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Turner Drake & Partners Ltd.
6182 North Street
Halifax, N.S.
B3K 1P5
Canada

Tel.: (902) 429-1811
Toll Free: (800) 567-3033
Fax.: (902) 429-1891

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Saint John, N.B.
E2L 5G5
Canada
Tel.: (506) 634-1811

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Charlottetown, P.E.
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Canada
Tel.: (902) 368-1811

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St. John's, N.L.
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Canada
Tel.: (709) 722-1811

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Toronto, ON.
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# Wednesday, March 2, 2016

If you own property in New Brunswick, your 2016 assessment notice and tax bill is in the mail and will land on your desk within the next couple of days. It is dated the 1st of March, and unless your property is enrolled in our PAMS® Property Tax Manager program, you have work to do! You have just 30 days from the date your notice was mailed to review your assessment and decide if you will take action to reduce your tax burden this year.

New Brunswick tax payers are being asked to make additional sacrifices this year. The HST rate is increasing from 13% to 15%, reaching deep into consumers’ pockets and leaving businesses that rely on consumer spending with a smaller pie to compete for. The corporate income tax rate is on the rise and will increase from 12% to 14% (an increase of 16.7%) this year. The reward for these sacrifices is a budget deficit of $347 million this coming year, a provincial debt that will rise to $13.4 billion by the end of the fiscal year, and a projection of a balanced budget… in 2021! We’ve seen this movie before.

Do not despair! Opportunity knocks! Although it’s the tax man who reviews your self-assessment of your consumption and income taxes, the New Brunswick Assessment Act gives you the authority to review and provide your input on the tax man’s estimate of your property tax assessment.

The basis for your 2016 Realty Assessment, as mandated by the provincial Assessment Act, is the Real & True Value (a.k.a. market value) of your property on the 1st of January 2016 (the “base date”). Market value and “value to the owner” are not the same thing. Do not fall into the trap of asking yourself “at what price would I be willing to sell?” or in estimating your property’s value as an input to the going concern value of your business. Ask instead what others would be willing to pay if the property was offered for sale. Ignore value attributable to leases if your skill as an entrepreneur has allowed you to outperform the market in terms of rental and or vacancy rates and ignore the value of any speculative or hypothetical uses of the property.

Market value then is the first test: if your Realty Assessment exceeds your property’s market value on the 1st of January 2016, it is over-assessed and you should file an appeal. If not, try applying our unofficial uniformity test. While the New Brunswick Assessment Act does not contain a uniformity provision (i.e. require that assessments bear a fair relationship to one another), there are circumstances where assessors can be convinced that such should be the case. Multiply your property’s market value by the general level of assessment prevailing in your municipality. In our experience, these levels are usually in the range of 75% - 90%. If you’re still not sure, try comparing your assessment on a unitised basis to similar properties. If the resultant figure is less than your assessment or you are assessed at a higher rate than other properties you may be able to secure a tax reduction this year.

The Bottom Line: The Assessment Act empowers you to have a say in what your 2016 property taxes will be. Speak now or forever hold your peace!

Action Required: Review your 2016 assessment and file an appeal if there is an opportunity to reduce your assessment. Not sure? Contact our New Brunswick tax team, André Pouliot or Chris Jobe at (506) 634-1811 (Saint John) or 1-800-567-3033 (elsewhere).

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 11:08:32 AM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
New Brunswick | Property Tax
# Friday, February 19, 2016

The Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC), formerly the provincial assessment department, is going boldly where it has gone before… demanding that property owners hoist themselves with their own petard. It is doubly ironic that property owners are required to pay for the cost of PVSC by way of a levy on their tax bill… and then are expected to do much of its work for it by downloading, printing and then completing its Income and Expense Questionnaires. While disregarding the request is poor strategy, completing it has its dangers too. PVSC will use the information it gleans from the Questionnaires to assess property for the 2017 taxation year. If your property is currently under-assessed, it is tempting to ignore the request in the hope that this happy circumstance will continue. Unfortunately, failing to file the Questionnaire can send a clear signal to PVSC that you think you are undervalued. Far from keeping you out of sight, it has the opposite effect. And it gets worse. In the absence of a completed Questionnaire, PVSC will use its own data, unimpeded by your property’s factual income and expenses, to calculate its assessment… and you will be left without recourse, as the penalty for failure to comply with the request will be loss of 2017 appeal rights. We recommend therefore that you complete and file the Questionnaire, but with your audience in mind. Comfortably cushioned from the vicissitudes of tenant selection, rental negotiation and collection, and things that burst in the night, PVSC will happily accept at face value your rental income, unless it appears to be too low… and gaily disregard expenses they consider to be above the norm. Do not expect them to empathise with your sweat and tears, services you undertake yourself to minimise costs, unless you monetise them. Nor should you expect increased maintenance costs - inherent, for example, in a single bedroom apartment building with a transient population - to strike an echoing chord. Expect PVSC to discount these as “outliers,” or your management and administration costs as “excessive,” unless you explain the nuances of revolving doors and are prepared to supply provenance. Tenant inducements and management efforts to maintain occupancy are concepts unfamiliar to the cozy world of PVSC. You will have to quantify them. If your building contains office, retail or industrial tenancies, be careful how you describe your leases; the subtleties of “net” versus “gross” lease terms may not be fully understood by PVSC.

Further complicating this year’s round of requests is the fact that it is being made almost a full fiscal quarter earlier than is customary. For 2016, and for the recent past, assessments reflect a property’s market value as of a date two years in the past (called the base date). In an effort to produce assessments that are more current, PVSC is shifting the base date to reflect market values one year in the past. This means that assessments provided to property owners in January 2017 will reflect a property’s market value as of January 1, 2016. With this shift comes a requirement to analyse income and expense information earlier in the year…so early, in fact, that owners with December year-ends may not yet have 2015 statements completed. Any owner in that predicament should provide the most recently-available information, because the PVSC has no legislative authority to extend the 30-day deadline.

The Bottom Line: Download the appropriate Questionnaire from the PVSC’s website at www.pvsc.ca. Complete it with caution; your responses may be misinterpreted. Return it to PVSC by 17th March.

Action Required: If your property is enrolled in our PAMS™ Property Tax Manager program, let us review your completed Questionnaire before you return it to PVSC. Our Lead Consultant assigned to protect your property will be pleased to provide you with assistance in completing the Questionnaire. If you are not yet a PAMS™ client, and would like assistance in completing the Questionnaire, please call our Nova Scotia Tax Team, Giselle Kakamousias, Mark Turner, or Greg Kerry at 1-800-567-3033 (902-429-1811 in HRM).

Friday, February 19, 2016 12:27:08 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Nova Scotia | Property Tax
# Tuesday, February 2, 2016

If you own a residential property in Nova Scotia you may have noticed recently when you received your assessment notice that there are two values assigned to your assessment; the market value and the capped value.  If you've lived in your home for a few years now, you will have also noticed that your capped value is lower than your market value. You might be thinking that you are benefiting from the capped value, but in reality for a lot of people those savings are what we call "phantom savings".  The Capped Assessment Program (CAP) was introduced in 1995 in order to protect homeowners from rapid and sudden increases in assessment values. The CAP was implemented in response to concerns from families and seniors worried about not being able to afford higher property tax bills as a result of higher assessment values. It sounds like a great idea, but there are some major flaws in the program.

One the biggest issues with the CAP is that it doesn't discriminate between homeowners with high levels of wealth or lower levels of income. The property owner who hasn't seen much of a rise in the market value of his or her property will end up having to pay higher tax rates in the long run in order to subsidise the properties which have increased significantly in value but are only paying taxes on a much lower capped value. The problem will only get worse over time.

The longer the program remains in place, the more distorted the assessment base becomes. Assisting those who can least afford to pay their property taxes would be better served with more targeted efforts such as credits and deferral programs. Allowing seniors to defer a portion of their property taxes when their assessment values increase will allow them to stay in their homes longer and once their homes are sold the outstanding taxes can then be repaid. Some people believe that it's important to continue using the capping program because taxpayers benefit from lower property taxes. This is a gross misconception however. Every year municipalities need to collect a certain amount of revenue in order to fund their budgets. Property tax collection is the main source of revenue for municipalities and whether everyone has a high assessment value or a low assessment value, the tax rate needs to be adjusted accordingly in order to generate the necessary amount of revenue. If we lower one of the factors, the other must go up and vice versa.

Property Taxes = Assessed Value (or Capped Value) x Municipal Tax Rate


The result is that for many properties, a reduction in the assessed value via the cap simply results in a higher tax rate and a shift in the tax burden to properties which are ineligible for the cap. The CAP is not producing the outcomes that it was designed to do, and I'll provide a simplified example to illustrate one of the problems with the program.

In our example, the municipality consists of many different neighbourhoods with all different types of properties, but we’re going to narrow our focus and make the assumption that there are only two types of houses that will fall under the CAP criteria and all other properties are assessed at their market value. The two types of capped homes are each in a different neighbourhood; we’ll call them Home A and Home B.
  The people that live in the neighbourhood with home type A are mostly seniors and families that have lived in the area for a long time. These are older homes that haven't been renovated in years. The people that live in the neighbourhood with home type B are younger working age people who all built brand new homes in a new up-and-coming neighbourhood back in 2007. As of 2007, both home types had a market value of $200,000.   

The people that live in Home A have seen the market value of their property rise at an annual rate of 3% which is slightly above the capped rate while the people that live in Home B have seen an annual increase of 8% in the market value of their property which is much higher than the capped rate of growth. While homeowners in both house may be thinking that they are benefitting from the CAP, in reality the people living in House A (i.e. seniors) are having to pay property taxes at a higher tax rate in order to subsidise the lower capped values of the working age people in House B.

The table below shows that the taxable value of both house types is $237,000 and produces tax revenues of $2,867.70 per house on a rate of 1.21%. If we were to remove the CAP, the tax rate could actually be lowered to 0.87% and the people living in Home A would actually pay less property taxes while people in Home B would pay more.

While there are people out there who are benefitting from the CAP, the program has serious flaws and is creating distortions in the assessment base. For more information on the CAP, I encourage you to check out the Final Report on Municipal Property Taxation by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities which can be found on their website. 


Written by Mathieu Chaput, Consultant in our Property Tax Division. If you have any questions about your property tax assessment, feel free to contact Mathieu at (902) 429-1811 or MChaput@turnerdrake.com.  
Tuesday, February 2, 2016 4:45:09 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Nova Scotia | Property Tax
# Monday, February 1, 2016

There are just 7 days left in which to appeal your 2016 property tax assessment ... or forever hold your peace. The Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC), the municipally controlled body responsible for tax assessment throughout the province, mailed out your Assessment Notice on January 8th. The appeal period ends at midnight on February 8th. If you have enrolled your property in our PAMS™ Property Tax Manager program, PVSC have already sent us an electronic copy of your Assessment Notice enabling us to review your assessment and file an appeal if the opportunity exists to reduce your tax burden. If you do not have PAMS™ protection, and have not yet asked us to review your Assessment Notice, you should do so now. The 2016 increase experienced by many property types is lower than that of years past, however the decision to appeal/not appeal should never be based solely on a single years change in value. Most property types are assessed 25% to 30% higher than five years ago. You should be vigilant in your efforts to manage your tax load and take every opportunity to minimise your assessment.

The basis for your Year 2016 assessed value is your property’s Market Value on 1st January 2014 (the “base date”) but having regard to its physical state on 1st December 2015 (the “state date”). In practice these criteria are oft stated by PVSC in defence of its assessed values, but in our experience property is often assessed at less than its market value perhaps because supporting sales data is not available, or to discourage appeals. (There may be legitimate reasons too for assessing a property below its base date sales price; for example, if the property had lost a major tenant by the state date). Of course it would not matter if all property were under-assessed by the same percentage amount, but such is not the case. Fortunately the Assessment Act does provide protection against such shenanigans by including a requirement that all properties in the municipality be assessed in a uniform manner. Case law has determined that uniformity is achieved by calculating the “General Level of Assessment” within the municipality, by property category (commercial or residential). The General Level of Assessment is the ratio of the 2016 assessment to the property’s 1st January 2014 Market Value. This can only be achieved by totalling all of the 2016 assessments, for those properties whose sales occurred between 1 st July 2013 and 30th June 2014, with the aggregate of their sale prices. Sales data is now publicly available; however, its format and accessibility is fairly limited. PVSC usually insist that their General Level of Assessment is 95% to 100%. This is rubbish: base your calculations on 80% and file an appeal if the assessed value of your commercial, industrial or investment property > 80% x Market Value (@ 1st January 2014). Exclude the HST from the market value. (We have built an information technology platform Compuval™, and have populated it with sales, assessment and rental information. It allows us to calculate Market Values and gives us a broad indication of the true General Level of Assessment. The quantity of sales data varies by municipality since we gather it from multiple sources, so we have built capability into CompuVal® to run a variety of analyses comparing your property with others in its peer group).


The Bottom Line: If your Realty Assessment > [(Market Value as of 1st January 2014) x (General Level of Assessment)], you are over-assessed. The real General Level of Assessment is probably between 0.8 and 0.9 in most municipalities.


Action Required: If in doubt, appeal ... or contact our Nova Scotia Tax Team, Mark Turner, Giselle Kakamousias or Greg Kerry at 1-800-567-3033 (429-1811 in HRM).

Monday, February 1, 2016 4:40:28 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Nova Scotia | Property Tax
# Monday, January 11, 2016
If you own property in Nova Scotia, you have probably now received your annual Assessment Notice from the municipally-owned and controlled assessment authority, the Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC): it was mailed on Friday, 8th January. Resist the urge to light it on fire, and review it carefully… or risk being unpleasantly surprised (and without recourse!) when your tax bill arrives later this year.

The 2016 appeal period was a scant few hours old on Friday when the PVSC began trumpeting the fact that its average 2016 property assessment increase is only about half of 2015’s. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by an assessment that has only increased marginally, remained unchanged, or even declined - particularly in secondary centres and rural locations. Leaving the assessment unchanged is a strategy routinely employed by assessing authorities to discourage appeals. The PVSC is undoubtedly hoping that Nova Scotian taxpayers have short memories, because in spite of a more moderate 2016 rise, assessments have increased by between 20 and 25% over the past five years … and by 30 to 35% in Halifax (where over 50% of Nova Scotia’s assessment base is situated).

And, the comparatively temperate rate of 2016 increase reported by the PVSC (which, of course, is only an average) will be of hollow comfort to property owners who have experienced unforeseen, double-digit increases in value. Early indications are that apartments, retail property, and income-producing industrials have been particularly hard hit for 2016.

The basis for your 2016 Realty Assessment, as mandated by the provincial Assessment Act, is the market value of your property on 1st January 2014 (the “base date”), having regard to its physical state on 1st December 2015 (the “state date”) and the assessments of the other commercial properties in the municipality (the “General Level of Assessment”). Market value then is the first test: if your realty assessment exceeds your property’s market value on 1st January 2014, it is over-assessed and you should file an appeal.

The second test to apply is the General Level of Assessment (“GLA”), calculated by dividing the sum of the 2016 assessments of those properties that sold between 1st July 2013 and 30th June 2014, by the aggregate of their sale prices. PVSC has, on occasion, (and only when prodded!) condescended to divulge their General Level of Assessment. On the occasions where we have formally reviewed PVSC’s calculations, they’ve often proven to be nonsense. It would be reckless in our view, to place any reliance on PVSC’s General Level of Assessment ... which it usually insists is 95% to 100%. A more realistic figure is 80% to 90%. So if your investment, commercial or industrial property’s assessment is greater than 80% of its base date market value, file an appeal.

The Bottom Line:
You may have to pay taxes ... but you don’t have to leave a tip.

Action Required:
If you are in any doubt that your property is over-assessed, you should file an appeal on or before 8th February 2016. You will not get another opportunity this year. If you wish, we can file the appeal for you. If you would like to discuss your property assessment with us before you file an appeal, call our Nova Scotia Tax Team, Giselle Kakamousias, Mark Turner, or Greg Kerry at 1-800-567-3033 (429-1811 in HRM).

Monday, January 11, 2016 4:00:48 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Nova Scotia | Property Tax
# Monday, December 21, 2015

You have just 10 days left to reduce your property tax burden for 2016.  The appeal period expires at midnight 31st December.  A successful appeal now is a gift that keeps on giving . . . since this is the first year of the tri-annual re-assessment cycle, the reduction in your assessment will continue through three full years.

 

Commercial property assessments increased by an average of 21.4% for next year in St. John’s.  This would not matter if municipalities exercised the same fiscal restraint as the private sector and held the line on spending.  They would then be able to drop the tax rate by a commensurate amount.  Unfortunately this does not happen:  the temptation is just too great.  Initially they tend to reduce the tax rate somewhat but then it rapidly regresses to its pre-assessment level.  Our research clearly shows that municipalities quickly expand their spending to take advantage of their “increased fiscal capacity”.  For most commercial properties, realty taxes are second in line only to debt service as a percentage of the rent.  Irrespective of whether you pay the taxes directly or recharge them to your tenants, property taxes have a direct impact on your bottom line since tenants will ultimately seek rent relief if their gross rent, including taxes, falls out of line with competing properties.  Be proactive, property taxes should be managed like any other expense.  Effective property tax management requires a solid understanding of the assessment process.

 

The basis for your Year 2016 assessed value, is your property’s Market Value on 1st January 2014 (the “base date”).  In practice the market value requirement is often cited by the City of St. John’s Assessment Division and other assessment authorities in defence of their assessed values, but in our experience property is often assessed at less than Market Value to discourage appeals.  Of course it would not matter if all property were under-assessed by the same percentage amount since the tax load would still be distributed equitably:  but such is not the case.  Fortunately the Assessment Act does provide protection against such shenanigans by including a requirement that all properties in each municipality be assessed in a uniform manner ... so like properties should carry similar assessments.  In practice it is not quite this simple:  you have to compare the sum of all commercial assessments in the municipality with their aggregate market value ... a herculean task unless you have access to the City of St. John’s Assessment Division database.  Since they are unlikely to be that generous we have compiled our own database to assist you.  We can also run a variety of analyses comparing your property’s assessment with others in its peer group.

 

The Bottom Line:  You should appeal if your property is assessed at more than, (1) its Market Value on 1st January 2014, or (2) the assessment of other, comparable properties ... or if you harbour any doubt that your property is over-assessed.

 

Action Required:  None, if your property is enrolled in our PAMS® Property Tax Manager program.  If it is not and you file an appeal, be careful not to restrict your grounds of appeal.  We recommend that you use the following wording: “The assessment is excessive, unfair, not uniform with other assessments, and any other grounds that may appear.  Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”  If you prefer we will file the appeal for you.  If you would like advice on whether to appeal, call our Newfoundland Tax Team, André Pouliot or Mark Turner at (709) 722-1811 (St. John’s) or 1-800-567-3033 (toll free) and pick their brains.

Monday, December 21, 2015 10:20:52 AM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Newfoundland & Labrador | Property Tax
# Wednesday, December 2, 2015

 

The City of St. John’s Assessment Division recently mailed out its Year 2016 Assessment Notices dated 1st December 2015.  You have until 31st December 2015 to file your appeal.  This is the first year of the tri-annual assessment cycle, so a successful appeal now will continue to provide you with tax savings for a full three years.  (If your property is enrolled in our PAMS® Property Tax Manager program, you can relax:  our Newfoundland tax team is already reviewing your assessment and will file an appeal if the opportunity exists to reduce your tax load).

 

The legislated basis for your Year 2016 Assessment is your property’s market value on 1st January 2014 (the “Base Date”) having regard to its current physical condition.  This then is the first test you should apply.  If your property’s market value is less than its assessed value, it is over assessed and you should file an appeal on or before 31st December 2015.  Market value is the price the property would command if it were sold to an “arm’s length” purchaser (i.e. to a non-related buyer) for cash or subject to conventional financing.  It is not necessarily the price that would persuade you to part with the property but rather the price you could expect if you decided voluntarily to dispose of the real estate.  The best evidence of market value is the sale prices of similar properties that were sold within six months of 1st January 2014.  If your property is assessed at less than its 1st January 2014 market value, you may still be over-assessed because the Assessment Act mandates that your property has to be assessed in a uniform manner.  This provision attempts to ensure that the tax load is spread across the municipality’s property inventory in an equitable manner.  It also discourages the City of St. John’s Assessment Division from deliberately under-assessing property to thwart appeals.  So, if for example, commercial properties are assessed on average throughout the municipality at 70% of their market value, you will have grounds for appeal if your property’s assessment exceeds this percentage.

 

The Bottom Line:  You should appeal if your property is assessed at more than, (1) its market value on 1st January 2014, or (2) the assessment of other, comparable properties ... or if you harbour any doubt that your property is over-assessed.

 

Action Required:  None if your property is enrolled in our PAMS® Property Tax Manager program.  If it is not and you file an appeal, be careful not to restrict your grounds of appeal.  We recommend that you use the following wording: “The assessment is excessive, unfair, not uniform with other assessments, and any other grounds that may appear.”  If you prefer we will file the appeal for you.  If you would like advice on whether to appeal, call our Newfoundland Tax Team, André Pouliot or Mark Turner at (709) 722-1811 (St. John’s) or 1-800-567-3033 (toll free).  If you prefer you can email them at apouliot@turnerdrake.com or markturner@turnerdrake.com.

 

 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 3:42:09 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Newfoundland & Labrador | Property Tax
# Friday, October 30, 2015

On 14th October the Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC) published its proposed Year 2016 assessments for Nova Scotia (with the exception of apartments).  If your property is enrolled in our PAMS® Property Tax Manager program we are reviewing the assessment and will do our best to engage PVSC in negotiations to mitigate the increase.  Unfortunately PVSC’s customary tardiness may limit this opportunity:  the official Assessment Roll will be finalised on 1st December.  (If your property is not yet PAMS® protected you can check what PVSC has in store by accessing their web site www.pvsc.ca.)

The practice of publishing an Assessment Pre-roll began in 2000 as a well-intentioned initiative by the then Minister of Municipal Affairs to bring some stability to municipal budgets.  It followed a meeting between the Minister, Deputy Minister, our company president and senior members of our Property Tax Division.  At that time the Department of Municipal Affairs was responsible for calculating assessed values and the Minister reasoned that publishing a Pre-roll would give property owners the opportunity to informally challenge incorrect assessments, which could then be rectified before the official roll (on which municipal budgets were based) was published in January.  The “Pre-roll” was to be published in June, six months prior to the publication of the official Assessment Roll.  It was an idea of such startling common sense that we thought it unlikely to prevail.  But it did!  True to her word, the Minister implemented a policy of publishing the Pre-roll mid-year to provide ample time for negotiations.  The policy survived subsequent Ministers until the job of determining assessments was passed to PVSC, a “not for profit” corporation (paid for by property owners) created for that very purpose in April 2007 … but sadly no longer answerable to the Minister.  Despite the fact that PVSC inherited the Minister’s assessment staff the “Pre-roll” was an early casualty.  At first “transitional” computer cockups bore the brunt of the blame but as the years rolled by excuses were no longer deemed necessary as PVSC struggled to issue its Pre-roll at the eleventh hour.  Today we raise our eyes to the heavens and offer silent thanks if and when the Pre-roll materialises … or as is the case this year, a partial Pre-roll.  Still half a loaf is better than none at all even if it comes at a cost to taxpayers of $17 million annually.  (To be fair PVSC is the only assessment authority in Atlantic Canada that publishes a Pre-roll).

So, if your property is not yet in the PAMS® fold, how do you determine whether your commercial property is overassessed?  The basis for your 2016 Realty Assessment, as mandated by the provincial Assessment Act, is the market value of your property on 1st January 2014 (the “base date”), having regard to its physical state on 1st December 2015 (the “state date”) and the assessments of other commercial properties in the municipality (the “General Level of Assessment”).  Market value then is the first test:  if your realty assessment exceeds your property’s market value on 1st January 2014, it is over-assessed and you should so remonstrate with the assessor (or ask us to do it for you). 

The second test to apply is the General Level of Assessment (“GLA”), calculated by dividing the sum of the 2016 assessments of those properties that sold between 1st July 2013 and 30th June 2014, by the aggregate of their sale prices.  When PVSC divulge their General Level of Assessment they invariably claim it to be between 97% to 100%. Discerning readers will readily realise that 100% can be achieved if half the properties in the municipality are over-assessed by 50%, so long as the other half are under-assessed by 50% … so a property may be assessed at double its twin and still meet this test!  No matter, on the one occasion in which we were afforded the opportunity to review PVSC’s calculations, they proved to be a nonsense:  a point on which the court concurred.  A more realistic GLA for commercial property is 80% to 90%.

The Bottom Line:  If you do not challenge your assessment now you will have to wait until the Appeal Period in January 2016.

Action Required:  If you are in any doubt as to whether your property is over-assessed contact a member of our Nova Scotia tax team, Giselle Kakamousias, Greg Kerry or Mark Turner at 1-800-567-3033 (902-429-1811 in HRM).  They may not be able to help; but by golly, they are nice people.

Friday, October 30, 2015 1:58:13 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Property Tax | Nova Scotia
# Monday, October 26, 2015

You have just 9 days left to reduce your property tax burden for 2016.  The appeal period expires at midnight 4th November.  A successful appeal now is a gift that keeps on giving . . . since this is the first year of the tri-annual re-assessment cycle, the reduction in your assessment will continue through three full years.

If you own commercial, industrial or investment property, real estate taxes are undoubtedly your single biggest occupancy expense.  In just over a 20 year period most property owners will pay taxes equivalent to the entire value of their property.  Irrespective of whether you pay the taxes directly or recharge them to your tenants, property taxes have a direct impact on your bottom line since tenants will ultimately seek rent relief if their gross rent, including taxes, falls out of line with competing properties.  Be proactive.  Property taxes should be managed like any other expense and effective property tax management requires a solid understanding of the assessment process.

The basis for your Year 2016 assessed value, is your property’s Market Value on 1st January 2014 (the “base date”) but having regard to its physical state on 1st December 2015 (the “state date”).  In practice these criteria are often cited by the Municipal Assessment Agency and other assessment authorities in defence of their assessed values, but in our experience property is often assessed at less than Market Value to discourage appeals.  Of course it would not matter if all property were under-assessed by the same percentage amount since the tax load would still be distributed equitably:  but such is not the case.  Fortunately the Assessment Act does provide protection against such shenanigans by including a requirement that all properties in each municipality be assessed in a uniform manner ... so like properties should carry similar assessments.  In practice it is not quite this simple:  you have to compare the sum of all commercial assessments in the municipality with their aggregate market value ... a herculean task unless you have access to the Municipal Assessment Agency’s database.  Since they are unlikely to be that generous we have compiled our own database to assist you.  We can also run a variety of analyses comparing your property’s assessment with others in its peer group.

If you own a property, the design or layout of which, is constructed of special materials or in a manner which restricts its use, your real estate will have been designated as a “special purpose property”.  The 2016 assessment notices for this type of property were not mailed on 5th November 2015; the Municipal Assessment Agency is once again waiting for the Legislature to define “special purpose property”.  The latter’s previous attempt was struck down by the courts as being too vague, and their subsequent decision to instead identify them by address was rejected as being arbitrary.  Since the exercise is akin to the parable of the blind man and the elephant, an early resolution may be some time in coming.  However because the Assessment of a Special Purpose Property is based on its Reproduction Cost (less physical depreciation) rather than Market Value the charade lacks levity to property owners so blessed. 

The Bottom Line:  You should appeal if your property is assessed at more than, (1) its Market Value on 1st January 2014, or (2) the assessment of other, comparable properties ... or if you harbour any doubt that your property is over-assessed.

Action Required:  None, if your property is enrolled in our PAMS® Property Tax Manager program.  If it is not and you file an appeal, be careful not to restrict your grounds of appeal.  We recommend that you use the following wording: “The assessment is excessive, unfair, not uniform with other assessments, and any other grounds that may appear.  Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”  If you prefer we will file the appeal for you.  If you would like advice on whether to appeal, call our Newfoundland Tax Team, André Pouliot or Mark Turner at (709) 722-1811 (St. John’s) or 1-800-567-3033 (toll free) and pick their brains.

Monday, October 26, 2015 2:34:51 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Newfoundland & Labrador | Property Tax
# Friday, October 23, 2015

Leading up to the birth of our second little one, I found myself going over the list of what to bring to the hospital to ensure we were fully prepared.  Some of the most important items included diapers, as our almost two year old daughter would say… Momma and Dadda’s clothing, and the ever so important, highly analysed, overly scrutinised… take-home outfit.  While I had originally second guessed my completed to-do list and fully packed, yet functional “go bag” (as I like to call it), the planning and comprehensive process paid off with a stress free stay at Hotel IWK.  Looking back at my eight years with Turner Drake & Partners Ltd.’s Valuation Division, I can recall multiple instances where a small detail had a big impact on the overall assignment.  If not for checking off my due-diligence list, these details may have gone overlooked. 

Below is a list of the areas I spend extra time on when valuing a property:

Zoning/Planning Information

Typically when valuing a property, a zoning map and accompanying Land Use By-Law can be found on the city or town’s website.  Once the existing use is deemed permitted under the current zoning by-law, the next step should not be to move on and consider this section of the report complete.  Instead, the next step is to be speak with the local planner to determine if the existing Planning Strategy is either currently, or will soon be, under review and if that could affect the property in the near future.  An example that I came across was a commercial building with a limited commercial zoning designation.   The property was located on a highly desirable corner; however its maximum height was limited and the redevelopment potential was restricted.  After speaking with the Town Planner, I not only uncovered the zoning designation was in the process of being changed to allow high density residential apartment buildings, but also that the maximum height would be increasing substantially as this street was designated for revitalising the immediate commercial area.  You can surely bet the property owner was pleasantly surprised.

Comparable Sales

I have come to realise that this old saying does hold true with any real estate transaction … “every sale has a story”.  While I would like to assume that all transactions satisfy the criteria of a fair sale, sadly I have been mistaken.  I consistently come across different situations that have impacted the sale price.  If not for speaking to one of the parties involved in the transaction, the sales information may have been misleading.  An example is selling a property to an existing tenant.  The tenant indicated they were willing to pay above market value as their business was established at its current location and this would save them the costs and hassle of moving.  Another example is a sale between two related parties.  While the Deed Transfer appeared to be between unrelated parties, an investigation on the Registry of Joint Stocks may determine otherwise.  I sometimes pat myself on the back, envisioning that Sherlock Holmes himself may not have uncovered this convoluted sale.  Unfortunately, this means another cup of coffee for me and further research for that ever desirable perfect comparable sale.

Easements and Right-Of-Ways

Sometimes reading a Legal Description is as complex as reading Shakespeare… “thence, North at a stone’s throw distance to the old birch tree…”.  While this description sounds like poetry, it proves troublesome when the property has since been fully improved with no birch tree for miles.  A nearby oak tree was noticed from the subject property; however is located within the sidewalk’s planter box so I assumed that was not the reference point.  Nevertheless, a Legal Description should always be read (sometimes deciphered) and the easement and right-of-way portion should be verified on every assignment.  I recently came a across a property owner looking to redevelop their property.  While the property looked good on paper (i.e. large level site with good access from the road and redevelopment occurring in the area), I discovered that a public sewer line bisected the middle of the property which restricted any development above this easement.  This had a large impact on the possible buildable area, overall design, and likelihood of the redevelopment occurring. 

Conclusion

While no two valuations are ever the same, by creating a standardised to-do list that covers some of the essential components of a valuation assignment, no small detail should ever go unnoticed (or take-home outfit left behind!).

Our Valuation Division never overlooks the details. For more information on our valuation services, feel free to contact Matthew Whittleton, the author of this blog post, a Consultant in our Valuation Division and Manager of our Saint John, NB operations, at (902) 429-1811 or MWhittleton@TurnerDrake.com.

Friday, October 23, 2015 11:53:03 AM (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Valuation