The courts have interpreted actual value to mean market value. Market value has been defined by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court as “the price in a competitive market a purchaser, willing but not obligated to buy, would pay an owner, willing but not obligated to sell, taking into consideration all the legal uses to which the property can be adapted and might reasonably be applied.”
To establish the “actual” value of property, the county may use current year market values or it may adopt a base year for market values. For the most part, properties are assessed at a set percentage of base year values. Property is only assessed at current market value when a county wide reassessment has been conducted and implemented. Unless a county reassesses all properties every year, the property assessments will be predicated upon base year values (the last year in which the county reassessed). The same methodology must be used to value property throughout the county; that is, when a county adopts a base year for market value, then all property in the county must be valued as of the same base year.
The assessment laws state that “the price at which any property may actually have been sold in the base year or the current tax year is to be considered but is not controlling. Such selling prices can be increased or decreased as part of the valuation process to accomplish equalization with other similar property within the taxing district.” Recent sales of comparable properties, that is, properties of a similar nature, are persuasive but not conclusive in helping to establish the market value. The properties selected need not be identical. The sales prices, however, are useful in showing relative values by bringing out characteristic qualities, whether similar or divergent. Comparison based on sales may be made according to location, age, income, expense, use, size, type of construction and in numerous other ways.
When valuing property, three approaches must be considered in conjunction with one another; they are cost (reproduction or replacement, as applicable, less depreciation and all forms of obsolescence), comparable sales, and income approaches. Although all three approaches must be considered, they do not all have to be used in arriving at the final valuation of the property.
The approach used may differ depending upon the type of property involved (e.g., commercial, residential, income-producing). Many factors are considered in arriving at the fair market value of property. One very important consideration is the highest and best use of the property in question. It is not only the present use of a property that affects its value, but all of the uses including the highest and most profitable use to which the property could be used.
If you have more questions, please feel free to contact Attorney Noah Paul Fardo or attorney Jennifer Jara Mislanovich at 412.802.6666.