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Property Appraisal: When Accuracy is at Stake

The Orange County Property Appraiser’s office (OCPA) has been required to heavily invest in legal fees to defend property values. Challenged by some of the county’s most high-profile property owners, such an investment in defending property values serves taxpayers, other county property appraiser’s offices, and the appraisal community.

While the amount OCPA is spending to defend property values may initially seem high, protecting the market values will pay off in terms of tax dollars to support local schools, the county at-large, and county and local services.

Orange County is one of the most unique places in Florida and in the world. With seven theme parks, four water parks, and hundreds of hotels (many of them featuring interesting attractions and convention space), Orange County is one of the top five most visited places internationally.

Although the permanent population may not compare to some of the world’s largest cities, Orange County is a global destination with accommodations, entertainment, and restaurants suitable for the 72 million people who visit but do not reside there. Orange County is also one of the fastest growing areas in Florida, according to worldpopulationreview.com.

Graph showing the population of Florida counties.

Assessing such a unique place can be a challenge, but OCPA has laid out a roadmap to determining, upholding, and defending property values for the betterment of the community.

Be fair and accurate

Since the current Property Appraiser, Rick Singh, took office in 2013, the employees of OCPA have had a clear directive: Be fair and accurate. Professional experts with many years of experience in the appraisal industry, including more than 20 state licensed appraisers accompanied by four MAIs, were brought on board so that OCPA could better serve the people of Orange County and ensure a fair, equitable, and accurate tax roll.

Training and accreditation among staff remain a priority, and OCPA has achieved numerous awards from global peers. Singh was recently awarded the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) 2018 Ian W. McClung International Award for his leadership in developing valuation professionals around the world and encouraging the advancement of the assessment community in a global environment.

OCPA’s appraisers are experienced, certified professionals ranked at the top of the profession. The agency has twice been recognized by the IAAO with the Certificate of Excellence in Assessment Administration.

While the property appraiser’s office continued its emphasis on accuracy of assessments, many property owners began to see their property values increase, and some chose to dispute OCPA’s values through an appeal before the Value Adjustment Board (VAB).

Defend with data

During the process, OCPA is afforded the opportunity to present its assessments and supporting data to the third-party, expert magistrates at the VAB. To date, those experts have agreed with OCPA’s valuation 99.9 percent of the time, establishing that OCPA is accurate and their values are well-supported.

  • In 2017, the market value challenged at VAB was over US$30 billion, with 2,990 petitions filed and defended against; 89 percent of those petitions were related to commercial properties. The tax impact (i.e., potential tax dollars at stake) of all those challenges was approximately US$547 million.
  • In 2018, the value challenged was over US$25 billion with 2,233 petitions filed, with a potential US$460 million tax impact; 95 percent of those petitions are related to commercial properties, which are currently still in the VAB process.

Again, commercial property owners file most of the value petitions at the VAB. For similar counties across the state, Orange County is the leader in defending petitions.

VAB at a glance

County
# of petitions filed
# of petitions granted
% of petitions granted
Orange 2,787 34 1%
Miami-Dade
64,895 16,344
25%
Hillsborough             
3,949 148 4%
Palm Beach
5,131 251 5%
Data based on statistics available through the Florida Department of Revenue. Information prepared by the Orange County Property Appraiser's Office.


With OCPA’s successful track record at the VAB, it is not surprising that some property owners continue to challenge their assessments at a higher level and exercise their right to file a lawsuit in circuit court. These lawsuits, while costly for OCPA, are worth defending due to the large values that must be upheld.

  • In 2017, over US$12 billion in market value was challenged in the circuit court, which translates to approximately US$186 million in potential tax dollars.
  • Of the over US$12 billion challenged in 2017: US$4.7 billion challenged was theme-park related, US$4.3 billion was timeshare related, and US$2.5 billion was hotel related, which accounts for 90 percent of the litigation.

It is evident that commercial properties, such as theme-park, hotel, and timeshare-related properties, represent most of the litigation cases with the property appraiser’s office. Again, these are the properties that make Orange County so unique, and OCPA takes on this challenge to further demonstrate its ongoing commitment to accuracy.

In 2018, OCPA continued to address ongoing litigation from previous years, and a costly trial against the Walt Disney World Resort was held, followed closely by an appeal. Decisions made in OCPA’s favor, such as a case against Darden Restaurants, are also still under appeal and each of these processes can be very costly. Certain property owners have become chronic filers and challenge OCPA’s values on many of their properties, even if they have only a nominal value due to the condition or circumstances of those properties.

Stay the course

The importance of defending county property assessments cannot be underestimated. The current number of open court cases (since 2015) represents a tax impact of nearly US$400 million, which is enough to build nearly 20 new public elementary schools in the county. And as for legal fees, in 2017 for every dollar spent, the property appraiser’s office defended a market value of nearly US$20,000 representing nearly US$300 in tax benefit to the county.

As of today, US$400 million in tax dollars is currently at stake in 292 active cases.

Each county in Florida relies on its property appraiser to determine, uphold, and defend its property values and to ensure that sound appraisal practice is followed. Each property appraiser should also do its part to ensure that the law is consistent and fair to everyone across the state. If any property appraiser were to fail to make defending its values a priority, the entire state would suffer from unfavorable case law and other harmful legal precedence.

Orange County, FL, with its large, one-of-a-kind tax roll continuously looks to OCPA for the “right way” of conducting business. The property appraiser’s office is committed to remaining a leader by taking pride in the work of its employees, the accuracy of assessment, the vigorous defense of values, and the representation of all constituents to ensure fairness and equity.

The OCPA’s property appraisal strategy is not limited to Florida's real estate laws. While there are laws in every jurisdiction that affect how appraisal work is done, for the most part, all appraisers follow the same workflows and have to comply with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. By following these industry regulations, receiving appraisal training from US and international organizations, and using the OCPA’s roadmap as a guide, in-house counsel can effectively defend and maintain their business’s property value across the globe.

About the Authors

Robert GrimaldiRobert Grimaldi is in-house counsel at the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office in Orange County, Florida. He is also chairman of the Orange County Bar Association’s In-house and General Counsel Committee.

Rick SinghRick Singh is the Orange County Property Appraiser in Orange County, Florida after being elected in 2012. He earned a Certified Florida Evaluator (CFA) designation from the State of Florida’s Department of Revenue.

Tatsiana SokalavaTatsiana Sokalava is the chief operating officer at the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office in Orange County, Florida. She earned her MBA from Rollins College.


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