There is an old saying: a person who is acting as their own attorney has a fool for a client and an incompetent attorney. In this case, we are talking about real estate taxes. We are in the midst of buying a new home. There are a lot of expenses to consider with a move, and taxes are one of them, especially in Florida. Understanding how Florida computes real estate taxes is important, if you want to pay as little in taxes as possible.
This paragraph is specific to how Florida computes real estate taxes. If you aren’t interested in the mechanics of that, you can skip to the next paragraph. When you own real estate in Florida, the county property appraiser assigns your property a “market value” each year. If you live in your home, you can claim it as your homestead, and every year after the first year that you own it, the value can only increase by 3% for taxing purposes, and this amount is called your “assessed value.” The difference between the market and assessed value is called your “Save Our Homes” credit. You subtract your Save Our Homes credit from your market value to arrive at the assessed value, then your homestead exemption ($50,000) from your assessed value, and that is your “taxable value.” The taxing authority where the real estate is located then taxes you on that value, and the amount of tax you own varies by taxing district. (I know that this sounds complicated and it is, but the end result is that there are only 9 states in the US that have a lower tax burden than Florida (we are tied with Louisiana), so there is that.) The reason that I explain this is because the “Save Our Homes” credit is portable, and this is important when moving.
What’s important here is that, when you are moving, you want your old house to be valued as high as possible, and your new house to be valued as low as possible. This will minimize your property taxes going forward. Since we are preparing to move, I got our current home appraised and sent a copy of that appraisal to the county property appraiser’s office. Each August, the appraiser’s office sends every homeowner a copy of the proposed numbers, and you have until September 15 to appeal these numbers. The appraisal that we got from the county was almost $100k less than what the our private appraiser says it is worth. Since this is how our tax credits are calculated, I need to get this fixed, because allowing this to stand will increase our property taxes on the new house by about $2,200 a year for the entire time we own the place.
To do that, you need to apply to the Value Adjustment Board. It’s a sort of tax court that is run by a county magistrate. It’s a legal process, and I think that it is worth our money to hire a real estate tax attorney to handle the process. My wife wants to just do it ourselves because she says lawyers are expensive. My point to her is that we only get one chance to get this right, and screwing it up will cost us more than $22,000 over the next ten years in taxes that we otherwise wouldn’t have to pay. If it costs a grand or two now, a lawyer is well worth the cost going into the future.