The case of O'Connor v Valuer-General  QLC 44 concerned an appeal commenced in the Land Court of Queensland by Daniel James O'Connor and Despina Maria O'Connor against the valuation by the Valuer-General of their property situated at 24 Rowallan Close at Westlake.
Mr and Mrs O'Connor contended that the valuation of $520,000 for their property was excessive and that based on comparable sales, $450,000 was a more appropriate value. Their case was premised on restoring consistency and integrity for site values of residential properties in the Westlake area and in particular of their property.
The Court found that it did not have the statutory power to revalue the whole of the Westlake area and could only assess the correct valuation of the subject land. The Court ultimately accepted the evidence of the Valuer-General’s valuer and decided not to change the original valuation, dismissing the appeal.
Mr and Mrs O'Connor contended that the site value for their property was excessive
Mr and Mrs O'Connor appealed the decision of the Valuer-General on the following grounds:
- The excessive site value for the subject property and all other residential land in Westlake.
- The failure to recognise the reflected factors from 2013 to 2014 of properly analysed vacant land sales in Westlake
- The lack of evidence to support the wide variance in percentage increases applied to residential lands across the Centenary suburbs being a 15% to 40% increase in Westlake and 5% to 10% increases in other adjoining suburbs.
Court reinforced the importance of sales evidence of comparable land in determining the appropriate value of land but noted the change in the evidentiary onus
Despite the change in the valuation process brought about by the Land Valuation Act 2010, the Court reinforced the established importance of comparable sales evidence in determining the appropriate value of land as observed in Steers v Valuer-General. By reference to the decision of Lawson v Valuer-General, the Court confirmed that the principles for determination of the market value established by the High Court in Spencer v The Commonwealth (1907) 5 CLR 418 remain relevant.
With respect to the changes to the valuation process introduced by the Land Valuation Act 2010, the Court noted that the presumption of correctness in favour of the valuation has been removed and that Mr and Mrs O’Connor are limited to the matters stated in the notice of appeal and carry the onus of proving those grounds.
Court found that it does not have a statutory power to order a revaluation of the Westlake area
Mr and Mrs O'Connor's case as identified in the grounds of appeal was premised on restoring the consistency and integrity of site values for residential properties in the Westlake area. The Court noted however that "the nomination of a matter as a ground of appeal does not automatically make it a valid or useful ground".
The Court found difficulty in Mr O’Connor’s thesis in circumstances where it did not have the statutory power to order the Valuer-General to revalue the whole of Westlake.
The Court referred to the decision of Farr v Valuer-General, where His Honour Mr Isdale cited several decisions which make it clear that the question before the Court is the correct valuation of the subject land, not the correct valuation of an area. The Court further referred to the decision of Ladewig v Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Water for the principle that the Court should not purport to conclude a view as to the value of any individual property to which an appeal has not been initiated.
The Court found that its focus in this case is on the value of the subject land only which is to be assessed by reference to sales at a relevant time of comparable land or of land which gives guidance as to the value of the subject land.
Mr O'Connor acted as both the advocate for himself and his wife and also as his own "expert" valuer
Mr O'Connor represented himself and his wife in the appeal. The Court noted that despite Mr O'Connor's lack of legal qualifications, this did not preclude him from running his own case. However, Mr O'Connor, being a registered valuer in the employ of the Valuer-General, also sought to represent himself and his wife as an “expert” valuer in the appeal.
The Court cited the decision of Meiers v Valuer-General, which in a similar set of circumstances referred to the case of P and R Cupo v Department of Natural Resources and Water. In Cupo, His Honour Member Jones observed that “an advocate’s role is to persuade the Court to adopt his clients’ case and reject the case for the opposition. On the other hand the role of an expert witness is to assist the Court by giving honest and objective evidence”.
The decision of Cupo went on to refer to Pratt v The Department of Natural Resources and Water where the President said:
“an interest or perceived interest in the outcome of litigation does not constitute a justification for the exclusion of expert evidence. It is simply a matter which goes to the weight of that evidence. Therefore even though Mr Whip’s evidence was tainted, it was admitted. However, any argumentative or adversarial statements were excluded from consideration. Furthermore, where there was a conflict between Mr Whip’s evidence and that of the Department’s valuer, little or no weight was attributed to Mr Whip’s evidence unless it was corroborated from another source, or unless the Department’s valuer was demonstrably wrong.”
The Court adopted the approach from Pratt and found that whilst Mr Connor’s evidence was admissible, it was inevitably tainted due to his advocatory role and was unable to give his evidence the same weight as that of the valuer for the Valuer-General.
Court considered the evidence of both experts of comparable sales but ultimately decided not to change the valuation
Mr O’Connor and the valuer for the Valuer-General both agreed on three relevant bona fide sales of vacant land in the suburb of Westlake. Mr Connor's approach was based on a direct comparison of vacant or lightly improved land sales in comparable locations with adjustments made for points of difference.
The first relevant site was sold in July 2013 for $575,000 and was identified by Mr O'Connor as being superior in size, outlook, elevation and ambience. The valuer for the Valuer-General, however identified that whilst the property is larger, more elevated and enjoys filtered views of the Brisbane River, it is subject to heavier traffic than the subject land, is identified in the BCC Flood Wise Report and lacks the appeal of a quiet cul-de-sac.
The second relevant site was sold in July 2014 for $608,888. Mr O'Connor identified the site as being vastly superior with a significantly larger area and "panoramic Brisbane River vista like views". The valuer for the Valuer-General, whilst acknowledging that the property was superior to the subject land due to its size, views and the shared boundary with the parkland, emphasised that the land is wholly within the BCC River Flood Planning Overlays and was entirely covered by water in the January 2011 flood event.
The third relevant site was sold in February 2014 for $480,000. In 2013, the site was valued at $415,000. Both Mr O'Connor and the valuer for the Valuer-General agreed that this site value was too low and that a more appropriate value is $430,000 and $450,000 respectively. However, a recent valuation of October 2015 identifies the site as being $450,000. The valuer for the Valuer-General identified that the site lacks the appeal of a quiet cul-de-sac and is surrounded by smaller lot houses of a less impressive standard than those surrounding the subject land.
In making its decision, the Court noted a number of decisions which observed the imprecise and uncertain nature of valuations. The Court ultimately preferred the evidence and conclusions of the valuer for the Valuer-General and decided not to change the valuation of Mr and Mrs O'Connor's property.
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