Expert’s Opinion Off Track in Appeal Near Train Station

by: Anthony F. Della Pelle
26 Nov 2014

A New Jersey Tax Court judge recently concluded that a plaintiff’s expert failed to make several adjustments which impacted the expert’s credibility with the court. The appeal involved a residential property located less than a mile from the train station in Summit, New Jersey. At trial, plaintiff’s expert presented five comparable sales, while the town’s expert relied upon four comparable sales. There were several disputes between the parties that directed the judge’s final decision.

First, the parties were at a disagreement as to the actual size of the house. Plaintiff alleged the house was 2,396 sq. ft. based on the tax assessor’s records and measurements taken by their expert during an inspection. However, these measurements were not provided. The town’s expert also inspected and measured the subject home, finding the house was 2,655 sq. ft., but noted that the difference in size could be accounted for based on a third story bedroom and bathroom that were not on the tax assessor’s records. Second, although dollar-per-square foot is the standard unit of comparison for single-family homes, plaintiff’s expert made adjustments per-room without any explanation for deviating from standard appraisal practices. Finally, plaintiff’s appraiser did not make any adjustment for access to the nearby train station.

The judge found the credibility of plaintiff’s expert’s opinion was undermined by his failure to correctly determine the size of the house, and to then make appropriate adjustments to the prices of his comparable sales for the difference in living space. Additionally, the expert’s credibility was impacted because he was uncertain as to the number and location of commuter rail stations in Summit, which the court found to be a factor that impacts value. Thus, the judge concluded that the presumption of correctness had not been overcome, and affirmed the assessment for the tax years under appeal.

A copy of the Tax Court’s unpublished opinion in Coughlan v. City of Summit can be found here.

For more on overcoming the presumption of correctness, please see the following blog posts:

Unreliable Testimony Dooms Taxpayer’s Appeal

Taxpayer Fails to Overcome “Presumption of Correctness”

Appraiser’s Subjective Adjustments Rejected; Owner Loses Appeal

Limited sales data and lack of reasonable adjustments does not doom plaintiff’s appeal