Australia: Queensland Land Court dismisses appeal against decision of Valuer-General and reinforces the legal test of land value

Last Updated: 14 October 2018
Article by Ian Wright and Nadia Czachor

In brief

The case of Banks v Valuer-General [2017] QLC 52 concerned an appeal to the Land Court against the Valuer-General's valuation of land located at Savages Road, Brookfield.

The Appellant argued that the Valuer-General's valuation was not evidenced by comparable sales and that the subject land was incorrectly compared to non-farming land. The Appellant valued the land using a different valuation method to the Valuer-General and reached a different valuation figure.

The Court found that the Appellant's valuation method could not result in a reliable conclusion. Ultimately, the Court held that the Valuer-General's valuation figure was supported by the material available. The Court confirmed that the valuation method used to determine this was consistent with the Land Valuation Act 2010 (LVA) and an approach consistently favoured by the Courts.

The Valuer-General challenged the evidence of the Appellant and the Appellant's expert

The Valuer-General challenged the Appellant's ability as an expert witness given the Appellant's financial interest in the case. The aim of this challenge was not to render the Appellant's evidence inadmissible but rather to emphasise that the evidence needed to be closely scrutinised.

The Court reiterated that the matter in dispute was relevant to land valuation, an area that the Appellant did not claim expertise. Therefore, the Court held that it was unnecessary to resolve this challenge. Similarly, the Court did not resolve a challenge to the ability of the Appellant's expert witness, qualified in agriculture and experienced in resource management, as the expert witnesses also did not profess to be a valuation expert.

The Appellant disputed the Valuer-General's view on the highest and best use of the land

The Valuer-General valued the land at $330,000 as at 1 October 2015 whereas the Appellant contended that the land should be valued at $66,000. The Appellant argued that there were no comparable sales and that the Valuer-General incorrectly compared the subject land to non-farming land, resulting in a valuation figure that was too high.

The Appellant described the land as frost-free with productive soil. The land mainly consists of custard apples but also has a mango orchard and hoop pines for timber. Accordingly, the Appellant contended that the highest and best use of the land was farming.

The Appellant used relativity to value the land by selecting the closest custard apple farm, located in Upper Brookfield, and dividing the value of it into its area. This provided a figure of $8,234 per hectare which was then multiplied by the area of the subject land to produce the Appellant's valuation figure of $66,000. The Appellant did not use evidence of comparable sales around the valuation date as it was the Appellant's view that only custard apple farms sold for farming were applicable and there were no such sales to compare.

The Valuer-General's valuation expert witness supported the Valuer-General's valuation method

The Valuer-General's valuation expert was a registered valuer with over 30 years' of experience in Queensland. The Valuer-General's valuation expert acknowledged that relativity can be a consideration in the valuation process but not one which can replace comparable sales as the primary method to determine land value.

The Valuer-General's valuation expert's report confirmed the Valuer-General's valuation figure of $330,000. The Valuer-General's valuation expert arrived at this by direct comparison to bona fide sales of land. The report considered various factors including land type, topography, vegetation, access, power, telecommunications and flooding susceptibility. Furthermore, it was the Valuer-General's valuation expert's view, unlike the Appellant, that there is one merged market as opposed to separate markets for farming and non-farming land in the area.

The Valuer-General's valuation expert relied on four comparable sales which were in a merged market and considered similarities between the sales and the subject land to confirm the Valuer-General's valuation figure of $330,000. In accordance with section 46 of the LVA, sales enhanced by a higher use were not relied upon.

The Valuer-General's valuation expert accepted that not all of the comparable sales qualified as farms under the LVA. However, it was argued that this would make little difference and that they were all useful. The Valuer-General's valuation expert conceded that using sales of farms is preferred if available but reiterated that sales are fundamental to valuation and that the most comparable sales must be used.

The expert witnesses considered the comparable sales relied upon by the Valuer-General's valuation expert

The Appellant's expert witness and the Valuer-General's valuation expert considered each of the comparable sales. The combined views of the experts were as follows:

  • Sale One - This sale was located at 42 Pacey Road, Upper Brookfield. This property was valued at $495,000 as at 1 October 2015. The Appellant's witness found that the land had not been farmed for a while and consisted of at least 50 percent remnant forest. However, the Valuer-General's valuation expert noted that this land had superior access as well as a power and telephone connection despite being notably smaller than the subject land.
  • Sale Two - This sale was located at 607E Upper Brookfield Road, Upper Brookfield. This property was valued at $460,000 as at 1 October 2015. The Appellant's witness found that the land was unlikely to be suitable as a farm as it was over half remnant forest. However, the Valuer-General's valuation expert found that it was superior to the subject land overall due to its superior access and availability of services.
  • Sale Three - This sale was located at 195 Priors Pocket Road, Moggill. This property was valued at $400,000 as at 1 October 2015. The Appellant's witness found that the land had been farmed in the past and contained a lot of woodland. However, the Valuer-General's valuation expert considered the land to be superior as it had superior access with bitumen to the frontage as well as a power and telephone connection.
  • Sale Four - This sale was located at 80 Oxford Street, North Booval. This property was valued at $260,000 as at 1 October 2015. The Appellant's witness found that the land did not have a comparable use to the subject land. The Valuer-General's valuation expert found that it was superior in access and had services available. However, the Valuer-General's valuation expert noted it was inferior to the subject land overall due to its location and susceptibility to flooding.

The Appellant argued that the views presented by his witness strengthened his argument that the sales relied upon by the Valuer-General were not comparable sales. The Valuer-General argued that the Valuer-General's valuation expert's findings supported the valuation method and figure adopted by the Valuer-General.

The Court reinforced the legal test for land valuation

The Court considered both valuation methods presented by the parties and noted that it is bound by the decisions of the Land Appeal Court. In the case of NR and PG Tow v Valuer-General (1978) 5 QLCR 378, the Land Appeal Court held that the best test of land value is the sales of comparable properties, preferably unimproved, in the open market around the date of the valuation. This test has been continuously approved by the Courts.

The Court, supported by its previous decisions, held that value deduced from relativity cannot be solely relied upon. The Court stated that it is not sufficient to simply infer a value based on relative comparisons with nearby land. It must first be demonstrated that the land being relied upon was correctly valued and that the subject land was incorrectly valued.

The Court accepted the Valuer-General's valuation expert's valuation method and dismissed the appeal

The Court found that the valuation figure of $330,000 was justified by the available evidence. The Court held that the Valuer-General's valuation expert correctly applied the best test of value, sufficiently addressed the grounds of appeal and did not make a factual error. The Court accepted the Valuer-General's valuation expert's opinion that there is a merged market as neither the Appellant nor the Appellant's witness were qualified valuers to present a contrary expert opinion.

The Court was not satisfied that the Appellant's valuation figure of $66,000 was correct. The Court was unable to rely solely upon the Appellant's valuation method of relativity as this would contradict the historical approach of the Land Court.

For these reasons, the Court dismissed the appeal and confirmed the Valuer-General's valuation figure of $330,000.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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