Property valuations – get them right

feature-property-200Property valuations (and valuations of equipment and other assets for that matter) are relevant in many tax contexts, including capital gains tax (CGT) and GST. Getting a valuation wrong can mean more tax to pay.

A disagreement with the Tax Office on a valuation can materially alter the tax consequences of a transaction. Indeed, a recent decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal saw a taxpayer fail the CGT maximum net asset value test (so the CGT small business concessions could not be accessed) because of a valuation issue. My recent article Another year and capital gains still cause problems discussed this case further.

Hand in hand with the need for valuations is the corresponding need to keep good records. In the CGT context for example, an asset that may be subject to CGT when it is later sold, needs to have records kept about its purchase price, any improvements to the asset, etc. If an asset is inherited, it is highly prudent to obtain a valuation of it, in case tax consequences later arise.

The Tax Office has released a paper highlighting what it says are recurring issues it has found concerning valuations of property in relation to the application of the GST margin scheme provisions. The margin scheme essentially allows less GST to be paid where sales of land or strata units are involved, provided certain conditions are met.

The Tax Office does not automatically accept every valuation submitted to it. Many valuations it receives are referred to the Australian Valuation Office (AVO) for evaluation, particularly as to whether or not the valuation specifies a value that is within a range that is reasonable.

Often, when certain elements of a valuation are outside an acceptable range, the Tax Office says the ultimate valuation is higher than it should be resulting in a lower margin and less GST payable.

The paper sets outs the main issues regarding what the ATO considers are non-complying valuations it has identified and its position when those issues occur. Some issues include the following.


ATO position

Profit and risk ratios: When valuing a property on the basis of a hypothetical development approach, the anticipated profit and risk margins are determined after consideration of the level of risk associated with a project as at the date of valuation. In many cases, the ATO says profit and risk ratios are not supported in the valuation report and appear to be well below what could reasonably be expected.

Valuers need to determine profit and risk ratios that are reflective of the characteristics and condition of the subject property at the valuation date. The ATO says these ratios need to reflect realistic profit expectations with appropriate and reasonable weightings for risks apparent at the date the property is required to be valued.

Market interest rates: Valuations need to reflect an open market interest rate. The ATO considers the use of negotiated commercial rates, “in-house” finance rates or special discounted rates may not be appropriate as these rates are not reflective of open market rates but, rather, are specific to a particular entity or a set of circumstances.

Valuers need to apply appropriate interest rates at the date the property is to be valued. The ATO says these rates should reflect commercially available rates supported by evidence from within the industry at that point in time or alternatively based on the rates published by the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Comparable sales: These are often unavailable at valuation date and pre and post valuation date sales are used as a reference point for a valuation. Also, there are instances where purported comparable sales from a geographically different area or different market segment to that of the subject property are referenced in a valuation. Often, supporting sales data in property valuations is provided to the ATO without any explanation as to why the data is comparable.

Comparable sales must withstand objective scrutiny of their comparability. If post valuation date sales or remote area sales are to be used, the ATO says these must have commentary as to why the valuer considers it reasonable to use these sales to establish the subject property value.

Development costs: Many valuers undertaking hypothetical development valuations have completed these valuations with the exclusion of important development costs such as acquisition costs, legal costs and holding costs.

The ATO says all relevant costs with appropriate weighting should be included in a hypothetical development valuation.

The Tax Office says that valuations also need to reflect reasonable allowances for commencement and completion dates as well as selling timeframes, etc as these factors will affect holding costs, financing costs and overall project risk. In examining valuations, the AVO found that in a number of cases, lead times for example were unrealistic given the size and the peculiar characteristics of the property development. The ATO view is that project lead times, selling timeframes and completion timeframes must reflect the commercial, market and planning reality of a project.

Many valuations reflect a value of the real property interest that is being sold rather than the interest that existed at the valuation date. In these situations, the ATO considers that if the valuer is asked to value a real property interest that did not exist at the valuation date but was derived from another interest that existed at that date, the valuation must be made as follows:

  • a valuation of the interest in existence at the valuation date must be made;

  • the valuation of that interest must be apportioned on a fair and reasonable basis, to ascertain the part of the valuation that relates to the interest that is being sold. The ATO requires all factors taken into account in the apportionment to be explained to show why the apportionment is fair and reasonable.

The ATO said it accepts that valuations can, by their very nature, be a subjective assessment of a property’s value and in many cases there are interpretive assessments of impacts on the property value. However, it said that regardless of this subjectivity, it still has an expectation that values will fall within a “reasonable range”.

Where the AVO opinions are supported by evidence, and also align with the ATO’s perception of reasonableness, the ATO said these will be referred to the relevant valuer to enable those noted elements of the valuation to be reviewed. If there is sufficient merit in the valuer’s adopted assumptions and conclusions, such that these can be considered reasonable, the ATO said the valuation can be accepted as a complying valuation.

Where the valuer’s assumptions and conclusions are not sustainable based on evidence, or are not reasonable, the ATO said the valuation cannot be considered a complying professional valuation. This, in turn, can have tax flow-on implications.

Getting valuations is important in a tax context. But not every valuation will necessarily be acceptable to the Tax Office.

Terry Hayes is the senior tax writer at Thomson Reuters, a leading Australian provider of tax, accounting and legal information solutions.Terry Hayes

 For more Terry Hayes features, click here.


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