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Judge questions assessment; only 'comparable' is foreclosure sale

Board of Review members' remarks about the current value of property led a Pierce County judge to agree that the town assessment on a woman's house may be too high.

In a decision filed Jan. 28, Judge Robert Wing reversed a property assessment decision made by the Town of Clifton Board of Review and sent the matter back to the board to consider further evidence regarding the fair market value of a house.

Rita Zawislak-Brandt, W13105 635th Ave., Prescott, filed this case challenging the 2008 assessment of her house. She claimed the $270,000 assessment is too high and is not supported by substantial evidence.

"Troubling comments were made by members of the board that if they granted (Zawislak-Brandt's) request they would have to reduce the values of every other home in the township," wrote Wing in his decision. "If the market is such that all homes in the township have fair market values less than are currently the basis for their assessed value, it may be that other parties could seek relief, but that does not affect the decision as to whether or not (her) home is worth $270,000."

"A previous sale of the home is the best evidence of fair market value -- evidence that does not exist here," wrote Wing. "The second best method of valuing a home is to look at comparable sales of property. There are no comparable sales of property."

The only sale Zawislak-Brandt offered as evidence was a foreclosure sale and that doesn't represent a willing seller, wrote Wing.

A real estate broker pointed out several homes that were listed for sale but didn't sell. The judge took the broker's testimony to indicate Zawislak-Brandt's house has a fair market value of less than $220,000.

Town assessor Galen Seipel testified he reduced the assessment from $323,000 to $270,000 after inspecting the property with Zawislak-Brandt's attorney, Warren Lee Brandt.

But Seipel pointed out the house is located in Cedar-St. Croix and has beach access not found elsewhere in the town.

"The statement by one board member that the home probably would not sell for $270,000 goes to the very essence of what constitutes fair market value," ruled Wing. "If the home will not sell at $270,000, then the home is not worth $270,000."

Wing found there was little evidence to support the $270,000 figure and it appeared that the board made its decision "...based on its will rather than a judgment as to true market value."