Big-box defenders argue that the "sales approach" (what someone recently paid for a similar property) is the best way to determine a building's value. And in many states, including Wisconsin, sales are supposed to be the first variable in the valuation equation, whenever possible. Therefore, retailers' lawyers say, a Sam's Club valued at $11 million is overvalued, because its neighbors are selling for a third of that amount. In a real estate market that's oversaturated with retail closures, bankruptcies, and vacancies galore, they insist, no one wants a big box store anymore. If you just look at the sales prices, they are often not wrong. ... dark store theory appeals have been incessant, and small towns feel outgunned. Retailers come back, year after year, insisting on paying less, even after they've been granted reductions. For them, every demand brings the opportunity for a lower valuation, and there's no real financial downside, with outside tax lawyers working for contingency fees. "They're forcing the hands of municipalities to go to court, and then they keep bargaining it down," said Krause, the assessor in Wauwatosa. Repeat appeals from Lowe's, Best Buy, Meijer, and others dating back to 2013 have cost her city $2.4 million in legal fees.

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