Alistair Helm: Let's get rid of property CVs

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Property commentator Alistair Helm says the use of Capital Values is damaging in the process of buying and selling real estate. Photo / Greg Bowker
Property commentator Alistair Helm says the use of Capital Values is damaging in the process of buying and selling real estate. Photo / Greg Bowker

I doubt that there would ever be a conversation between an agent and a prospective buyer of a property without reference to the CV of the property. It is judged by most people in NZ to be the "official" valuation of the property, almost as though the government (local or national) should provide such a service.

At least that is what buyers and sellers tend to think.

The fact is there is an argument that NZ the whole property industry would be better off without a CV for individual properties. It would at least reduce the proliferation of media stories featuring references to selling prices measured against the CV of which there would be almost a daily flood. Such stories only perpetuate the myth that because a property sold at a price 20 per cent / 50 per cent / 100 per cent above "its CV" there must be grounds that all properties are rising in price by 20 per cent / 50 per cent / 100 per cent!!

You look overseas and find that in most every other country there is no such number for an individual property. You will get the local council rates assessment, the local government tax, the capital value of the land or the rentable estimation for the property,; but never an estimation of valuation.

Let's be very clear here to ensure complete clarity the Capital Value (CV) is based on what a property is used for (land use) and the rateable land value of the physical land the property sits on. Quotable Value New Zealand (QV) is the agency contracted by Councils to assess property values, and it reviews these valuations every 3 years. Some Councils state that the CV is an estimate of the probable selling price of the property as at the effective date of valuation, other steer clear of such assertions.

QV state on their website that "Formerly called Government valuations (GVs), council rating values (RVs) are compiled by statute, under the Rating Valuations Act 1998, mainly as a uniform basis for levying local and regional council rates. Rating values also serve as a useful guide for property owners and other interested parties, as they are impartial and independently assessed as at the same date for every property in a Local Council.

A Council Rating Value (RV) comprises 3 main components:

- The Capital Value (CV) which is the assessment of the probable price that would have been paid for the property if it had sold at the date of the last general revaluation.

- The Land Value is the probable price that would have been paid for just the land as at the date of valuation.

- The Value of Improvements, which is the difference between the capital and land values. It reflects the additional value given to the land by any buildings, other structures or cropping trees and vines present on the property, and any landscaping that adds value to the land.

The CV is in my view misleading and potentially damaging to the process of real estate.

Here are the reasons for this assertion:

1. It is a computational figure; no human is generally involved in its assessment. It is arrived at by the use of a computer algorithm that analyses recent sales within a geographical radius of the property in question. The pairing of such properties is based on property and section size. The process though takes no account of the condition of the property, the quality of improvements to the property aside from any general lodged building consents.

2. It is assessed on an infrequent basis (3yrs) and therefore is almost always out of date. The CV's for Auckland for example were published in 2011, the prior CV's were published in 2007 or 2008. The work to compute the CV is undertake months before publication and is based on sales data in the months running up to the computational so the Auckland CV's are based on sales in mid to late 2010. So thereby the references in Auckland are over 3 years old and the property market (and general economy) are vastly different to 3 year ago.

3. The true market value of a property is the value assessed as between two private parties; that being a willing seller and a willing buyer. It may well be that the accepted price between these two private parties has no bearing on either the council valuation or even a valuation by a qualified valuer. That is just a fact of the market.

4. Having a CV for a property becomes a crutch for the real estate industry that does nothing to add value to their services. Imagine for a minute if there was no CV. A real estate agent would use skill and local knowledge to assess recent sales, ensuring that local knowledge could ensure that truly comparable properties were evaluated in order to come up with an intelligent estimation of the true market price. Instead almost in defence of real estate agents they have to start with the CV and then justify why that is not the "market expectation", or as is more likely today why the price expectation = CV +25 per cent!

5. Without CV's for properties we might actually get more property advertised with a price indication. At present around 30 per cent of all property being marketed for sale in NZ is without a price indication, in Auckland that total is closer to 50 per cent.

Because of this fixation of the CV being a "market indicator" and the lack of confidence in agents to the true value, property is marketed without a price. This situation is unsatisfactory for buyers who stumble around in the dark unsure if their favourite property is within their financial means.

Putting a price on a property is not the same as a price ticket on an item in the shop - it is an indication of what the vendor (in consultation with their agent) considers the property to be worth. They as the vendor know that they may have to accept an offer below or maybe above that price. They are never forced to sell and can refuse an offer that they feel does not match their expectations; simply put they need to be that 'willing seller'.

The epitome of what I consider the ridiculous situation with comparisons to CV's and benchmarking to CV was seen in a recent advert by a local real estate company. They advertised how much more than the CV they had achieved.

The data is meaningless, there is no correlation between the actions of the agent and the sale price above CV. Selling price over and above a professional valuation maybe; a speedy completed sale certainly; a competitive bidding situation absolutely; but not the benchmark of the CV.

Clearly it is highly unlikely that NZ will change the system of CV's providing a basis for assessing local rates. I just wish that there was less focus on the CV and more on the local market of truly comparable sales stats presented by professional local agents to help buyers fully understand the true vendor expectations, and thereby bring greater transparency to the property market.


Alistair Helm is a property commentator and creator of the Properazzi website.

- NZ Herald

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