NJ Tax Courts Continue to Uphold High Standards for Appraisals
Jan 28, 2022 | Written by: Share|
In a series of opinions issued in late 2021, New Jersey Tax Courts continued to uphold high standards for the acceptance of real estate appraisals at trial. Specifically, the Tax Court continues to require appraisers to personally verify and support underlying data used in their reports.
In Cody Realty, LLC v. Borough of Carteret, (Unpub. Tax Court. November 16, 2021) and Slim & Thin LLC v. W. Caldwell Twp. (Unpub. Tax Ct. Nov. 8, 2021) the Tax Court rejected the plaintiffs’ expert appraisal reports where the appraisers failed to personally verify the terms of sales and leases and instead relied on online databases.
In Cody Realty, the plaintiff’s appraiser failed to personally verify the terms of leases of comparable properties relied upon in the report and relied solely on an online database called CoStar. The Tax Court stated, “While CoStar may be widely used by real estate appraisers and be deemed to publish reliable data, it does not… justify the lack of the need to review and verify the CoStar data with each of the comparable leases.”
In Slim & Thin, the Tax Court also rejected the plaintiff’s expert appraisal report where the terms of sales were not personally verified by the appraiser. Here, the plaintiff's appraiser relied on information gathered from multiple online sources (the New Jersey Association of County Tax Boards website, Garden State Multiple Listing Service, public tax records, Vitalgov.net, and Costar). Although the plaintiff’s appraiser in Slim & Thin stated his “primary source” for the sales data was discussions with municipal tax assessors, the Tax Court still found this to be insufficient verification.
In both cases, the Tax Court cited VBV Realty, LLC v. Twp. of Scotch Plains, 29 N.J. Tax 548 (2017) and the treatise The Appraisal of Real Estate, 385 (14th ed. 2013). In VBV Realty, the Tax Court recognized that online data sources are an important “starting point,” but “it is the process by which an appraiser verifies the accuracy of that data and information that is the hallmark of an effective appraisal report and sound opinion of value.” Supra, 29 N.J. Tax at 567. The Appraisal of Real Estate, a treatise relied on heavily by appraisers, states that a secondary data source “only confirms its existence and does not verify the transaction.”
In summary, the Tax Court in Slim & Thin stated, “When data and information are not properly sourced or verified, the opinions of value derived therefrom are not credible evidence of economic or market rent.”
In another opinion issued in November 2021, the Tax Court also noted that adjustments to comparable sales must be verified and supported. Raceway Realty, LLC v. Branchburg Township, (Tax Ct. Nov. 4, 2021). In Raceway Realty, the Tax Court rejected both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s appraisals for failure to provide supporting data for adjustments made to comparable sale. In particular, the Tax Court noted that the defendant’s expert made adjustments based on “general discussions” with owners. The Court relied on the holding in Greenblatt v. Township of Englewood, 26 N.J. Tax 41, 55 (Tax 2012) in rejecting both appraisals ("adjustments must have a foundation obtained from the market" with an "explanation of the methodology and assumptions used in arriving at the  adjustments " otherwise they are entitled to little weight).
These three opinions should cause plaintiffs and municipal defendants in Tax Court to carefully review their real estate appraisals prior to submission to ensure that they meet the stringent standards of the Tax Court.