NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 26, 2013
On appeal from the Tax Court of New Jersey, Docket No. 019151-2010.
Thomas D. Williamson, attorney for appellant.
Jason Holt, Corporation Counsel, attorney for respondent (Ryan Linder, Assistant Corporation Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Lihotz and Ostrer.
Plaintiff Debbie Gibbons appeals from a March 23, 2012 judgment of the Tax Court. The Tax Court affirmed the judgment of the Essex County Board of Taxation (the Board), which had affirmed the 2010 real estate tax assessment issued by defendant, the City of East Orange, regarding plaintiff's residential realty located on North Maple Avenue (the subject property). On appeal, plaintiff argues the Tax Court erred in rejecting her evidence limited to the purchase price to fix the value of the subject property for tax assessment purposes. We are not persuaded and affirm substantially for the reasons stated by the Tax Court.
These facts are taken from the trial record and the Tax Court's opinion. In 2009, plaintiff began searching for a home for herself and her three children. She located the subject property, which was advertised for sale for $120, 000, through the multiple listing service (MLS). The MLS described the owner as "anxious" to sell, and identified the subject property's features, noting it was in "need[ of] TLC, " and "[p]riced right to sell." In her opinion, Tax Court Judge Mala Narayanan described the subject property as
a lot measuring about 0.11 acres and is improved with a three-story colonial-style residence with vinyl siding. Erected sometime in 1929, the house has five bedrooms and one full bathroom on the second floor, and a half bathroom on the first floor. The first floor has a living room with a gas fireplace, dining room, and a kitchen. The second floor has the three bedrooms and the bath. The third floor has two bedrooms. It has a finished basement with a walkout facility. There is wood flooring throughout the house. The property is surrounded by a metal fence. It has a driveway and a detached garage. The house is not centrally air-conditioned.
In September 2009, plaintiff visited the subject property, which had recently been placed on the market. The home was vacant, and all utility systems were old but fully operational. Plaintiff's offer of $125, 000 was immediately accepted without negotiation. Plaintiff learned the owner was ill and confined to a nursing home. The property had been listed by his daughter, who appeared at the January 14, 2010 closing as his attorney-in-fact.
Plaintiff began renovations on the property, expending approximately $40, 000 to $50, 000, and within months, she and her children moved into the home.
The tax assessment of the property was issued by defendant on October 1, 2009. The assessment stated the aggregate value of the property was $262, 100, allocated between the land, $135, 700, and improvements, $126, 400. Plaintiff timely filed a petition appealing the assessment. She sought a downward modification suggesting the value of the land should be $75, 000, and improvements were worth only $50, 000. Defendant contested her petition. After review, the Board affirmed the assessment.
Plaintiff filed her complaint in the Tax Court challenging the Board's decision. Plaintiff contended the assessment was incorrect as the sale was an arm's length transaction between a willing buyer and willing seller, thus making the purchase price a "reliable indicator of . . . market value." At the close of plaintiff's case at the December 16, 2011 hearing, defendant moved to dismiss. ...