Thursday, December 19, 2013

Seller's Market? Home sales have dropped in Dade and Broward but prices are rising. 
South Florida’s housing market is cooling.

Existing home sales in South Florida slowed in November, the latest sign that the housing market is shifting to a more normal pace after a long stretch of torrid gains.

While home and condo prices in both counties continue to post double-digit gains from 2012 levels, real-estate experts broadly agree that price increases also will slow during 2014, just as sales are doing.
“There are definite, definite signs the market is shifting [from a seller’s market] to a more balanced one,” said Mark Zilbert, president and CEO of Miami Beach-based Zilbert International Realty, who has watched prices for beachfront and Brickell-area condos cool modestly from their summer peaks.

Sales of single-family homes in Miami-Dade County fell 2.4 percent in November to 982 closings from 1,006 a year earlier and were down 7.4 percent from October’s level of 1,060, according to Miami Association of Realtors.

Miami-Dade condo sales fell 6.3 percent in November to 1,274 closings from 1,359 in November 2012 and were down 10 percent from October, Miami Realtors said.

Broward single-family home sales fell 11.1 percent in November to 1,076 closings, from 1,201 a year earlier and were down 11.4 percent from October’s 1,214 closings, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors reported Thursday. The results confirm signs of a moderation in sales in October.

Broward condo sales fell 6 percent in November to 1,206 closings from 1,283 a year earlier and were off 11.8 percent from October’s 1,368 transactions completed.

Among the reasons for the slowdown: Rising residential prices and higher interest rates inevitably sideline some would-be buyers by putting monthly payments out of reach. Interest rates on mortgages, while still low, have increased since April and are expected to continue that trend in light of the Federal Reserve’s steps to reduce its bond-buying program gradually over time.

Meanwhile, cash-rich investors are seeing fewer bargains in South Florida.

“As home prices have increased, it’s starting to cool off a lot of investors and hedge funds,” said Stephen McWilliam, past president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors and president of Florida State Realty Group in Fort Lauderdale. “Probably in the first and second quarter of 2014, you’ll see price increases more in line with a healthy market — 5 percent to 6 percent. These 20-percent and 25-percent spikes in prices won’t be there.”

The slowdown in sales comes amid continued robust price gains for houses and condos in both counties.

The median price of a single-family home in Miami-Dade jumped 19.2 percent to $232,500 in November from $195,000 a year earlier and was up 0.6 percent from October’s median price of $220,000.
The median price of a Miami-Dade condo increased 14.5 percent to $180,000 in November from $157,250 a year earlier and was up 5.9 percent from the October median condo price of $170,000.
The median price of a single-family Broward home jumped 28.6 percent to $270,000 in November from $210,000 a year earlier while that of a Broward condo leaped 27.2 percent to $117,000 from $92,000 in November 2012. The median for a single-family home was flat with October’s level of $270,000 and the median for a condo inched up 0.6 percent from $116,250 in October, the Realtors’ group reported.

South Florida’s market still shows plenty of strength, as homes are snapped up soon as they are listed and fetch close to their asking price. A single-family home in Broward sold at a median pace of 31 days on the market while condos went at a median of 36 days, both quicker than a year earlier. And single-family homes in Broward sold at an average of 95.3 percent of original listing price, while condos sold for 94.3 percent of listing price, another sanguine indicator.

The slowdown in sales reflects a big drop in short sales. In Miami-Dade, traditional “non-distressed” sales rose, as did closings on bank-owned properties taken in foreclosure, but short sales plunged sharply.
With the huge spike in prices over the past two years, a lot more South Florida homeowners now have equity in their homes and thus the flexibility to sell without having to write a check at the closing table.
Broward also posted an increase in“non-distressed” sales of homes and condos in November, but those gains were more than offset by sharp declines in short-sales and bank-owned sales.

More inventory is coming up for sale, providing buyers with choices. The selection of Miami-Dade existing homes and condos listed for sale continued to increase in November, with a 14 percent gain in single-family inventory from a year earlier and a dramatic 23.5 percent jump year over year in condos on the market.

More unit owners have been listing their condos for sale, sensing now is the time to sell — before a host of new projects under construction are completed.

“Sellers are finding more competition [from the increase in available inventory] and sellers aggressively pricing their condos are going to find they’re not going to move,” said Zilbert, who closely scrutinizes local market data.

In Broward, the inventory of single-family homes increased 8.2 percent to 5,090 in November from 4,706 a year earlier, and the number of condos rose 14 percent to 7,153 listings from 6,275 in November 2012.
Still, that amounted to 4.1 months of supply of single-family homes and 5.1 months of supply of condos in Broward, which still points to a strong hand for sellers. Analysts typically consider a supply of less than six months — that is, six times the number of homes sold per month — as a seller’s market.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

‘Strategic default’ ex-owners face debt collectors

WASHINGTON – Oct. 16, 2013 – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have stepped up their program to collect unpaid mortgage debt from “strategic defaulters” – underwater homeowners who skipped out on their mortgage even though they had the ability to pay.

If a home is sold at foreclosure but the proceeds don’t cover the outstanding balance of the homeowner’s loan, the mortgage giants can pursue judgments against the homeowner forcing him or her to pay the deficiency. And the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) that regulates Fannie and Freddie is pushing them to step up their efforts.

FHFA says Fannie and Freddie haven’t been aggressive enough going after strategic defaulters; and, according to the inspector general, the mortgage giants could cut their losses by making it a priority – billions of dollars, the office says.

So far, the office says it has identified about 58,000 foreclosures that Freddie Mac did not refer for collection – and estimated deficiency of about $4.6 billion.

Some states do not allow deficiency judgments, but in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia, they’re permissible. Florida is one of the states that allows Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to seek repayment of lost funds.

Going forward, FHFA says it will more closely monitor how effective Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are in collecting deficiency judgments.

Source: “Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac to go after more strategic defaulters,” The Los Angeles Times (Oct. 13, 2013)

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Confused by local taxes, budgets? Here’s help.

This time of year, the Miami Herald is bursting with articles about local government budgets and property taxes. Within the next week, cities that haven’t done so already will adopt tax rates and spending plans for the year to come.

The new budget year starts Oct. 1.

While property taxes are familiar to anyone who has ever owned a home, Florida has some unusual wrinkles in its tax system that newcomers — and even many longtime residents — might find puzzling.
Here are some frequently asked questions and answers:

Q. Why are taxes and budgets in the news so much this time of year?
A. Local governments in Florida start their fiscal year on Oct. 1, and must have their budgets and tax rates set before then. Most city commissions received a proposed budget from their city manager in July and have been talking about it (and possibly making revisions) since then.
Q. What is happening now?
A. By now, local governments either have adopted a budget and tax rate or are about to do so. Under state law, every local taxing agency must hold two public hearings before adopting the budget. Every property owner should have received a letter from the county property appraiser about a month ago announcing the proposed tax rates along with times and dates for the hearings.
Q. Why do some of these public hearings seem to be scheduled for 5:01 p.m.? What’s with the “01”?
A. To make it easier for people with 9-to-5 jobs to express their views to local leaders, the Florida Legislature has mandated that public hearings on the budget must be held after 5 p.m. Complying with the letter if not the spirit of the law, some localities — Miami-Dade County, Homestead, Doral and Coral Gables, for example — set their hearings for 5:01 p.m. Other municipalities hold their budget hearings at 6 or 7 p.m. In fairness to the county, its budget hearings can be very long, and residents can still sign up to speak even if they show up late.
Q. To whom do I pay property taxes?
A. The Big Three taxing agencies are your county, your school board and your city or town. Smaller amounts go to agencies such as the Miami-Dade Children’s Trust, the South Florida Water Management District, or the hospital districts in Broward County.
Q. What is a “TRIM Notice”?
A. That’s the letter you receive from the county appraiser every August informing you of current and proposed tax rates, the assessed and taxable value of your home, and your tax bill if the proposed rates are approved. It is not a bill.
Q. Is my TRIM notice available online?
A. Yes, you can see your TRIM notice at your county property appraiser’s website by clicking the “property search” feature, entering some information about your home (such as your name or address) and then clicking on the link to see the TRIM notice. You can do the same for other people’s property, too, since these documents are public records. Broward’s website is; Miami-Dade’s is
Q. What does “TRIM” stand for?
A. It stand for “Truth in Millage,” which was an Act of the Legislature, originally passed in 1980.
Q. What is “millage”?
A. It’s a property tax rate. A “mill” is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in taxable real estate value, or 0.1 percent.

Q. Is there a state limit on tax rates?
A. The maximum tax rate for a municipality in Florida is $10 per $1,000 in taxable property value, or 1 percent.
Q. How much is a typical tax bill including all local taxing authorities?
A. Adding together schools, counties and others, the bill usually will exceed 2 percent of taxable home value per year.
Q. How is my property-tax bill calculated?
A. You can multiply the tax rate by your taxable home value. For example, if your taxable home value and the tax rate for your city is $5 per $1,000 (or 0.5 percent), then your tax bill is $500. You would then have to repeat this procedure for your county, school board, etc.
Q. My TRIM notice mentions “assessed” and “market” values as well as a “taxable” value. What’s the difference?
A. Market value is the county appraiser’s estimate (usually conservative) of what you would get for your home if you sold it. “Assessed” is the value of your house for tax purposes, before the homestead exemption is applied. Taxable value is the value of your home after the homestead exemption.
Q. What is a “homestead exemption”?
A. Owner-occupied homes in Florida receive a $50,000 exemption from tax for all purposes except schools. For school-tax purposes, the exemption is $25,000. In other words, you can subtract these amounts from your home’s assessed value before calculating your tax bill. The exemption is not available to commercial property such as office buildings or shopping centers, nor to vacation homes or rental property.
Q. Why is my home’s assessed value less than the market value?
A. Under the “Save Our Homes” provision of Florida’s Constitution, the maximum annual increase in the assessed value of a house with a homestead exemption is either 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. This year, it is 1.7 percent.
Q. Historically, don’t property values in South Florida go up faster than 3 percent?
A. Yes, sometimes much faster. Even after the recent housing bubble, home prices in many areas remain much higher than they were a decade ago. Save Our Homes is supposed to protect property owners from these increases.
Q. So “Save Our Homes” is good for homeowners, right?
A. It depends on how long you have owned your home. If you bought your home 15 years ago, your assessed value, as limited by Save Our Homes, probably is still much less than the market value. So you save money. But if your neighbor bought an identical home next door this year, he or she is paying tax based on the full market value of the house, less the homestead exemption. The result can be dramatically different tax bills for properties with about the same market value.
Q. So the government can charge me double the tax as my next-door neighbor? Is that legal?
A. Save Our Homes has survived several legal challenges. In effect, the government is “rewarding” people for living in Florida for a long time, and “punishing” newcomers. In a 1982 case called Zobel v. Williams, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Alaska program that allocated income from state-owned oil leases based on the number of years each resident lived in the state. In an 8-1 decision, the court held that states can’t discriminate based on length of residency. “Could states impose different taxes based on length of residence?” Chief Justice Warren Burger asked, in his opinion for the majority. “Such a result would be clearly impermissible.” This case has been cited in challenges to Save Our Homes, but so far, it hasn’t done any good.
Q. What happens if I move within Florida?
A. Save Our Homes benefits are portable from one home to another within the state. If you sell a house with a market value of $250,000 and an assessed value of $150,000, you get to deduct the difference ($100,000) from your new home’s value. Example: If you buy a new house for $300,000, your assessed value would start at $200,000.
Q. If my city keeps the tax rate the same, what happens to my property-tax bill?
A. In most cases, you pay slightly more. In the case of an owner-occupied home this year, you probably would pay 1.7 percent more, the maximum allowed under Save Our Homes.
Q. My city cut the tax rate, but my tax bill went up a little anyway. What gives?
A. Assuming you have a homestead exemption, your city probably passed a very small tax cut, the value of which was less than the increase in your assessed value. For example, Coral Gables this year approved a 2014 tax rate of $5.629 per $1,000 of taxable property value, down from the current rate of $5.669. The owner of a home assessed at $375,000 would pay about $1,865 in property tax, assuming the owner qualifies for the homestead exemption, and that the home’s taxable value increased by 1.7 percent. That’s an increase of about $23. If the city didn’t cut the tax rate, the increase would have been $36.
Q. Why would my city approve such a tiny tax cut?
A. You’d have to ask the city commissioners or city manager. But it must be nice for incumbents to be able to advertise “cut taxes” on their campaign flyers at reelection time.
Q. Is the city of Miami’s tax rate really more than triple that of the town of Cutler Bay?
 A. Yes, but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Miami is looking at a tax rate of $8.43 for 2014, compared with $2.5702 for Cutler Bay. But Cutler Bay residents pay an additional $2.4627 to Miami-Dade County for fire protection, while city of Miami residents do not. The reason: Miami has its own fire department, but most local cities don’t. Even after adding in the fire tax, however, Miami residents pay about 67 percent more than Cutler Bay residents.
Q. What other factors contribute to the big difference in tax rates between cities?
A. Many factors contribute; here are some examples:

•  Services offered. As the above example shows, cities don’t all provide the same services. In addition to fire service, some cities provide their own libraries, opting out of the county system — and the accompanying tax.

•  Wealth of city. Miami’s median household income is $30,270, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, compared with $65,188 in Cutler Bay or $108,403 in Pinecrest. Wealthier cities tend to have more high-value real estate and lower tax rates.

•  Type of city. Miami is a big city with big-city problems such as violent crime — such as 69 murders last year compared to one in suburban Cutler Bay. Dealing with such problems can be costly, as in bigger police departments, and higher labor costs.

•  Age of city. Older cities tend to have heavier pension burdens. Pension costs accounted for 14 percent of Miami’s budget, compared with 6 percent in Pinecrest. However, part of the reason is that in Pinecrest, only police officers have a pension program; nonuniformed employees have a less expensive 401(k)-type savings plan, and the village doesn’t have a fire department. In Miami, pensions are widespread.
Pinecrest was created in 1996, Miami, 100 years earlier, in 1896.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

South Florida economy growing at 3.5 percent, thanks to a real-estate surge

New output numbers released Tuesday show real estate as the No. 1 contributor to economic growth last year, accounting for 31 cents of every new dollar added to the tri-county area’s $274 billion economy. Overall, the economy grew by 3.5 percent, the sharpest increase since 2006 and well ahead of the national metropolitan average of 2.5 percent.

Real estate’s return as a major economic engine comes amid rising property values and a return of cranes in downtown Miami as developers again see profits in one of the most ravaged housing markets in the country.

“Real estate is really the foundation for this area. It’s crucial for the recovery,’’ said Tony Villamil, a private economist and dean of the business school at St. Thomas University.

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Read more here: estate’s return as a major economic engine comes amid rising property values and a return of cranes in downtown Miami as developers again see profits in one of the most ravaged housing markets in the country.
“Real estate is really the foundation for this area. It’s crucial for the recovery,’’ said Tony Villamil, a private economist and dean of the business school at St. Thomas University.

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Miami Gardens may increase taxes to hire 10 new police officers

The City of Miami Gardens
have increased the city’s tax rate from $6.30 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $6.90 in order to hire 10 new police officers — a 9.5 percent rate increase totaling an extra $15.60 per year.

Additionally, the council balanced the city’s budget — which was $2 million dollars in the hole, by cutting back expenses, laying off eight city employees, converting one full-time city employee to part-time, and using yearly gained revenue.

Property values went down by 4.8 percent for 2013, City Manager Danny Crew said residents can look forward to a brighter future.  “We’ve had a tough four years, but we’ve been very fortunate to retain our financial position,” Crew said. “We have about $11 million in reserves, which is a pretty strong reserve, and we are rated by three of the top rating agencies in New York with an A+.”

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Read more here: values went down by 4.8 percent for 2013, Crew said residents can look forward to a brighter future.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Today is the final day to appeal your Property Taxes. The Herald has a story on the Appraisers office, wait... it is not about the deadline.

If you are not aware, TODAY is the final day to file your appeal on Property Taxes  in Miami-Dade.  As the public would hope, the news is covering the deadline, or are they. 

Today's story in the Miami Herald is titled. "No cakewalk for birthday fund at Miami-Dade property appraiser’s office.

We are Property Tax Appeal Group were glad to see a story in the paper that notified citizens about the deadline to file their appeal is today.  It was a surprise to see the cover story was regarding the difficulty of the office to get a fund to pay for office Birthday cakes.

While we do not have a problem with the story, we just disagree with the timing of it.  We wish the story was letting readers know about the deadline, TODAY September 17, 2013

If we can help you in your appeal, please contact us at (305) 693-3500 or on-line at

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Downtown Miami historical landmark building given a property tax reduction of 50.81%

The County taxes based on the Highest and Best Use (HBU) of a property.  This gives the property owner an incentive to build upon and improve their property.  

The historical building with retail on the first floor and 16 additional floors above the building, is taxed at its HBU; but at the same time, is prevented from maximizing its full potential, due to its historic designation.  An inherent benefit in owning real estate is having the ability to demolish it at the end of its economic life.  This is not possible at this property.

The property owner should not be the only one absorbing the entire cost of owning a property which benefits the County as a whole, due to its historic designation.  It suffers economically by being surrounded by more modern buildings.     

This was the argument presented to the Special Magistrate at the Value AdjustmentBoard (VAB) hearing in order to obtain a 50.81% building reduction on their 2012 property tax bill.   This was a $2,039,700 assessment reduction  granted ($4,014,375 – 1,974,675 - $2,039,700. 

Why would any property owner ever want to purchase a historical building and take a loss on his investment?  After all, they are not operating a charity.    

By having been granted the property tax reduction, now the entire County is indirectly subsiding historical buildings.   

Property Tax Appeal Group was able to present this evidence elements and used other approaches in order to reduce the taxes.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Mall in downtown Miami was given a 94% property tax reduction

The County’s property assessment consists of two components--Land and Building value.  

The mall, in downtown Miami is taxed for a building value which is not an asset and its best use would be to demolish it and build a skyscraper at that site.

At a recent Value Adjustment Board before a Special Magistrate for the 2012 property tax assessment, a 94% reduction was granted for the building.  It was reduced from $1,762,500 to only a “token value” of $100,000

The argument presented by Barry Sharpe pointed out that the County was in effect “double-dipping” by charging taxes on land that is not buildable in its present state, plus charging additional taxes on an old building with a liability value. 

The County was assessing the mall, comparing its assessment with the values of other “supposedly” like parcels of land, that actually have the ability to build an 80 story skyscraper. 

In order to obtain the highest and best use at this, it should first be demolished.  Then, it would no longer be “handicapped” with an old building in the way.  Having such a building is actually a negative for a builder.  One has to then deal with demolition, environmental matters, evicting and relocating tenants, etc.  All this takes time and money. 

An investor or building contractor such as Sharpe, who handled the tax appeal, would not want to purchase with so many unknowns.  He would prefer purchasing a vacant lot, with the ability to build, from day one.

This is an example as to how one can have an income producing building in downtown Miami and on the other hand, not have to pay taxes on the building.   This is a win-win situation for the property owner.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Should you even bother appeal the 2013 property asessment?

Those that filed property assessment tax appeals in 2012, all they now have to show is the cost of their filing fee—with no results.  Yes, they are frustrated and many even start to believe that it is not even possible to obtain a refund.  Why should anyone think that 2013 will be any different?  Those that have never appealed before do not realize that they have a good chance for a refund, if an appeal is filed.

The delay is due to the Value assessment board being back up, We wish it was possible to expedite the cases but we have to sit and wait.

Furthermore, if there is an assessment reduction, the property tax cap set by law, may also trigger an automatic second refund check for them for the following year.

The Property Appraiser is now working out settlements on the 2013 property tax petitions through informal assessment reviews.  But somehow, the 2012 prior year’s appeal, still is awaiting a hearing date.
 This may have an unanticipated benefit for the County.  It may be an indirect way of cutting down on the amount of tax refunds to be issued by the County, in addition to the amount of appeals filed.

Even though the County is required to pay 12% interest on refunds as a result of tax petition, by delaying the appeal hearings, it has created a damper effect on people that would otherwise have wanted to file an appeal.

 It now appears that this is may be a big win for the County.  In this manner the County will not have to worry as much about people inquiring about their property assessments.

IMPORTANT:  Broward deadline to file is this Monday the September 16, 2013, and Miami-Dade is Tuesday September 17, 2013.  If you miss the deadline you forfeit the right to appeal.  DO NOT MISS IT.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Contaminated soil found in a local park

Miami city workers have trucked away contaminated dirt and paved the parking lot at a popular park for children and dogs in Coconut Grove after tests showed the soil contained lead, arsenic and other toxic substances.
The soil at Blanche Park, 3045 Shipping Ave. — tested as part of a wider study into contamination from an old Miami incinerator — exceeded levels allowed by the county, according to a Sept. 4 letter sent to the city by the county’s Department of Environmental Resources.

In a meeting hastily called by City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff at the park Monday night, between 75 and 100 neighbors, many with dogs, questioned Sarnoff as well as the county’s environmental chief, Wilbur Mayorga.

“Is it safe for our kids to play here while it’s being remediated?” asked Justin Leto, a lawyer whose two young children play at the park. “They should close the entire park pending further investigation.”

Elizabeth Ramirez led officials to a spot where just six months ago, she said, kids played with sand in a gap in the artificial turf that covers most of the park. Sometimes, she said, they ate it.
“Kids used to literally sit here and dig and it was their dinner,” she said.

Paving the parking lot acts as a cap and ensures it is safe, Mayorga explained. The artificial turf within the park provides the same type of seal.

“That should not be looked at as a small and incomplete step,” he said. “It’s just our initial” step.
Sarnoff, who lives across the street, asked the city to test the soil in August after a University of Miami graduate student discovered a two-year-old city study that uncovered soil contamination at a nearby firefighter training facility. The facility, which opened in 1983, had been built on land once occupied by the incinerator, named Old Smokey.

“I asked them to test places right away where we knew kids were. That was my primary concern,” he said. “Then I said where are the control studies? And they said they weren’t doing any. I’m not an expert, but it just seemed obvious.”
The tests were part of eight targeted borings done by the city after the county ordered it to test 15 other random sites in light of the contaminated soil found at the firefighters’ training site, the former home of the incinerator at 3425 Jefferson St. The city also targeted Peacock Park, where no contamination was found, as well as Esther Mae Armbrister Park and area schools, including F.S. Tucker and Carver elementary schools, Carver Middle and Coral Gables Senior High. Those samples are still being studied.
In addition, the county collected 40 samples from the neighborhood.

All the samples will be evaluated to give a fuller picture of what exists in the soil. Some have shown relatively minor levels of contaminants.

But samples taken at Blanche were so high that Mayorga ordered its parking lot roped off. Paving the lot will temporarily seal the soil so it can remain open until studies are complete, he explained.

Records indicate the site, which had been used to quarry limestone, was purchased by the city in 1943 to dump trash, said Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo. In 1962, it was turned into a park, she said.
In fact, the soil borings contain glass, indicating ash was dumped at the site, Mayorga said. That also means the contamination likely did not come from ash spewing from the incinerator.

The latest finding only complicates what has become a prolonged investigation burdened with delays.
The city shut down the incinerator in 1970 after the city of Coral Gables and two dozen residents successfully sued over the noxious smoke that billowed from the old stack, at times violating pollution controls. Before the city opened the fire training facility, no testing for contamination was done, according to a city study.

In 2011, however, the city tested the land where it wanted to expand the training center and found elevated levels of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, barium and lead.

The county’s DERM has been asking the city to come up with a plan for cleaning up that contamination for more than two years. In August, after residents in the West Grove complained when UM shared its findings with them, the county ordered the city to widen its testing to a one-mile radius.

On Friday, Bravo asked for yet another extension to the latest deadline, which was at 5 p.m. Monday.
Now with the findings at Blanche Park, the investigation will widen yet again. In addition to samples collected Friday, DERM plans to collect even more samples from the park, Mayorga said. And there will be a meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Elizabeth Virrick Park, 3255 Plaza St., for residents to discuss the issue.

“We don’t even know the extent of the contamination,” he said. “We need to understand the vertical profile.”

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Miami Shores tax rate to drop slightly

Miami Shores council members tentatively agreed to a slightly lower tax rate for 2014 after the first of two budget hearings Wednesday night.

The rate will be $8.6949 per $1,000 in taxable property value, including a 69.49-cent levy to cover debts for the village’s charter school and aquatics center. This year’s rate was $8.75.

Nevertheless, for the longtime owner of a home assessed at $200,000, the bill would be $1,333, or about $21 more than this year. That assumes the owner is entitled to the standard $50,000 homestead exemption and that the home’s assessed value increases by 1.7 percent, the maximum allowed by law.

These figures don’t include separate property taxes paid to the Miami-Dade School Board, the county and other agencies.

The Shores has one of the highest municipal tax rates in Miami-Dade County. This year, only Opa-locka and Biscayne Park had a higher total property tax rate.

The sanitation rates ($705.52 per year per single family residence) and stormwater rates ($45 per equivalent residential unit) also will remain the same.

The village says the budget is balanced with no cuts to services or layoffs. One of the main initiatives the council has taken for this upcoming fiscal year is to reassess and adjust the current pay plan for village employees because of “experienced difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified personnel.”

Vice Mayor Jesse Walters commented that salaries of the most “lowly paid” employees have remained stagnant for years and have been in need of a raise. The council budgeted $175,000 to the upcoming fiscal year to implement changes to the pay plan recommended by an outside firm, which includes a 3-percent increase or other adjustment based on the study, for all non-union village employees.

While the budget appears to be largely settled, one issue that will likely won’t be resolved before the budget is finalized and approved is the amount the village expects to pay towards employee pensions. In the past, the village has contributed between $125,000 to $150,000 a year to the pension fund. However, the current account manager for Gabriel, Roeder, Smith & Co., the village’s actuary, says the village should be
contributing as much as $400,000 a year to their pension fund, which represents an increase of $250,000 over the last fiscal year.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An example of how your neighbor's property can affect you.

If you are in front of this new London skyscraper  your values are most likely going down.   

London skyscraper accused of melting car

The Associated Press

Some love it, others hate it. London's newest skyscraper has divided opinion, but now it's really heating things up — literally.

Developers of the unfinished "Walkie-Talkie" building — so called because of its shape — said Tuesday they are investigating the way the building reflects sunlight, after claims that the intense glare melted parts of a luxury car parked nearby and caused a small fire outside a shop.

Businessman Martin Lindsay told the BBC that his Jaguar's mirror, panels and badge had all melted from the concentrated heat of sunlight reflected from the building.

 "It was parked for a couple hours in the city ... and it's completely warped," he said. "It's absolutely ruined."
A barber shop owner also claimed that the glare burned a hole in his company doormat.

"We were working and just saw the smoke coming out of the carpet," said Ali Akay. "This is a health and safety issue. They should have looked into this before they built it."

The half-finished 37-story tower is one of the most distinctively shaped skyscrapers in London's financial district. The building is expected to be completed in 2014.

In a joint statement, developers Land Securities and Canary Wharf said they are investigating and taking the matter seriously.

"The phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky," they explained, adding that the problem lasts about two hours a day and is expected to continue for another two to three weeks.

The companies are evaluating long-term solutions to solve the problem, and in the meantime have asked authorities to suspend parking in three spaces in the area that may be affected, the statement said.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Over a third of South Florida homes are still underwater

South Florida home values are on the rise, but that does not mean everyone is in great shape.  There is still over one-third the share of mortgaged homes that are under water.  It has been improving and the underwater homes have fallen again in the second quarter, according to Zillow.

In Miami-Dade County, 36.7 percent of mortgaged residences owed more than their market value, down from 39.5 percent in the first quarter and 45.4 percent a year earlier, the Seattle-based online real-estate operator said.

In Broward County, 33 percent of mortgaged homes were underwater, down from 35.6 percent in the first quarter and 44.1 percent a year earlier, Zillow said.

Nearly 40 percent of homes are still underwater in Palm Beach.

The nation’s negative-equity rate continue to fall in the second quarter, with 23.8 percent of mortgaged homes under water, Zillow said.

Among the 30 largest metropolitan areas tracked by Zillow, Orlando posted the third-highest rate of underwater mortgages in the second quarter (39.8 percent), behind No. 1 Las Vegas (48.4 percent) and No. 2 Atlanta (44 percent.)

Despite the improving trend, “millions of homeowners remain so far underwater that it will take years for them to regain equity, even as home values continue their recovery,’’ Zillow said.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

A New way to negotiate your property tax assessment

The Tax Appraiser’s office has issued the 2013 values of your property, allowing a very short property deadline of September 17th, in which to file your appeal.

So it goes year after year, the County is still working though their 2012 appeals, even though the 2013 appeals will now be filed.  There is no legal way to challenge the County’s property tax bill, but this is still your  opportunity to challenge your own property assessment, to lower your own taxes.

The big difference is that now the Miami-Dade Tax Appraiser appears to want to get appeals settled through an informal assessment review.    This is supposed to address any property value concerns quicker than appealing it through the Value Adjustment Board (VAB).

They appear to have motivated their staff to complete appeals in the same tax year.  Some people may be happy with a reduction regardless of its magnitude, instead of having to argue their valuation before  a SpecialMagistrate.  They may be surprised that the County will even grant them  any relief at all, without a hearing.    You may not get the value you were hoping for, but you may get a reduction you can live with.
As frustrating as the process may appear to be, remember that if one does have a hearing and does obtain a refund at a Value Adjustment Board (VAB) hearing, the County is then obligated to give you a refund, plus 12% interest per year on the amount overpaid.

January 1 is the valuation date in Florida.  Therefore, this year’s Market Value listed on the 2013 TRIM notice, reflects an estimate of your property’s market value on January 1, 2013.  It is based on market data from the preceding (2012) calendar year.

Consequently, these new 2013 Tax Roll values are by now, almost eight (8) months old, when the market might have been weaker.  This fact may want to be considered in order to attempt to reduce the 2013 assessment.

Your best best is to hire Property Tax Appeal Group as your expert to attempt to reduce your property taxes.  We can attempt to meet with the Property Appraisers office early and get a reduced rate, if we feel we could obtain a larger reduction in a hearing then we would be able to reject their offer and proceed.  Make sure you use a professional to assure you get your assessment set at its accurate amount and receive your refund check.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Broward existing home sales and prices rose by double digits in July

South Florida’s housing market keeps on sizzling.

The median price of a single-family home in Broward County jumped 27.9 percent to $275,000 in July from $215,000 a year earlier, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors.

Sales of single-family homes in Broward County rose 12.9 percent to 1,475 closings in July from 1,307 a year earlier, the Realtors group said. Single-family sales were also up 8.7 percent over June, which included 1,356 closings.

The median price of a Broward condo rose 29.2 percent in July to $108,500 from $84,000 a year earlier, Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors said. Broward condo sales rose 12.6 percent in July, to 1,525 closings from 1,354 a year earlier and were flat compared with June’s 1,355 closings.

The inventory of single-family homes on the Multiple Listing Service fell 10.3 percent in July to 4,297 while condo listings declined 7.1 percent to 5,985, Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors said.

Broward had just 3.5 months of supply of single-family homes listed for sale in July, meaning 3.5 times the volume of transactions closed that month, down from 4.3 months of supply a year earlier. Broward had 4.3 months of supply of condominiums, compared with 4.8 months last year.

That signals a very tight market, where sellers can call the shots. Market watchers consider six months of inventory to be a balanced market between buyers and sellers. When inventory is less than that, prices typically rise consistently.


The tight market also is reflected by how fast properties are snapped up. In Broward, the median time period to sell a single-family home dropped to 36 days in July from 38 days a year earlier, while condos went under contract at a median of 25 days, down from 42 days a year earlier.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Miami-Dade County releases list of public libraries, fire-rescue units on budget-chopping block

At the request of Miami-Dade commissioners, county administrators released on Tuesday morning a list of the 22 public libraries and six fire-rescue units that would be shut down under Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s latest budget proposal.

Gimenez reversed course late Monday on a property-tax rate hike that would have maintained library and fire services. Instead, he recommended that commissioners keep the tax rate flat and slash services.

“After listening further to our residents and community leaders, it is clear that there is no public support for a tax-rate increase right now,” he told the commission Tuesday. “We will continue to work to try to reduce those impacts.”

In addition to the library and fire-rescue unit closures, 400 county employees would be laid off under Gimenez’s worst-case scenario — 251 of them from libraries and 149 from fire rescue.

The list of 22 libraries includes one regional facility, the West Kendall Regional Library. The six fire-rescue units comprise three rescue trucks, two fire engines and a fire “platform,” meaning a truck with a ladder.
The three rescue trucks are located in Eastern Shores/North Miami Beach, Cutler Bay/Coconut Palm and Homestead/Florida City. The two fire engines are in North Bay Village and Goulds. The fire truck with a ladder is in Haulover.

The 22 libraries are: California Club, Opa-locka, Golden Glades, Civic Center Kiosk, Lemon City, Little River, Model City, Culmer, North Shore, Shenandoah, South Shore, Fairlawn, Virrick Park, Country Walk, Concord, Sunset, Lakes of the Meadows, Tamiami, West Kendall Regional, Doral, Hialeah Gardens and Palm Springs North.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Miami-Dade mayor proposes higher property-tax rate

By Patricia Mazzei

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Tuesday proposed raising the property-tax rate for the first time in three years to stave off cuts to fire and library services and fund a plan to stop killing dogs and cats at the county’s animal shelter.
The mayor’s 2013-14 budget increases the overall tax rate by 4.06 percent, a hike Gimenez said would avoid fire station and public library closures and pay for the animal-welfare plan that nearly 65 percent of Miami-Dade voters approved in a non-binding ballot question in November.

In an unincorporated neighborhood such as Kendall, a homeowner with a taxable property value of $200,000 would pay an additional $75.20 in county taxes, which make up only a portion of the tax bill.
Gimenez had cautioned in May that the county faced a $50.7 million general-fund budget hole, in addition to a $15 million library budget shortfall and a $15 million fire-rescue budget gap. Library and fire services are funded from property taxes separate from the general fund.

To close the general-fund gap, the county froze vacant positions, used one-time money available from tourist dollars known as convention development taxes and relied on higher projections from sales taxes and other revenues.

But that was not enough to plug the fire and library budgets. The tax base, which grew for the second consecutive year thanks to climbing property values, did not expand as much as county administrators had hoped, Gimenez said, and Florida lawmakers imposed higher, unforeseen healthcare and pension expenses on local governments.

His short-lived plan to shutter 13 libraries two years ago received so much pushback from county commissioners who must ultimately set the tax rate and approve the budget that the mayor this time decided to suggest a tax-rate hike instead.

“I don’t believe the people of Miami-Dade County want to cut back on library services or fire services,” Gimenez said.

But while the higher tax rate might prevent a political battle over libraries and fire stations, it will do nothing to stem conflict with the county’s labor unions over concessions that had been scheduled to expire next year.
Gimenez’s budget calls for workers to continue contributing 5 percent of their base pay toward health insurance costs, as well as for the extension of other concessions particular to each union. Most union contracts, negotiated for a three-year period, provide for reopening certain agreement provisions if the contribution is to continue past Jan. 1, 2014. The firefighters union is exempt because it has its own healthcare plan.

Union chiefs have accused the county of carrying a $42 million surplus in its health-insurance trust fund, which the administration counters helps maintain employee benefits and hold the line against health-insurance rate increases in the future. Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin has agreed to conduct a financial audit of the fund at the unions’ request.

“We can’t figure out where is the end of this surplus account. What is it being built up for?” Terry Murphy, a public affairs consultant working for the unions, told the Miami Herald’s editorial board on Monday. “The commissioners have no idea about this money.”

The county has already declared an impasse over the concession provisions — excluding the healthcare contribution, which is still pending — with five unions. A sixth, representing solid waste workers, is at impasse over both the healthcare contribution and the other concessions.
“I anticipate a fight with labor,” Gimenez acknowledged.

The higher tax rate would be the first pushed for by Gimenez, who took the county reins after a frustrated electorate ousted former Mayor Carlos Alvarez in a recall prompted by Alvarez’s wildly unpopular 2010 tax-rate hike and employee pay raises.

In the painful budget he delivered two weeks after taking office in 2011 to complete Alvarez’s term, Gimenez reversed his predecessor’s handiwork and called for severe services cuts, layoffs and dramatic concessions from county workers. Last year, a month before his reelection bid for a full four-year term, Gimenez proposed further reducing the tax rate, that time maintaining services and avoiding job losses.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Fellow Floridians: will be charging you sales tax soon.

It appeared to be dead but Gov. Scott has brought the deal back to life and will be building a new facility in Florida.  The building will be about 1,000,000 to 1,200,000 sq f

To think about how big that is, Dadeland mall is 1,488,000 sq f, an Aventura mall is 2,700,000 sq f.  This should bring about 3,000 new jobs.

So if one of the things you loved about was not paying sales tax, that will be ending.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, Gov. Rick Scott's office announced Thursday that Florida had landed the deal with Amazon to create 3,000 full-time jobs with benefits and more than $300 million in capital investment by the end of 2016. About 1,500 of those jobs could come to the Interstate 4 corridor.

As soon as Amazon has a presence in the state, that should trigger collection of sales tax unless the Department of Revenue has approved a delay, said John Fleming, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation. The department could not be reached for comment Thursday.

If you would like to read the full story: Sun-Sentinel 

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Home-buying frenzy: Strong demand collides with scarce inventory

The Open House on a leafy street near South Miami featured a snack wagon with cupcakes and chilled beverages, but the real draw was the newly listed house for sale for $435,000.
Over a two-hour stretch on a Sunday afternoon, 44 groups of couples and families streamed through the well kept 2-bedroom, 1 1/2 bath house on an outsized lot.

They didn’t come to eat cupcakes: Five purchase offers came sailing in – three that day, two the next.
“I’m continually overwhelmed by the response when houses come on the market,’’ said Lisa Dority, a RE/Max Advance Realty agent who listed the home. “If a house is priced properly, it goes quite quickly.’’ Since last fall, she said, her listings typically have been selling within the first week.

The buying frenzy is reminiscent of the boom days of 2005 and 2006 – except today’s buyers are using cash and heavy equity, not “liar loans’’ boasting inflated income or assets.

Rising buyer demand is colliding with a shortage of supply, making the always-emotional experience of buying a home all the more intense. Multiple offers are competing for a scant supply of homes and condominiums for sale. Bidding wars are breaking out. Properties are fetching asking price – and
often more. Prices are up double digits year over year and rising at a brisk pace.

With the peak buying season in full swing, South Florida’s housing market is on fire. Real estate agents complain about needing more to sell. Traditional homebuyers shopping for a place to live are facing stiff competition from cash-rich investors, including foreign buyers and institutions.

Given the imbalance of supply and demand, working with a sharp-eyed agent who monitors listings soon as they hit (sometimes even finding off-market prospects that fit a buyer’s criteria) is critical in today’s market.
While South Florida’s coastal and urban cores have seen the biggest rebounds, buyer interest is coming in all shapes and sizes, with the outlying areas picking up as well.

“What we’re seeing is pent-up demand,’’ said Philip Vias, a broker associate with Prudential Florida Realty in Fort Lauderdale. “Not that much has been bought in the last few years.’’
The inventory of homes and condominiums for sale in Miami-Dade and Broward counties has plunged to the lowest levels since 2005.

Mortgage rates are at historic lows, thanks to the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented maneuvers to stimulate economic growth. The interest rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage last week was 2.74 percent and 3.60 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, according to That cheap money is boosting the buying power of homebuyers.

Banks have begun to ease terms on mortgages, with down payments of 10 percent and less increasingly available, widening the options for prospective buyers to jump in. Said Vias, “interest rates are so low, people are crazy not to buy.’’

And with housing prices in Miami-Dade and Broward marching higher, many buyers are feeling a sense of urgency to act now or miss out.

“We have a chance to grab something. We want to take advantage of this great market. Interest rates are low,’’ said Leonard Bridgnauth, a 36-year-old courier, who with his wife Kimmy has been scouring the Miramar area for a house in the $250,000 range since December, so far without luck.

“Because inventory is so low, it’s creating some kind of a frenzy,’’ said Chuck Bonfiglio, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors and broker owner of AAA Realty Group in Pembroke Pines. “People are pricing their homes over what the market is... Buyers know inventory is low and are willing to pay over appraisal to get the deal done.’’

Listings that sit unsold in today’s market are either overpriced or have some issues, agents say.
Fueling the inventory shortage is the huge share of underwater mortgages. Even as prices have rebounded off their 2011 lows, four of every 10 mortgaged homes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties had debt greater than market value in February, according to CoreLogic, a Irvine, Calif.-based data firm. That marks an improvement from the dark days of December 2009 when 56 percent of Broward’s mortgaged homes and 52 percent of Miami-Dade’s were under water.

The lack of home equity has sidelined many would-be sellers, who would have to make up the difference between the amount they owe and the sales price. “They just don’t want to come to the closing with a check,’’ said Ron Shuffield, president of EWM Realty International, a Coral Gables-based brokerage.
And with inventory so tight, some would-be sellers wonder where they would go.

Shuffield, who is an avid tracker of real-estate data, said “The number one metric in our business is the number of months of supply.’’

Six months of supply – or six times the number of homes sold in a month – is considered a balanced market between buyers and sellers. As the inventory rises, buyers gain the upper hand and prices turn soft; with less supply, sellers call the shots and prices rise faster than normal.

In March, Miami-Dade had a 4.8-month supply of single-family homes and a 5.8-month supply of condos for sale. Broward had a 3.6-month supply of single-family homes and a 4.4-month supply of condos.

Aggravating the shortage: New construction of homes and condominiums came to a standstill during the downturn, and while thousands of condominium units are in the works in South Florida, most projects won’t be ready for several years.

Many economists and Realtors say the housing recovery has plenty of room to continue, although the dramatic price gains of the past two years will likely moderate over the next year or so.

“I don’t see interest rates going up soon. There are still a lot of people wanting to get in. I see us maintaining this over the next year. Over five years, who knows?” said Drew Epstein, a broker with Century 21 King Realty in Sunny Isles.

Miami’s housing collapse has drawn global attention, even as its reputation as a coveted destination has climbed. That boosts the lure for investors looking for the safe harbor of a U.S. investment at a relative bargain, especially for distressed properties and lower-end residences that make easy rentals. “There are still Russians, but there are Brazilians, Italians, Venezuelans with money. People are buying to hold. Very few people are looking to flip.’’

Cash buyers clinched 64 percent of home and condo sales in Miami-Dade and Broward in March, according to the Miami Association of Realtors and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors.

A cash offer typically will win, even one that is thousands of dollars below another that requires mortgage financing. Cash is particularly compelling if the buyer seeks few contingencies, such as hinging a deal on inspection or appraisal.

In January, Tracy and Collin Ross made an offer on a house in South Miami less than two days after it came on the market. When the sellers made a counter offer, they agreed to the higher price.
The Rosses, who have good credit, plan to put down 20 percent and get a conventional mortgage for the rest.

There was the rub. During negotiations over documentary stamps, the sellers suddenly put on the brakes.
“They took a cash offer for $8,000 less than we offered,’’ said Tracy Ross. “We don’t have cash to compete. From what we’re hearing, the appraisals aren’t catching up with the market, so people are taking lower cash offers.’’

For the Rosses, who have been hunting for a home for six months, that was Strike One. With their second prospect, also in South Miami, they made an offer within three days of the house coming on the market. But a bidding war erupted, and they wound up dropping out.

In a third effort, the Rosses rushed to make an offer within 24 hours of a house hitting the market. “We offered $6,000 above the asking price,’’ said Tracy Ross. The upshot: The Realtor informed them the property had drawn five offers, and theirs wasn’t competitive.

“The search continues,’’ Tracy Ross said. “We need to move. We’re living in an 800-square-foot condo with two dogs, two kids and the two of us.’’

Jacque and Stephan McLean, who have been house hunting near Miramar since December 2012, have submitted five offers, all in vain. The McLeans, who are renting a home, plan to make a 20-percent down payment and get a conventional mortgage for the rest.

“The last offer was $20,000 more than the listing price and we still didn’t get it,’’ said Jacque McLean, a financial analyst at the Veterans Administration and Army veteran whose husband is a truck driver at Port Everglades.

“There is a lot of greed going on. We’re going right back to what happened in 2006 and 2007 in Florida,’’ she said. “Normal people just looking for a place to live can’t buy a house.’’

“We are approved for a loan, we’ve got cash in the bank and we’re ready to go,’’ the wife added.
On May 7, she spotted a house online and phoned her agent to make an offer – without even seeing the property.

The 5-bedroom, 3-bath house in Miramar was a short sale listed for $330,000. When the McLeans’ agent, Bette Abrams, called the same morning to make an offer, she said the seller’s agent told her “We have an offer for $390,000 all cash.’’

There were “30 showings, and it was just put on the market this morning,’’ Abrams said.
In the pecking order of homebuyers, those with solid credit and a big down payment who are pre-approved for mortgage financing have the next strongest hand after cash buyers. That is especially true if they have extra cash and are receptive to paying above appraisal if the appraisal comes in lower than the contract price.

“Many sellers are saying ‘We want you to waive the appraisal,’” said Abrams, who works at Coldwell Banker in Coral Springs.

That’s what happened to the Bridgnauths. The couple, who married a year ago and have a 20-percent down payment and good credit to get a conventional mortgage, made an offer on a house in Miramar. Not just one appraisal – three – came in below the contract price.

The seller balked at reducing the price, suggesting instead that the couple pay above the appraisal.
Many buyers are doing just that with the rationale that appraisals aren’t keeping up with rising market prices.
Buyers counting on FHA financing typically have among the weakest hands in wooing sellers weighing an abundance of offers.

“A lot of FHA buyers are being shunned, mainly through the misconceptions by real estate agents,’’ said Adam R. Cohn, senior mortgage banker at The Mortgage Firm Inc. in Deerfield Beach. FHA homebuyers “are so frustrated by it.’’

Among other things, Cohn said, some real estate agents mistakenly “think appraisals [done for FHA mortgages] come in lower [than those for conventional mortgages], and that’s simply not true.’’
With the keen competition for homes, it’s essential that shoppers have their mortgage pre-approval lined up, and they should be ready with documentation: pay stubs, tax returns and bank statements to prove they are serious contenders for a property.

And real-estate agents are counseling their buyers to avoid complicating offers with unnecessary contingencies that make them less attractive.

Some agents are advising clients to go in with the highest and best offer right away, rather than trying to negotiate back and forth.

“It’s not a matter of buying at the right price. It’s a matter of buying at the right time,’’ said Ray Barkett, regional vice president and district sales manager for Keyes Realtors in Fort Lauderdale, who believes tight inventory and historically low interest rates will keep pushing home prices up for at least a year. “And this is the right time.’’

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Almost 200 ALFs accused of cheating on property taxes

Know the laws.  If you are operating a business from your home make sure you are entitled to your homestead exemption.  In some cases people were operating ALF's (Adult Living Facilities) and the owner was not living in the home and still claiming the Homestead exemption. 

Story from the Miami Herald
by Carol Marbin Miller

Already the focus of intense scrutiny by lawmakers and elder advocates, Florida’s troubled assisted-living industry has taken another hit: Miami-Dade’s new property appraiser has accused scores of the homes’ owners of gaining improper homestead exemptions that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

This month, the Miami-Dade Property Appraisers’ Office issued $1.7 million in tax liens against assisted-living facilities that claimed homestead exemptions — resulting in a discount on their property taxes — to which they were not entitled, the office said. Under Florida law, an ALF owner must live on the property in order to qualify for a homestead exemption — which lowers the tax burden only for the portion of the facility in which the owner lives, not for any part of the home that generates income.

Of close to 200 homes that were cited by the department, 98 were ALFs or other group homes where the owner did not live on-site — meaning they were not eligible for any tax relief.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Miami-Dade’s property appraiser, said he came up with the idea of comparing homesteaded properties against ALFs licensed by the state after receiving many complaints about the homes from constituents while he was representing Miami in the state House of Representatives. To test his theory, the office looked at a handful of the properties, and, Lopez-Cantera said, found that a large number of them were homesteaded — meaning the homeowners were asserting that the properties were their place of residence. Instead, they were licensed by the state to provide care to frail elders and disabled people.

When someone receives an exemption they are not entitled to, it increases the burden on all other property owners,” Lopez-Cantera said. “While these facilities provide important services, they cannot be allowed to ignore the law to the detriment of others.”

Lopez-Cantera said his office continues to examine the tax records of county ALFs, and expects to find other homes that are evading their tax obligations . Miami-Dade has more licensed ALFs, by far — 998 — than any other county in the state. The state licenses 3,044 ALFs, with 70,719 beds, overall.

Under Florida law, violations of the homestead statute are assessed back taxes with a 50 percent penalty and 15 percent interest. Lopez-Cantera said his office also referred the ALFs on his list to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, but added prosecutions are unlikely because the tax-avoidance was only a misdemeanor.

Among the ALFs caught obtaining improper exemptions: Intraqual Premier ALF, a Miami Gardens home that was run by a woman on house arrest after being charged with bilking Miami’s cash-strapped public hospital out of more than $83,000 by creating “ghost employees” and then paying them with taxpayer money.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration yanked Intraqual’s license in January. In an administrative complaint filed in November, healthcare administrators said owner Tiffany Gordon violated state law by running the home while awaiting trial on fraud charges.

Last September, Gordon was charged with fleecing the struggling public hospital by hiring two pals and paying them $49,301 and $34,323, mostly to do nothing. The case remains open, and Gordon pleaded not guilty, though court records say she is scheduled to enter a new plea.

The property appraiser’s office said Gordon was running a six-bed, 1,500-square-foot ALF at 19117 NW 33rd Ave. Gordon was not living at the home, Lopez-Cantera said, so she did not qualify for any homestead exemptions. The appraiser said she is facing $7,000 in fines.

Long the subject of criticism by neighborhood groups and elder advocates, the state’s assisted-living industry came under withering scrutiny two years ago when The Miami Herald published a series of stories, called Neglected to Death, that found dozens of people dying of abuse and neglect, with caretakers tying frail residents with ropes and forcing them into closets. In the series’ wake, several of the worst home were shut down, while others faced oversight that had not been seen in decades. Gov. Rick Scott created a two-year task force that studied the industry and recommended a host of reforms that the Legislature ignored.

Brian Lee, a former statewide, long-term care ombudsman who now runs an elder advocacy group called Families for Better Care, said many owners — particularly of the small, mom-and-pop homes that flourish in Miami and Hialeah — poor-mouthed the industry at the public hearings held by Scott’s task force the last two years. “They do make a lot of money, a significant amount of money, and still provide substandard care and offer third-rate food.,” he said. “Yet we see assisted-living facilities selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars because the market is so good.”

“I find it hard to believe,” he said, adding the homestead exemptions appear to be “just another way for them to make a few extra hundreds of dollars till they get caught. And, once they get caught, they may stop.”
Pat Lange, who is the executive director of the state’s largest ALF industry group, the Florida Assisted Living Association, said she was “struck” by Miami-Dade’s failure to catch the ALF tax cheaters, given the large amount of money at stake. “We applaud Lopez-Cantera for taking this action, if it was done appropriately,” she said.

But, Lange added, her group is concerned that some of the ALFs on the county’s scofflaw list may not actually be ALFs. The state licenses a variety of congregate living arrangements, Lange said, and a news release issued by the property appraiser’s office left open the possibility that some of the homes being fined might be adult family care homes, or other types of group homes that may be entitled to a homestead exemption.

““While we know that some don’t play by the rules, we don’t want people to paint the whole industry with the same brush,” she said. 

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