When the “Sale Price” is not “Market Value” for Assessment Purposes
By Michael E. Swanberg
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
AMSC Casual Legal Service Provider
For most types of property, municipal assessors are required to estimate the property’s market value as of July 1 of the assessment year. “Market value” is an estimate of the property’s fee simple estate, taking into account typical market conditions for properties similar to that property. Sometimes, a property will sell at a price that is lower than the assessed value, and the taxpayer will file a complaint to the Assessment Review Board to reduce the assessment to match the sale price. A recent judicial review decision confirms that, in some cases, the sale price will not be the best or only evidence to establish a property’s market value.
In Altus Group Ltd. v. Edmonton Composite Assessment Review Board, 2021 ABQB 322, Altus Group filed complaints on behalf of 22 taxpayers, claiming that all of the assessments should be reduced to match the recent sale prices of each of those properties. In each case, the Assessment Review Board agreed that the recent sale of the subject property was a relevant consideration in determining that property’s “market value” for assessment purposes, but the Board also looked at other evidence to determine whether the sale price reflected typical market conditions. In each case, the municipality identified a number of comparator sales for similar properties elsewhere in the municipality, and the Board accepted that the comparator sales better represented “typical market conditions”, and were a more accurate indicator of market value than the sale price alone. In particular, the Board found that the better approach was to take into account all relevant sales, including the sale of the subject property and the comparables, to estimate the property’s market value.
The Court was satisfied that the evidence showed that the recent sales were unusually low and did not reflect typical market conditions. The Court concluded: “Where the sale price of a subject property reflects typical market conditions then it may very well be the assessed value. Where a Review Board finds, however, that the sale price of a subject property does not reflect typical market conditions, additional evidence will be required” (at para 51).
Accordingly, assessors should be aware of recent arm’s length sales of properties and take them into consideration when preparing assessments of those properties, but a sale price may not be the only or best evidence of market value. If the recent sale was not an arm’s length transaction, or if comparable sales of similar properties suggest that the sale price was unusually low, the assessor may take into account that evidence to set the assessment at a price that differs from the sale price.
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DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.