The Swartz Report: Celebrating our 6th Anniversary

Swartz + Associates 6th AnniversaryWe recently celebrated Father’s Day weekend and Juneteenth! I feel like Jimmy Kimmel and Steven Colbert as I write yet another blog from my home. The more things change, the more things remain the same……

Celebrating our 6th Anniversary

We celebrated the 6th anniversary of Swartz + Associates, Inc. on June 1st without much (in fact, without any) fanfare. Just another day of dealing with frustrating circumstances. Hearings held virtually or via telephone only; little interaction with respective appraisers’ offices; almost no interaction with county Boards and worrying about our clients and their abilities to remain upbeat and run functioning businesses.

There are some positive things occurring as well. In the past week, we have been working with Jackson County on our outstanding commercial real estate appeals. While we still have many properties to discuss, we were able to discuss and resolve 10 properties. At this rate, it will take quite a while to complete the 2019 hearings, but we know the county is working with us to resolve outstanding appeals and remain cautiously optimistic the number of cases to be reviewed by the county will only increase.

Another positive is the comfort level our staff has felt in working remotely. While the office is technically open, I have encouraged everyone to work in an environment that best suits their needs. If they want to come into the office, it is available to them (minus the break room).  This has worked out well as a few of us come in a few hours each week. This past Thursday, we had 4 in the office at the same time and it was nice to have some work oriented interactions.

Conversely, working remotely has not slowed us down at all and I believe has helped in our efficiency. As a group, we are meeting off site next week to discuss the past 3 months and making plans for the rest of the year. What will work look like? What is the importance of being in the office? Are we taking care of our clients? How will proper social distancing affect our abilities to have an “off site” half day meeting? These are issues l look forward to discussing with our group and receiving their input.

On the Las Vegas front, Indurante & Associates continues to charge along.

We recently completed the majority of 2020 property tax filings and now are reviewing assessment notices to ensure accuracy and correct methodology. We will be filing obsolescence appeals in those states which allow this argument and we recently discovered a calculation error by a State which assesses property tax on railcars. Alerting the State of this error caused the State to reissue assessment notices for all taxpayers (regardless of whether they were our clients), creating a combined tax savings of well over $500,000.

We did this at no extra charge to our clients, further cementing our reputation as the leading provider of railcar property tax services in the country. I will be talking more about this in a future post and announcement. I am very proud of our group, and would like to recognize Mark Phillips, senior analyst, for discovering the error and working with the state to make the corrections, ultimately benefiting all taxpayers.

As always, if you have any questions or comments please reach out to me directly – dswartz@swartzaai.com.

The Swartz Report: What will the Real Estate market look like going forward?

“As slow as March went, April sure flew by!”

Time is flying byThis was a quote from a family member as we sat around the dinner table for the 50th consecutive day. That comment could not have held more truth. As we spent the last two weeks of March figuring out what in the world was going on and re-acclimated ourselves to a full household (this time full of consenting adults and not teenage children dealing with the pressures of adolescence, middle school and high school), April was filled with the “new routine”.  April found three of us working our jobs remotely and the 4th finishing up second semester of his sophomore year of college.

Phone calls, Zoom meetings, scheduled property tax appeal hearings (conducted via telephone, of course), class lectures and finals, staying out of each other’s way; the days rolled along and here we are – Mid May. More than sixty days of being together and the work continues to be completed. Touches with clients, valuation discussions, connecting with my accountants regarding the tax deadline extension and working with my bank to review the PPP application process/ funding and all the other regular joys of running a business! No wonder the days are moving so quickly.

With this activity, I am deeply aware of the effect the COVID-19 is having on many, if not all of my clients. Hoteliers, retailers, convenience store operators, owners of apartments and other commercial real estate properties – everyone has been touched negatively by this pandemic. These holdings will not just “bounce back” as quickly as things have fallen. I’ve listened to several economists representing most areas of the country and the market will return at a much slower pace. Some have projected a timeline of 3-4 years before GDP attains the percentage increase levels we were seeing at the start of 2020. While this may be one of the more conservative estimates, it certainly is a possibility the recovery period will take us well in 2021 and 2022.

The Real Estate Market

Swartz and Associates: Future of Real Estate?One question we don’t have an answer for at this point is what the real estate market will look like going forward. Will office space (and the need for office space) change in look, feel and desirability? Over recent years, we’ve seen the exponential increase in online sales as consumers order more goods from the Internet and have them delivered directly to their residence. With stay at home orders in place, more people have turned to this mode of shopping, not only out of convenience but necessity.

Have shopping habits shifted? Have work habits shifted? These are the areas we will be paying particular attention to and we will see if the real estate market reflects these changes over time. Construction of warehousing, cold storage and distribution centers will continue to increase, but how will the retail sector and office buildings adapt? More importantly, how will the counties recognize the changing landscape in the marketplace and what will their reaction be?

Big questions and no answers at this point…  but I promise you, it’s on our (and our client’s) radars.

States are showing signs of re-opening in various capacities and a general sense of anticipation is clearly in the air. I’m looking forward to dining out again and being with others. After all, in my almost 30 years of marriage, I’ve never had 60 consecutive dinners at home with my family. 😊 They are probably ready for a break from me!

Stay strong and stay healthy.

Zoom, Virtual Roundtables and the Human Condition

One month has passed since I last posted my blog. To say these last 31 days have been interesting, would not do justice to any sort of definition of “interesting”. Unique, unprecedented, unparalleled…. All terms researched that could easily take its place.

I know this has dominated the airwaves and it’s hard to focus on anything else. How does a company effectively continue to operate while living in a new world of social distancing? I believe we are all learning as we go; trial and error with a healthy dose of common sense as our guide.

Virtual Roundtable

Virtual RoundtableToday, I participated in virtual roundtable discussion sponsored by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.  This one hour conference via Zoom, consisted of 68 small business owners (or high level decision makers within their respective companies).

The concept was to share ideas and concerns with other businesses in the community having the similar issues; relief funding, PPP applications, working with your banker; employee morale and many others. The idea was to share challenges and what employers are doing to overcome them as well as offering successes and ways to encourage employees to get away from the “groundhog day” concept, which many are falling victim and can easily become a pattern to slip into day after day. Conversation was lively and the “chat room” was filled with questions and suggestions for us to implement.

Zoom is a fascinating tool I am using on a regular basis.

Zoom MeetingsWhile I had heard of this before the pandemic, it was something I would “look into” when I had the time to research. Well, things can change in an instant, and I am a believer now. The ability to see and communicate with each employee is much more powerful than a phone call.  Weekly meetings with the Kansas City office on Mondays and the Las Vegas office on Thursdays has provided much needed energy.

Additionally, it allows each of us to see the emotional aspect of working remotely, where a phone call may not.

I have been a user of Zoom for both business and social aspects and the results have been extremely positive for my personal well-being. Seeing your employees maintaining a positive outlook while working from their personal residences is a very powerful picture for an owner. Connecting with clients and friends for a virtual lunch, dinner or “happy hour” is equally important for my social well being and I plan to have several more in the upcoming weeks.

Many of our clients are hurting right now and these next several months will be very challenging for them. My goal is to stay connected not only on a professional level, but a personal level, if warranted. We should not feel we are simply property tax consultants but we are friends with, and in many cases, long histories of working together. We know each other’s stories and celebrate successes. I want my clients to know we are still there for them, looking out for their bests interests while remaining compassionate. This is where relationships are cemented and we plan to be here, assisting where and when possible.

Stay Strong and stay healthy.

The Swartz Report: Good News (EO) and Bad News (COVID-19)

Don Swartz

By Donald Swartz, President and Principal of Swartz + Associates, Inc.

Good News: Entrepreneurs’ Organization

I recently was accepted and joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Kansas City Chapter. This organization states, “as the world’s only peer-to-peer network exclusively for entrepreneurs, EO helps transform the lives of those who transform the world”. While my personal goal is not to help transform the world, per se, I was very much attracted to the idea of sharing ideas, stories, concerns and successes with a network of similarly minded business owners.

My group, or Forum, had our introductory training session and initial meeting last week. It was fascinating to be with a small group of business owners who tackle similar issues, both personal and business, in an open and non-judgmental environment. I am anticipating a close bond will quickly be formed as we meet on a monthly basis and truly get to know about each other’s lives.

EO currently has 196-chapter locations in 92 countries, with over 13,500 members. Many of my business contacts have familiarity (either as a member, former member or friends of a member) with EO and the initial comments have been overwhelmingly positive. I look forward to building this next step in my professional world and am excited about the opportunities EO will provide for my companies.

Bad News: Coronavirus

COVID-19Like most of us, I have been watching the sweeping changes occurring in our lives over the past 10 days. What started as a potential nuisance has developed into a complete crisis. Whether you believe we, as a nation, have over-reacted or have not yet done enough to do our part, this is a generational event which demands calm and patience. We must listen to, and adhere to our governmental officials, both at the local and national levels.

My family plans for spring break were not unique as we were headed to the 1st and 2nd rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament in St. Louis. How many thousands were planning the same trips in their respective regions of the country? How many of us with college age children now face the reality of having them home for an extended period of time (at least the balance of the semester) while we watch their college tuition savings be significantly reduced by a turbulent and unpredictable market? While painful for everyone, we must trust the process and understand these steps are necessary (in my opinion) to create an environment of a “greater good”.

COVID-19 has had an impact on the property tax world as well.

Locally, counties have eliminated the “in person” hearings if a taxpayer has disputed his/her valuation on their property. Hearings will now be conducted via telephone only, and realistically, I see this remaining in place for several months. It will be very interesting to see how these initial rounds of appeals are treated and what the next level of appeal (State Tax Commission, Board of Tax Appeals, District Court or other State assessment boards) will look like in terms of scheduled hearing dates and the anticipated backlog of appeals.

As always, we will try to keep you posted on the latest property tax events and would be pleased to serve your interests. Please stay calm and look out for one another!

The Swartz Report: Repurposing Retail Box Stores and Commercial Property Tax Values Issued in JoCo

Last week, there was an article I read (as well as several others) concerning the repurposing of empty retail box stores. In particular, the conversation turned to the aspect of shopping center owners such as Simon Properties, General Growth and Macerich acquiring some of these vacant stores. The reasoning behind these acquisitions is to create an alternative use in order to keep foot traffic at the mall, thereby supporting the other in-line retail stores. The repurposing of the stores is varied, but it appears the recent trend is to design shared office space.

Re-Purposing Big Box Retail

This article also mentions an estimated 200 million square feet of retail space that has closed or anticipates closing since the beginning of 2017. Some of these retail stores have been closed for up to 4 years. It will be extremely interesting to see what happens to the 150+ planned Macy’s store closings based on last week’s announcements.

Potential Impact

This may have a significant impact in the property tax world as assessors and appraisers struggle to determine the fair market value of these types of properties.

Do appraisers look at the sales of vacant retail properties to determine the value? Or should they look at the current use of the property? This argument has been building in several states over the past few years. In Kansas, it is likely this argument will be decided by the Kansas Supreme Court, possibly in the 2020 calendar year.

Mall owners are finding they must continue to come up with ways to support their malls as they cannot afford to have anchor tenants sitting vacant. It’s worth the potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements and reconfigurations in order to maintain mall traffic.

How does this affect the value of a property?  That’s the $64,000 question (or more likely the $300,000 question!)

Johnson County Commercial Values Issued

Speaking of Kansas, Johnson County issued their commercial values to taxpayers last week with an appeal deadline of March 11th. Residential notices will be issued before March 1st and taxpayers will have until the end of March to file appeals if they are unhappy with the valuation placed upon their residence.

As I’ve included in previous years, the deadlines in the surrounding states which occur in the upcoming months are listed below:

Kansas – Personal Property: March 15 | Real Estate: March 11 – (commercial) Johnson County
March 31 – remaining KS Counties

Missouri – Personal Property: March 1 | Real Estate: 3rd Monday in June

Oklahoma – Personal Property: March 15 | Real Estate: Generally in June

Iowa – Personal Property: Not applicable – Exempt | Real Estate: April 30

Colorado – Personal Property: April 15 – Real Estate: May 31

Nebraska – Personal Property: May 1 | Real Estate: June 30

Arkansas – Personal Property: May 1 | Real Estate: Varies

Even though this is an “off year” in Missouri, Colorado and Iowa, appeals can still be filed based upon a valuation date of January 1, 2019. For those taxpayers in Jackson County who did not file appeals on the property, but were hit with the significant valuation increases, the opportunity exists to attempt relief for the 2020 tax year. (I will discuss Jackson County more in the April and May blogs.)

As always, if you have any questions surrounding your property valuations, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of the staff at Swartz + Associates. Now entering our 34th year in property tax valuation reviews (personal property, residential and commercial), we have the knowledge and relationships to professionally handle your needs anywhere in the country.

Please visit our website www.swartzandassociates.com to learn more about our experience and results.

The Swartz Report: Success only comes before Work in the Dictionary

Happy New Decade to everyone and I hope the start of the New Year leads to many successes throughout.

Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs KingdomFirst and foremost, the success of the Kansas City Chiefs are on the minds of most Kansas Citians (and well beyond based upon the season ticket base encompassing over 40 states). I’ve been a season ticket holder for 32 years and I have never, NEVER experienced anything quite like what we witnessed in our comeback win against the Houston Texans. Now, we play host to our second consecutive AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead on January 19th and maybe the passing of the AFC torch from the Patriots to the Chiefs 😊

Time for a little payback to the Titans – my wife and I celebrated our anniversary in Nashville last November, only to see the Chiefs snatch defeat from victory in stunning fashion; a disappointing finish to a great weekend.

Family

At the end of 2019 and the beginning 2020, we say good bye to the teenage years, as our youngest is now 20. Now there is a success story of how we, as parents, somehow made it to this point. We have great role models and have watched many a friend reach this milestone, so we simply followed previous examples and maybe added a pinch of Don and Karen to the mix.

Business Development

Chiefs KingdomThe start of this decade will also hopefully jump start business development plan implementation for each of our employees at both Swartz + Associates, Inc. and Indurante. Our focus has been placed squarely on taking care of our clients and it is important we also pay attention to our personal growth and professional development within the organizations. Planning meetings last fall and recent discussions led by my wife (thank you, Karen!) will provide us with responsible direction and great enthusiasm as well as growth for the companies.

Finally, this decade will provide opportunities I cannot begin to imagine. If I had written this blog in 2010, how could I have possibly predicted I would purchase my practice back from my place of employment for almost 20 years and acquire another company within 5 years of starting Swartz + Associates? I promise to keep my eyes open and looking forward. You never know when the next opportunity is around the corner.

As my mother always says, “Success only comes before Work in the Dictionary”  Let’s get to work, shall we?

The Swartz Report: Goals for 2020

Goals for 2020As we bid good-bye to 2019, I wanted to identify a few of the major events of the year and goals for the 2020 year.

Jackson County, MO Reassessment

This year, taxpayers saw valuations on their residential and commercial real estate values increase between 20% and 400%. Truly amazing as the county received over 25,000 protests to their increased valuations. Currently, we have only heard a handful of appeals (mostly residential) and have hundreds of commercial appeals awaiting hearings before the Board of Equalization.

It is estimated the hearings will take place sometime between January and June of 2020. Taxpayers who are granted any reductions in value achieved after December 31, 2019 will receive a refund of their taxes based upon the reduced amount. Additionally, if you missed the opportunity to appeal your valuation in 2019, you may appeal the 2020 valuation in the spring of 2020.  We will keep everyone updated as hearings progress.

Sale – Leaseback transactions

Many of the properties we review for commercial real estate are situations where we represent the lessee of a property where they are the sole tenant. We have found the counties are extremely interested in the long term leases in place without regard to the credit worthiness of the tenant. Outside investors are interested in the “name” of the tenant fulfilling the lease and the rate of return an investor receives varies based upon the tenant in place.

Most states assess real estate as “fee simple” (market rates) and not “leased fee” or the lease currently in place. This creates the potential for properties being over stated by the counties as the lease reviewed is more than a value of the real estate but reflects a valuation associated with the business currently leasing the property.  This continues to be a major point of contention in several states and we have many appeals outstanding where this is an issue.

Valuation of Corporate Headquarters

We continue to represent properties which are owner occupied and are considered to be corporate headquarters for companies. In many situations, the taxpayer has either constructed new headquarters or remodeled/refurbished existing property for the benefit of their employees. The increase in open space; a movement away from “traditional” office space, where individual offices and doors are no longer necessary; shared space among employees and art designs within a building are creating potential issues of functional obsolescence in older buildings and higher replacement cost calculations which do not necessarily equate to higher market values.

Additionally, we have clients that have relocated corporate headquarters to a new jurisdiction, leaving the former HQ vacant (or having minimal employees are the old location) and difficulty selling the property or leasing the space to another business due to issues described above. We are awaiting decisions from State Court in multiple states on these issues and anticipate the appeals will not be resolved until 2020 or 2021.

And most importantly – THANK YOU!

As I continue recover from the accident earlier this summer, I cannot thank you enough for the continued love and support received from family, friends, clients and especially, my staff.

This has been the most challenging year of my professional life and in many ways, the most successful. Success is truly not measured only by monetary gain. The ability to keep both companies running throughout the second half of the year is a complete credit to the staff that make things happen. This is how I choose to measure success and will continue to guide me as we move forward in 2020. I thank you for your patience and understanding. Physically, I am almost back to the level of pre-accident activity and mentally, I am prepared for all challenges in front of us.

Happy Holidays to all and I look forward to being there for you next year and beyond!

The Swartz Report: We appreciate stable and predictable, but change is constant.

Change is ConstantAs we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I went back and reviewed my previous blogs and naturally, they focused on things I’ve been thankful for over the past year. If you’re a regular reader of my monthly blog, I feel I wrote my “thanksgiving” blog back in July following my unfortunate accident. While it’s never redundant to continue to express my thanks to so many, I thought I would change the tone of this November’s thoughts.

WHILE WE APPRECIATE STABLE AND PREDICTABLE, CHANGE IS CONSTANT.

I am approaching my 34th year in the review of property tax valuations, so I would like to believe I’m predictable and stable. However, within this career, change has been a constant theme. Working for a national firm; then going out on my own; then merging my practice with a regional accounting firm which was ultimately bought out by a publicly held entity and finally, buying my practice back from the firm. Employees hired and employees retired; economic recessions and economic booms – change is constant.

Throughout the years, my clients have stayed with me and followed the not so straight path. In my July blog, I thanked my family, friends, employees and community. Now it’s my turn to thank my clients. Some have been clients for 20+ years, others recently coming on board. My goal is to treat all of you with respect and it’s my hope and intent we put forth our best effort in representing your interests.

MY YOUNGEST IS NO LONGER A TEENAGER!

Again, if you’re a follower of my blog through the years, I spend a significant amount of time discussing my family. Whether vacations, sporting events or road trips to college, they are special to me and I opened our family to your welcoming arms.

Well, now my youngest has turned 20 and this has had a bigger impact than I anticipated. Turning 40, 45, 50 and now 55 were not issues for me, but having my youngest turn 20, yikes!!! It is fine for me to get older, but my kids? No way! Of course the flip side is seeing them growing up and maturing into adults which brings immense joy and pride.

TWO COMPANIES? – NO PROBLEM.

With the acquisition of Indurante + Associates a little over a year ago, I was confident we could achieve success, but a little worried about such different entities and geographic differences. Thanks to today’s world (computing, smart phones, travel capabilities and other nuances) the ability to grow both entities is succeeding. Taking advantage of the technology afforded us would be a footnote without staff motivated to share in the success. I’ve seen our staff grow and take on added responsibilities, while continuing to forge relationships with clients as we approach the next decade. This effort will only make us stronger as a whole and I eagerly await the 2020 year!

Happy Thanksgiving to all – I’m thankful I have the opportunity to continue to share my thoughts with you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Swartz Report: Technology, Branding and Collaboration

Don Swartz

Don Swartz

Over the past two weeks I have implemented planning meetings for both companies; Indurante & Associates and Swartz + Associates. Each meeting was a full day and, in both situations, we went “off campus”, leaving the usual work place for a different environment. Away from the company phones, away from the usual distractions and an opportunity to clear the mind.

I believe both meetings were very successful as the dialogue from all employees was pointed, thoughtful and most importantly, respectful.

Technology and Branding were the major take aways from both meetings.

Swartz + Associates

As we are well into our 5th year at Swartz + Associates, questions circled around the fact that although successful, are we now content? Where do we want to go from here? We have been very focused on maintaining our client base from the purchase 5 years ago, but now it is time to spread our wings and show other companies of our success. Success not only monetarily, but success in the types of appeals we are securing.

It is time to promote our successes to others and let taxpayers know we are able to handle their property tax valuation review, regardless of the type of property.

Indurante & Associates

On the Indurante side, we are already recognized as the leader in railcar industry in the preparation, review and filing of property tax statements to the respective jurisdictions. The question of this group centered around the use of technology.

How can we take advantage of technology to assist not only us, but our clients? Website, Indurante owned software and database development are extremely important to our future and we are investing significant time and resources to ensure this occurs during the 2020 tax season and beyond. Once in place, these powerful tools will allow us to have even more interaction with our clients and ease the transfer of information.

The opportunity for the two companies to work together is very exciting.

PartnershipsWhile the companies focus on different areas of the property tax arena, they are very complimentary. Companies who own railcars, undoubtedly have ownership interests in commercial/industrial real estate as well as machinery and equipment. The key is to now educate Indurante employees about Swartz products and how Swartz reviews assessments. Likewise, Swartz employees are learning what it looks like to handle several thousand property tax annual filings and the payment of thousands of annual tax bills on behalf of Indurante’s clients.

It is truly an exciting time for both companies, and I’m looking forward to sharing our results with everyone.

As always, if you need answers regarding your property tax assessments, please reach out and contact me with any questions.  If railcars are your thing, we can help out there as well!

The Swartz Report: 2019 Valuation and Tax Appeal Updates

Tax AppealI recently returned from a trip to Des Moines to visit a client, look at a property in booming Ankeny, IA and met with a fee appraiser hired to review a property. This trip allowed for several hours of windshield time to process the various events currently happening in the property tax world. I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring you up to date in jurisdictions where we represent many of our clients.

Jackson County, MO (Kansas City, MO)

After receiving several thousand appeals for both residential and commercial properties, the county has closed the opportunity to appeal the current 2019 valuation (taxpayers were given the opportunity to appeal the valuation until September 3rd).

Hearings are now being scheduled with the Board of Equalization and should last into the 2020 tax year. This could create issues for taxpayers who will not have a chance to have the case heard before the end of the year as taxpayers must pay their taxes under protest (property taxes are due by December 31, 2019). We will be offering suggestions and working with our clients on how to go through the process of paying taxes under protest, and the importance of doing so.

Not only will the taxes be paid under protest, but the taxpayer must indicate the value they believe is the correct value and the corresponding tax amount. The Jackson County Treasurer must escrow the difference between the taxes owed on the tax bill and the opinion of taxes owed determined by the taxpayer. The county treasurer may not release those funds until the appeal has been resolved.

We will work closely with our clients who currently have pending appeals in Jackson County as well as those who have questions. The tax bills will be issued in November, so it is important to note the taxes must be paid under protest as an appeal may be dismissed without proper documentation showing the tax amount being challenged.

Johnson County, KS

We have recently received decisions from the Small Claims Division of the Board of Tax Appeals (values under $3,000,000 and all residential values).

Early indications show Johnson County is a tough place to win an appeal at the initial levels of appeal. Many of our appeals will proceed to the Regular Division of the Board of Tax Appeals but will incur legal and 3rd party professional fees (appraisals) that make an appeal to the Regular Division challenging for many taxpayers. These additional fees may dissuade taxpayers from continuing with an appeal. We will work closely with our clients to determine the potential tax savings versus the cost to continue an appeal, as we pursue appeals beyond the Small Claims Division.

Colorado, Iowa and Missouri (excluding Jackson County)

The informal and local level of appeals has concluded with many local boards closing their respective review sessions in June and July.

These states reassess valuations every odd year, so the values currently in place will remain until the next reassessment date of January 1, 2021, unless there are physical changes to the property (demolition or new construction).

We represent client’s interests in most states across the country. If you have questions about the appeals process in where you own property, please reach out to me directly as I would be happy to update you with the local rules and timing for appeals.

As always, I thank you the opportunity to represent your interests. Please email me with any questions or concerns you may have – dswartz@swartzaai.com