What Factors Should Be Considered While Determining the Value of a Property ?

In Air Prods. & Chems., Inc. v. Bd. of Assessment Appeals of Lehigh County, 720 A.2d 790 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998) the taxpayer petitioned the Lehigh County Board of Assessment Appeals to reduce the $ 74 million fair market value assigned to its facilities. The board of appeals denied the petition and the taxpayer appealed to the court of common pleas. The taxpayer's expert valued the property as a single parcel and opined that the fair market value of the property was between $ 50 and $ 57 million. The board of appeals then presented its expert testimony. The board's appraiser, however, valued the property as two separate parcels, dividing the taxpayer's office space from its other facilities. The appraiser's estimate of the fair market value of the property ranged from $ 66 to $ 72 million. The court of common pleas accepted the taxpayer's valuations and ordered that taxpayer was entitled to a refund for overpayments made during the tax years in question. On appeal to this Court, the board of appeals argued that the court of common pleas improperly based its valuation of the property on the taxpayer's specific use of the property rather than its highest and best use. In rejecting this claim, the Court stated the board of appeals' theory of valuation appears to be based upon a misunderstanding of the concepts of both highest and best use and value-in-use. The highest and most profitable use to which land is adaptable is one factor to consider in determining the price, "which a purchaser, willing but not obligated to buy, would pay an owner willing but not obligated to sell." 613 A.2d at 182. The appellate courts of this Commonwealth have held that reasonably foreseeable prospects for a property which exist at the time of an assessment may be considered in determining a property's fair market value, e.g.- its probable use, lease or sale. However, consideration of factors based upon pure speculation, such as what the property would be worth in an altered condition are irrelevant to the issue of fair market value. In other words, hypothetical ways in which the property could be used by potential buyers should be considered in determining what a willing buyer would pay for the property. That is not to say, however, that the property should be valued as though it were already in that hypothetical condition. For instance, a large farm may have greater potential value if the land were subdivided into one acre lots for single family homes, but while that potential must be considered, the property may not be taxed as though it were currently subdivided and developed. Accordingly, even if the court of common pleas accepted the opinion of the board of appeals' expert that subdivision was the highest and best use, it would have been error to value the property as though it were, in fact, two separate parcels. Air Prods. & Chems., Inc., 720 A.2d at 793-794.