up, but experts say increased sales and price …

Both property tax assessors and owners may assume that valuations are on the rise when prices and sales are trending up, but experts say increased sales and price activity are not good stand-alone reasons for a commercial property tax hike. Looking at a city like Atlanta, one can see wide differences in activity in the various commercial submarkets, which is one clue that the property in question may not necessarily deserve a higher tax valuation. Experts say property owners should not be afraid to challenge tax assessments, particularly when it appears that the only reason for the increase is the perception of a healthier property market. For more on this continue reading the following article from National Real Estate Investor.

There is a common perception among assessors that an increase in real estate sales activity is a sign of an improving economy. For a commercial property owner on the receiving end of a tax assessment increase, however, it is a good idea to analyze how the assessor came to his/her conclusions and then decide if the increase is justified, or if a protest is in order.

Sales of office, retail, hotel, multi-family and industrial properties in Atlanta increased in number from early 2010 to late 2012, according to CoStar Group, a national researcher. But does that increase automatically result in higher valuations? What trends do the sale prices over this period indicate on a per-square-foot, per-room, or per-unit basis? More importantly, what conclusions, if any, should the taxpayer or assessor draw regarding valuation of individual properties?

Retail properties accounted for the largest number of commercial, arms-length sales transactions in Atlanta from the beginning of 2010 through 2012. Narrowing the focus of sale price data reveals that the average price per square foot paid for retail properties in that period actually decreased by 20 percent. Full-year data for 2013 is not yet available, but sales through July suggest that the downward trend in average price per square foot for Atlanta’s retail properties is continuing.

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Atlanta’s highest percentage increase in number of sales from 2010 through 2012 occurred in the hotel market; despite the uptick in volume, the average price paid on a per-room basis for hotel properties decreased by about 17 percent. Available year-to-date data for 2013 indicates that the average room rate for hotel properties may be increasing, with an associated effect on hotel valuations, but each property will require a closer analysis of the class of property sold, its location, and other relevant facts.

Atlanta’s multifamily sector posted a compelling percentage increase in the number of sales completed from early 2010 through 2012. In this group, the average sale price per unit increased over that same period. But again, valuing a specific property would require an examination of all factors, such as quality and location.

The market’s office sales increased significantly in number from the beginning of 2010 to year-end 2012. During that time, the average sale price per square foot increased, but like other categories, specific factors must be examined to arrive at a fair value.

Finally, while industrial properties experienced a dramatic increase in the number of sales from the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2012, the average price per square foot for these properties in Atlanta decreased steadily in 2011 and 2012. Whether this trend will continue in 2013 is unknown. Sales would need to be examined for specific industry types or sub-categories of properties in order to draw worthwhile conclusions about the value of a particular parcel.

The varying directions of price trends demonstrate that now, more than ever, Atlanta property owners should closely review property tax assessments and make specific determinations regarding the correctness of the valuation. General sales trends and perceptions provide insufficient basis for deciding whether or not to appeal the county assessment notice.

Research regarding many personalized, property-specific factors and criteria are involved in making a determination of value, including an analysis using the income approach. Atlanta commercial property owners should question any assessor’s suggestion that sales volume recovery in the Atlanta marketplace equates to an increase in the value of their properties.

Lisa Stuckey is a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Ragsdale, Beals, Seigler, Patterson & Gray, LLP, the Georgia member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. She can be reached at


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