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Greenblatt v. Englewood City

015575-2009 (N.J. Tax Ct. 2011)

TAXATION —If the evidence presented in a tax appeal does not permit a conclusion as to the appropriate value by a fair preponderance of the evidence, such that a determination of true value cannot be made, the appellant will have failed to sustain the requisite burden of proof necessary to alter the assessments.

A taxpayer, the owner of a single-family home, challenged the property’s tax assessment. The county board of taxation affirmed the assessment, finding that the presumption of correctness had not been overcome. The taxpayer appealed to the tax court. At trial, two witnesses appeared: an appraiser called by the taxpayer to testify as an expert witness with respect to value of the residential property; and an appraiser called by the municipality in the same field. The parties stipulated to the qualifications of both experts, and the court accepted the stipulations. The experts disagreed on the home’s gross living area. The taxpayer’s expert did not include a game room as livable space because it was unheated, while the municipality’s expert did include the area.

The taxpayer’s expert relied on both the market approach (using comparable sales) and the cost approach in arriving at his conclusion of value. He placed most weight on the market approach. He testified that when employing the market approach, he first inspects the subject, taking measurements and photos. He then researches sales in the subject’s market area, selecting those sales he deems most comparable. Finally, he makes adjustments to the comparable sales price to account for any differences between the subject and the comparable sales. Here, he located four sales, all in the subject municipality and all within close proximity to the subject property.

The municipality’s expert also relied on the market approach in arriving at his valuation conclusion. He relied on three sales, all within the subject city and all in relatively close proximity to the subject property. Both experts made adjustments in determining the value of the property. Unlike the taxpayer’s expert, however, the municipality’s expert’s adjustment summary contained a unit value for each type of adjustment he made.

The Court first found, as a threshold matter, that the taxpayer had produced sufficient evidence to overcome the presumption of correctness attached to the county board judgment because, if taken as true, the opinion of the experts and the facts upon which they relied create a sufficient question regarding correctness to allow it to make an independent determination of the value of the property.

On the other hand, the Court found that the taxpayer’s expert failed to support his valuation with sufficient data. By way of example, the Court noted that the expert’s adjustment for site area was $100,000 per acre. However, he failed to provide the source for his dollar adjustment. He offered no vacant land sales and no sales of residentially improved property with excess land; nor did he provide a land residual analysis from which to measure the validity of the adjustment. The Court came to the same conclusion for each of his adjustments. Without these explanations, it was constrained to place little weight on the taxpayer’s expert’s opinions. The Court also found similar deficiencies in the municipality’s expert’s opinion. Thus, it was constrained to reject the sales comparison approach methodology presented by each of the parties.

Further, the Court found the taxpayer’s cost approach lacking. The expert had offered no testimony as to his cost approach, and the report contained no details or explanations for the valuation. Thus, it found that the evidence presented did not permit a conclusion as to the appropriate value by a fair preponderance of the evidence. Because the Court found that the record was void of sufficient and competent evidence from which a determination of true value could be made, it dismissed the complaint for failure to sustain the requisite burden of proof necessary to alter the assessment.


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