Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Florida housing trends may be an early-market barometer

December 22, 2014

Florida is a real estate junkie's kind of place. What happens in its macro- and micro-markets always bears watching, whether as some kind of economic barometer or as a locus of sheer real estate kinkiness. A few recent observations:

Don't look now, but they're camping out overnight again to get first dibs on new developments, just like they did in the run-up to the bubble that the Florida real estate market so famously inflated. This time, at least half a dozen would-be buyers brought their lawn chairs and parked themselves on a sidewalk for a couple of days (and cool nights) to reserve units in an as-yet unbuilt condo building in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, which is owned by Tribune Publishing. Prices for the apartments, according to the newspaper, will range from $500,000 to more than $1 million.

The last one out should turn off the lights. The housing-research firm RealtyTrac says Orlando, Fla., is primed to see the horde of investors who bought up houses during the downturn start heading for the exits. They've made their profits, according to the researchers, who calculated that the investment properties' values increased by 23 percent since January 2012. Price increases in that market are beginning to slow, suggesting that a sell-off may be coming, particularly from the so-called institutional investors who bought foreclosures by the dozens — even by the hundreds — when prices were ebbing. (In addition, RealtyTrac suggested that institutional investors soon may be similarly heading for the doors in Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; and in Jacksonville and Brevard County, Fla.)

Separately, the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper, reported that the local inventory of houses for sale there swelled in November to the highest level in nearly four years.

The action isn't all in for-purchase housing — rents are getting steamier, too. In downtown Miami, for example, lease rates jumped 6 percent in the first nine months of 2014, according to a study by Integra Realty Resources. Downtown, one-bedroom condos were leasing for an average of $2,054 per month or $2.50 per square foot; conventional one-bedroom apartment leases averaged $1,605 per month or $1.86 per square foot, according to the Miami Herald. Such rental hikes might not be sustainable, though, because construction cranes (regarded by some as the state bird) are busy building apartments throughout South Florida. The Miami Downtown Development Authority said about 2,300 new apartment units are set to be completed in the next two years, doubling the inventory of professionally managed buildings, according to the Herald.


The trade group analyzed population trends, housing affordability and local economic conditions in metro areas around the country and came up with 15 spots most likely to see an influx of "leading-edge" boomers, ages 60-69. And Florida claimed four of them.

In alphabetical order, the top spots were: Albuquerque, N.M.; Boise, Idaho; Denver; Fort Myers, Fla.; Greenville, N.C.; Orlando; Phoenix; Raleigh, N.C.; Sarasota, Fla.,; and Tucson, Ariz. Other markets making a strong showing included Chattanooga, Tenn.; Dallas; McAllen, Texas; Riverside, Calif.; and Tampa, Fla.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Will 3% downpayments boost millennial homeownership?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Dec. 10, 2014 –

Millennials and Americans who survived the Great Recession by siphoning from savings accounts are the targets of a new program that allows first-time home buyers to get a loan with as little as 3 percent down. 
The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced the mortgage guideline change Monday, hoping the rock-bottom downpayments will boost homeownership rates, which dropped during the housing bust.

 The new guidelines affect loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two government-sponsored entities don't make loans, but buy up qualified home mortgages from lenders, bundle them with a guarantee against default and sell them to investors worldwide.

Fannie Mae considers a first-time homebuyer someone who has not owned a home in the past three years. Freddie Mac's definition for first-time homebuyer is someone who has never owned a home.
There is concern that allowing just 3 percent down will lead to more defaults as borrowers have less to lose by walking away from payments.


The 3 percent down loans are geared for low to moderate-income buyers, but require borrowers to undergo similar financial scrutiny as in current loan programs, including documented and verified income levels. Only fixed-interest rate, conventional mortgages are considered, and borrowers must get private mortgage insurance.

Freddie Mac is requiring all borrowers to participate in housing counseling, while Fannie Mae doesn't require counseling for all loans.

A mortgage can already be obtained with 5 percent down, but White said the difference between three and five percent can be the difference of whether a person can buy a home. On a $200,000 home, five percent down would be $10,000. Three percent down is $6,000.

"The number one hurdle to increasing home ownership is the down payment," said Skip McDonough, president of Jupiter-based Family Mortgage. "If you tried to accumulate a down payment during the past few years, and you're not getting any raises, it's very difficult."

Florida's rate of home ownership fell to 66 percent last year, after reaching a high of 72.4 percent in 2005 and 2006.

Nationally, home ownership was at 65 percent last year, down from 69.9 percent in 2005.

"I think this will bring people back into the market," White said about the 3 percent downpayment.

 To read the full story, please visit The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

For assistance in appealing your property taxes please visit

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Congratulations to Pedro J. Garcia who has been elected Miami-Dade Property Appraiser.

Pedro J. Garcia was elected Miami-Dade Property Appraiser by a wide margin, as voters favored the veteran professional over Eduardo “Eddy” González, a term-limited state representative from Hialeah with no experience appraising property.

At age 77, Garcia returns to the job he held from 2009 through 2012 when he narrowly lost his bid for re-election.

Pedro Garcia
González, 44, with some $431,000 in campaign funding — more than twice the $197,000 raised by Garcia — campaigned vigorously on the theme that he would make the appraiser’s office more accessible to property owners.

During the campaign, Garcia, with more than 38 years of real estate appraising, dismissed his opponent as a “professional politician,” more interested in finding a soft landing in the face of term limits in the Florida Legislature than in the intricacies of running a large county office tasked with assessing real estate values for tax purposes.

Garcia campaigned on a theme that he wants to “finish the job” he started during his first term and to establish the correct values for properties.

That pledge comes as the appraiser’s office has faced a mountain of assessment appeals filed with the Value Adjustment Board — many of which prevail — raising doubt about the accuracy of county appraisals.

Garcia, owner of Exclusive Realty Corp., a Miami appraisal firm, drew support from the PBA. He also had backing from property-tax consultants, who make a living by appealing property assessments to the VAB and an endorsement from the Miami Association of Realtors, among others.

In conceding, González said, “I’m very excited at the opportunity to have run in an countywide race. I look forward to the opportunity to look at a future run countywide — either for this office or another office.’’

To read the full story please visit:

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Miami-Dade Property Appraiser warns of fraudulent letter

A new scam is targeting Miami-Dade County property owners.

On Monday, Property Appraiser Lazaro Solis issued a warning to property owners about a scam aimed at getting their personal financial information.

A fraudulent letter — printed on what looks like Property Appraiser’s letterhead — asks property owners to fax information about their home equity lines of credit and checking accounts on the false pretense that they’re eligible for a 5-percent property tax discount.

The letter says: “In order to grant tax relief this office must verify that you still hold a running Home Equity Line of Credit. If this is the case, please fax us a copy of your latest Home Equity Line of Credit account statement, accompanied by a copy of a voided check from the checking account where you would like us to credit your tax refund.”

Solis said his office would never ask for such information. “Please be vigilant and contact the authorities if you believe you have fallen victim to this or any other scam,” he said in a statement.
“If anyone was victimized, they should contact their financial institution to prevent additional damage,’’ he said.

Solis said the Cook County Assessors Office in Illinois is warning of a similar scam.
The property appraiser said he is cooperating with the Miami-Dade Police Economic Crimes Bureau. The bureau’s phone number is 305-994-1000.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Property appraiser Parrish wins homestead case against married couple with two homes

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Broward Property Appraiser Lori Parrish won a recent court battle in a case with some familiar circumstances: a couple claiming two Homestead exemptions, one in Broward, one in Palm.

There's a loophole for unwed couples, but if they are married, they are only entitled to one Homestead.

The state Constitution says, of Homestead exemptions, that "not more than one
exemption shall be allowed any individual or family unit or with respect to
any residential unit.”

But the state Department of Revenue, which sets the rules and regs for taxes, wrote this in the administrative code:
"A married woman and her husband may establish separate permanent residences without showing “impelling reasons” or “just ground” for doing so. If it is determined by the property
appraiser that separate permanent residences and separate “family units” have been established by the husband and wife, and they are otherwise qualified, each may be granted homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation under Article VII, Section 6, 1968 State Constitution.''

The underlying verdict was reached as the couple had an an intact marriage, as such, only one exemption can be given:

"The foregoing law and persuasive authority favor finding that a married couple constitutes a single family unit when the marriage is intact, as opposed to the couple being separated or estranged. A single family unit would thus exist where spouses (even though living in separate primary residences or even separate permanent residences) live together at different periods of time, support each other in some financial or emotional way, and/or present themselves as a married couple (as
opposed to estranged individuals who are just technically still married).''

 For Property Tax appeal assistance, please contact us at :

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Garcia and González face Nov. 4 runoff for Miami-Dade Property Appraiser

Former Miami-Dade property appraiser Pedro J. Garcia is set to face state Rep. Eddy González in a Nov. 4 runoff for Miami-Dade Property Appraiser after they emerged as the top vote-getters in a crowded five-man field.

The race will be one of sharp contrasts: Garcia, 76, is a professional real estate appraiser with 38 years’ experience. He was the property appraiser from 2009-2012, then narrowly lost reelection.
González, 44, has no experience in real-estate appraisal: he serves as business development leader at CAC-Florida Medical Center. But the career politician, who faces term limits in the state Legislature, has fundraising power, organization and name recognition.

González has been chairman of the Miami-Dade delegation to the Legislature and a former Hialeah City Council member. He raised more than $270,000 for the campaign — more than all the other candidates combined. That included nearly $116,000 transferred from fundraising for a 2015 Hialeah City Council race he abandoned to pursue the property appraiser’s seat.

Garcia, who raised $110,000 as of his latest filing, led González in the low-turnout election late Tuesday night with some precincts still out.

But with the vote split among five candidates a runoff seemed inevitable from the start.
“I’m honored to be in a runoff. It’s my first time in a countywide race,’’ González said Tuesday evening. “We’ll hit the ground running again tomorrow and hopefully we’ll be in a position to win in November.’’

The unexpected opening for property appraiser emerged in January when Carlos López-Cantera resigned to be named Florida’s lieutenant governor just a year into his four-year term.

Garcia, a Cuban-American who owns Exclusive Realty Corp., was first to sign up to run for his old job, saying he wanted four more years to finish work he had started in establishing correct valuations and cracking down on homestead exemption fraud.

González, also Cuban-American, was the last of five to enter the race for the $168,000 a year post. He has played down the technical aspects of the county property appraiser’s job, asserting instead that he wants to focus on making the office more accessible to average property owners and to build on customer-friendly changes begun by Lopez-Cantera during his brief tenure in the post.

Not all of González’s record will buoy his chances: In 2013, González was a main backer of a House bill to provide taxpayer support for upgrades to Sun Life Stadium for the Miami Dolphins, but the bill was killed without a vote.

David Custin, who is a consultant leading strategy for González, said his candidate stayed away from criticism of Garcia during the first round, but expected the runoff would require more direct comparisons.

“We haven’t gone negative on Pedro. We’ll definitely be contrasting Eddy’s platform,’’ Custin said in anticipation of a runoff. “We’ll definitely be talking about what Pedro did and didn’t do.” A key job, Custin said, now is to raise more money to be able to get the message out.

Both candidates have focused heavily on Spanish-language radio and TV.

The property appraiser, a non-partisan office, sets the taxable value for nearly a million parcels of residential and commercial property in Miami-Dade and certifies the tax roll for cities and other taxing authorities. The office has a $33.7-million annual budget and more than 360 employees.
Yet the job, which became an elected position in Miami-Dade in 2008, seems mystifying to much of the populace. “The average person doesn’t understand what the property appraiser does,” said Barry Sharpe, who runs Property Tax Appeal Group, a firm that handles property owners appeals of their valuations to the Value Adjustment Board.

A huge volume of assessment appeals at the VAB, a separate county entity, and the high rate of success by property owners have cast doubt on the accuracy of county appraisals. The VAB, swamped with a backlog, finished 2012 appeals in May and began hearing appeals for the 2013 tax year in June. About 45 percent of the appeals have won reductions in assessment.

The other candidates were Albert J. Armada, a professional appraiser; Alejandro “Alex” Dominguez, a pharmaceutical executive and real estate agent, and Carlos Gobel, also an appraiser by profession.

The full story may be found here:

For assistance in appeal your property taxes please contact the Property Tax Appeal Group.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

FYI: South Florida TRIM Notices will be arriving shortly.

Get ready!

It is that time of year when the County appraiser's office mails out you TRIM notice.  While it stands for Truth In Millage.  Please do not ignore it even though it will state in black and white that this is not a bill and your do not need to do anything.

 This letter you receive is to inform you how much the County believes your property is worth.  Now, people typically make two mistakes. 

The first mistake is that they believe it is what it is and the County must be right.  There is nothing left to do except wait for the next letter telling you what you owe in tax. 
     *** 1. It is what it is.  FALSE

You have the right to appeal your valuation if you believe it is not correct.  Even if you believe the value is correct, or even under what you expect it to be do not lose out. 

We at PTAG, Property Tax Appeal Group can look at the comparable properties around you and determine if you fall within the market or you appear to be over assessed.  Your neighbor with a similar property could be paying 10% less than you and you just don't know that you are being over assessed.  There is supposed to be "Fairness in Assessment," everyone should be treated equally. 

     *** 2. Wait for my bill to appeal.  FALSE

This is one of the biggest complaints we hear about how the appeal system works.  If you wait until you receive your bill you will have lost your right to appeal. 

After receiving your TRIM notice you have until September 16, 2014 to file in Miami-Dade and September 17, 2014 in Broward.  If you miss the deadline you must wait until next year.

Please do not wait until it is to late to appeal.  Contact our office and send in your paperwork which will allow us to appeal on your behalf.  Please feel free to visit our site at or call our office with any questions you may have.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Even with budget cuts, Miami-Dade is expecting a property-tax windfall in 2015.

Miami-Dade is on track to enjoy a windfall of property taxes next year.

Even though it included no overall increase in tax rates, Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposed budget for 2015 forecasts a gain of $112 million in the property taxes that fund police, jails, libraries, rescue services and other county services.

Higher real estate values are behind the increase, with Miami-Dade forecast to collect 8 percent more than the $1.25 billion in property taxes that the county is expected to collect in the current year. If county commissioners succeed in adopting a higher library tax than Gimenez proposed, the projected gain would inch up to nearly 10 percent.

This Dade Data chart shows gains in projected revenue from the four property taxes that fund Miami-Dade operations under two scenarios. The blue line shows revenue gains under the tax plan Gimenez proposed. The red line shows gains using the maximum tax rates that commissioners approved July 15.

You’ll notice the only change comes with the library tax, which would cost $23.80 per $100,000 of assessed value under the Gimenez plan and $28.40 per under the commission plan. Commissioners vote 8-to-5 to reject Gimenez’s proposed library rate in favor of one generating about $8 million extra for the library system.

[Don’t see a chart? Click here for a link.]

There’s a chance Miami-Dade won’t actually collect all of that money. One of the reasons the 2015 projected gain is so high is that current property-tax revenues came in lower than forecast this year, said budget director Jennifer Moon. The shortfall is tied to property values being lowered during the appeals process, cutting into county tax dollars.

Whatever the final amount, projections show Miami-Dade is set to have a pretty good year when it comes to property taxes.

Gimenez largely blames the county’s financial woes on rising labor costs tied to union benefits and healthcare expenses. His $6.2 billion budget includes about 700 job cuts, higher transit fares, and other cutbacks. Despite the layoffs, Gimenez’s budget still records $2.42 billion in payroll expenses next year, up about $106 million from this year.

Union leaders accuse the mayor of cutting taxes too steeply in 2011 and of now refusing to pursue the kind of revenue stream needed to fully fund Miami-Dade’s government.

Either way, Miami-Dade’s budget picture would be much worse if not for the tax windfall projected next year.

This post is part of Dade Data, an online series from the Miami Herald’s County Hall team. Dade Data explores the numbers driving Miami-Dade County’s government.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

A bad rap on appraisals?

Written by on March 26, 2014

The website for Miami-Dade’s property appraiser now reports more detailed information about the interior and exterior of properties, which might come as a surprise to anyone researching or buying industrial real estate.

It was certainly puzzling for Barry Sharpe, who said it wasn’t until he began the process of purchasing a warehouse that he discovered its square footage listed on the Miami-Dade website was substantially different from prior years.

“In January, a broker offered to sell us a building with about 21,000 square feet,” said Mr. Sharpe, a broker and president of Barry Sharpe Property Tax Appeal Group. “In March, ready to have the property appraised, we find – to our surprise – that it now measures about 24,000 square feet.”
When Mr. Sharpe noticed the difference on the county appraiser’s website, he said that raised his concern over how the change might impact the market value of his property.

He said such a discrepancy might cause a number of problems because so much is based on square feet, including a tenant’s rent, an insurance company’s estimate of building replacement cost, and real estate agents’ comparable values.

“As an equation, price per square foot is simply the assessed price divided by the adjustable square foot,” he said. “Won’t this price per square foot create valuation problems?”

But Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Lazaro Solis said the valuation of Mr. Sharpe’s warehouse won’t change.

In fact, he said, very little has changed, because what appears as a different number of square feet on the website has always been what was listed in the appraiser’s internal system.

At the request in part of insurance companies and realtors who wanted to see more information, particularly for residential properties, the appraiser’s office launched a new version on the webpage for property searches on March 3.

“Our calculations and how we arrive at value did not change,” Mr. Solis said. “In our effort to put more information on the website, information appears new but it’s what we’ve always used.”
Prior to the launch of the appraiser’s newest version of the property search, the application didn’t report the square footage of office space within warehouse properties.

“This does not impact the assessed value of the property calculated by our office,” said Mr. Solis. “The search now breaks down the square footage of the entire building, including the interior office space, and shows what was never seen on the website before.”

With the new version for a property search, the website reports “Sub Area 1,” which is the outside or “shell” of the structure, and “Sub Area 2,” which includes the build-out.

The aggregate – or adjusted, in the parlance of the website – square footage is being shown on the summary and detailed reports, as well as in the “Property Information” section of the “Property Search” page. The breakdown of the square footage is shown under the “Building Information” section, in the main property search window.

“The outside is valued with a different cost,” Mr. Solis said. “The interior is valued higher because there are more costs associated with the inside.”

The new version of the property search has affected only a few properties – mainly warehouses, he said. “There are over 700,000 buildings in this county. This new information affects about 5,000 properties.”

That’s about seven-tenths of one percent of all properties in Miami-Dade.

Mr. Solis said his office has been trying to let people know about the additional information on the property search.

It’s been less than a month since it was launched, he said, but a button icon next to “Building Information” on each folio will soon thoroughly explain properties.

“We will be updating the site with more detailed information on what the [new numbers] mean,” said Mr. Solis.

Mr. Sharpe is not entirely sanguine about the new website information, particularly the adjusted square footage.

“Most people do not survey their property,” he said. “They look at the square feet listed on the MLS.”

Details: Property Tax Appeal Group: -  Miami-Dade Property Appraiser, (305) 375-3746 or
Miami Today

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Property tax appeals process rigged, audit finds

Boards that consider property tax appeals from the public lack independence and are stacked against property owners, an audit has found.

A state performance audit of county boards that hear property tax appeals by unhappy homeowners and businesses says appeals appear to have been rigged by local government officials who are more interested in safeguarding tax revenues than fairly valuing real estate.

Value Adjustment Boards (VABs) are ostensibly independent decision-making authorities where taxpayers can appeal a property appraiser’s assessment. Yet county and school board interests dominate them.

“Independence in the appeal process at the local level may have been compromised due to local officials involved in the process who may not have been impartial and whose operations are funded with the same property tax revenue at stake in the appeal process,” states the audit released this month by Florida Auditor General David W. Martin.

“Rigged is the very word that a lot of people are using,” said Tallahassee attorney Benjamin K. Phipps, a veteran expert on property tax matters. “They rig it by making sure that the taxpayers don’t get a fair shot, though not in Miami-Dade because they have the only system in the state that’s really fair.”

In Broward County, the audit says the county’s Value Adjustment Board compiled “tracking reports” on special magistrates who recommended large reductions in property assessments to the board and used them to get rid of six magistrates who had given the highest assessment reductions to taxpayers.

“These reports identified and tracked, by special magistrate, those special magistrates who recommended property assessment reductions that either exceeded 50 percent of the original property assessment or exceeded $200,000,” the audit states. The VAB used the information “when considering continuing the special magistrate’s service in the subsequent year.”

In October 2012, an unidentified former special magistrate filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Revenue, which oversees county VABs, exposing Broward’s practice. Asked about it by the state, VAB lawyer Monroe Kiar responded that the practice was legal, “but did not address the issues of transparency and influence on the special magistrates,” the audit states.

Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter chairs the county’s VAB. In an April 30 response letter to the auditor general, Ritter defended the VAB and noted that last year it discontinued the practice of targeting special magistrates.

“It should be noted that at all times the Broward County VAB has been transparent and has never unduly influenced the decision of any special magistrate,” Ritter wrote in her response.
“We all really believe they stopped that, of course,” Phipps said with sarcasm. “So how come the same guys [special magistrates] are still there?”

Property taxes in Florida make up about 50 percent of public-education funding and 30 percent of local government revenues, according to the 20-page audit. In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, more than 140,000 tax-adjustment petitions were filed in Florida.

The audit, however, does not say how many taxpayers in South Florida and elsewhere were apparently overcharged, or how much in taxes was improperly collected by cities, counties, school boards and special districts, including the South Florida Water Management District. Likewise, the audit did not address whether tax refunds could or should be made.

As an example of the mindset of VAB officials who place an “inappropriate emphasis on preserving property tax revenues,” the audit quotes remarks by Hillsborough County Commissioner and VAB Chairwoman Sandra Murman at a July 21, 2011, county VAB meeting.

“What you need to look at is the endgame because every review costs us money [and] it affects the tax roll. We allow . . . millions of dollars to be taken off the tax rolls through additional review, the whole VAB process,” Murman said. “I think you have to kind of keep that in mind because as you know and I know where you are educating children, and I’m trying to take care of the needs in the county.”

The audit recommended that the Legislature consider a VAB shakeup to promote fairness for taxpayers who disagree with a property appraiser’s decisions regarding exemptions, classifications and value assessments. Its key recommendations:

• To promote integrity, establish “rules of conduct or ethical codes, with appropriate sanctions” for VAB members and staff, including clerks, attorneys and special magistrates.
 • Create a new process to appeal decisions by the VAB at the regional or state level.
• Require that the majority of VAB board members not be government officials from the county or school board. Today, county VABs have five members: two from the county commission; one from the school board and two citizens appointed by the county commission and the school board.
The audit, conducted between September 2012 and September 2013, examined 15 VABs across the state that it said were representative of small, medium and large counties. Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties were included in the audit.

In 2011, Miami-Dade’s VAB saw, by far, the most taxpayer petitions filed — 91,519 — and granted 49 percent of them. In contrast, Broward’s VAB saw about 25,000 petitions and granted 18 percent of them. Palm Beach, with about 8,400 petitions, granted 21 percent.

A central theme of the audit findings is that VABs often do not scrupulously follow state law or rules prescribed by the Department of Revenue, the state entity that oversees VABs.

For example, a VAB is not supposed to hold hearings until its lawyers verify that it has met all legal requirements. Yet VABs in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and nine other counties could not document for auditors that they had made those verifications. Similarly, the Miami-Dade and Palm Beach VABs could produce no records showing they had verified information supplied by their citizen members in written applications or oral statements.

Moreover, the audit found that VABs in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach had on multiple occasions issued written decisions that failed to include information required by law, such as findings of fact, conclusions of law and/or the reasons for upholding or overturning the property appraiser’s determination.

Broward Commissioner Ritter took issue in her response letter with some of auditor general’s recommended fixes, including the need for ethics rules.

“The Broward County VAB asserts that at all times its VAB members, special magistrates, members of staff, clerk and attorney have always conducted themselves in a high ethical manner,” Ritter’s response states.

“Broward County has concerns regarding the creation of a regional or state level appeal process,” Ritter wrote. She expressed a similar concern about altering the composition of the board to reduce the clout of government officials on VAB decisions.

Property tax appeal assistance:
 Link to story:
Broward Bulldog is a not-for-profit online only newspaper created to provide local reporting in the public interest., 954-603-1351.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Did your square footage grow or shrink simply by magic from 2013 to 2014?

For many property owners, their building looks the same as the year before but the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser's web-site show the Counties new approach on building square footage.

“In January, a broker offered to sell us a building with about 21,000 square feet,” Barry Sharpe, president of Barry Sharpe Property Tax Appeal Group, told Miami Today. “In March, ready to have the property appraised, we find – to our surprise – that it now measures about 24,000 square feet.”

Regardless of the affects additional square footage would have on asking rents, market value of the property and insurance, Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Lazaro Solis said that the valuation of the warehouse won’t change.  

“Our calculations and how we arrive at value did not change,” Solis said, referring to the fact that the new publically viewable building information is what the appraisers have always used in their internal system. “In our effort to put more information on the website, information appears new but it’s what we’ve always used.”

Sharpe and others in his position, however, remain concerned: “Most people do not survey their property,” he said. “They look at the square feet listed on the MLS.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

When does a neighboorhood become "Good"?

Is Harlem "Good" now?

WHEN I was walking to work one day last summer, I noticed that Crab Man Mike was gone from his usual post at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue. Mike has been cooking shellfish in his special pot on the streets of Harlem for 23 years. Concerned, I began asking the other street vendors where he went. Johnny Portland, one of the Jamaican guys who also sets up some days at 125th and Fifth, told me Crab Mike had moved. 

I found him a few blocks farther uptown — 132nd Street and Seventh Avenue, where he had set up his pot in front of Doug E.’s Fresh Chicken and Waffles. He was serving up shellfish to his neighbors and friends. When I asked him why he switched locations, he told me it was because he could no longer recognize his customers at 125th and Fifth. There were too many crowds, too many new faces and businesses. He may have made more sales there, but on this quieter corner he felt more comfortable. The people he served here were people he had known for years. He knew their families, their troubles, their joys. 

This is what was more important to him as a cook — being a part of his customers’ lives. I was struck by this decision. To me it resonated with one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from living in Harlem for the last 10 years and operating a restaurant here — Red Rooster Harlem — for three: a culture of hospitality.

When I first started coming to Harlem, it was the late 1990s. I had just moved to New York from France to work at Aquavit, and I had the typical nomadic life of the recent New York transplant. I lived with multiple roommates and moved every few months, searching for a foothold and a place that felt like home. I lived in the East Village and then Hell’s Kitchen, neither too far from the restaurant, where I worked long shifts. When I needed to unwind after work, I always found myself taking the subway uptown. 

I’d take a corner seat at Sylvia’s. Also, the lounge annex of Sylvia’s restaurant, where the chef Melba Wilson worked at the time. “Hi, Sugar,” she would say when she walked up to my table. After a long day running a three-star kitchen where we served from the left, cleared from the right, and could make or break our careers on how we julienned vegetables, I found her warmth disarming. I would order a beer, listen to jazz, hip-hop and poetry — and relax. 

For so long Harlem had just been an idea to me, found in books and music when growing up in Sweden and then working in France. It was Langston Hughes and Miles Davis, the Apollo and the Y, and Malcolm X sitting in a dark corner of Small’s Paradise. It was the center of black culture, the center of cool, a place so remote to me in Europe that I could hardly imagine it. Now I was here, feeling it.

Those nights were some of the first times in my life when I wasn’t a minority in the room. I’d eat a dinner of soul food at Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too, where Norma Jean Darden cooked her mother’s recipes, and then wander the neighborhood. I’d browse the old bookshops and street vendors, surrounded by people from all over the world: Ghana and Senegal, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Students marched for equal rights, civil-rights activists passed out leaflets, and old native Harlemites fund-raised for churches and schools. There were hardships on the street, poverty and violence at times, but everyone had flair, style and pride. I found movement in the hustle on 125th Street — a sense of excitement and possibility.

Everywhere I went in Harlem I felt welcome. I began to recognize a kind of hospitality that I hadn’t known before and that I hadn’t found in fine dining. In the Michelin restaurants in France where I trained early in my career, I was taught excellence in ingredients, presentation and manners. But I wasn’t taught the joy and magic I felt walking into the bars and soul food joints in Harlem.
It’s this feeling that I most want to convey when asked about Harlem now. Business isn’t just about food and drink, it’s about restoring and sustaining a community that is changing quickly. In the local bars, like Paris Blues, my favorite jazz haunt, there are often crockpots of free food set up in the corner for anyone who’s hungry. At Just Lorraine’s Place on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, near 132nd Street, under a dusty portrait of Thelonious Monk, a poster announces the celebration of a woman’s birthday, with well wishes scrawled in marker next to her portrait. When I stopped by A Touch of Dee on Lenox Avenue at 143rd Street last November, a sign let me know that Corinne was serving that night and a poster announced that Mrs. Dee herself would host a free Thanksgiving dinner. At Showmans Jazz Club, there’s never a cover to hear incredible jazz and R&B, and appetizers and snacks are often free at the bar. These are the places I go to relax, where I can leave my busy life at the door and speak to my neighbors for a while. 
RIGHT now, Harlem is on the verge. Since 2010, there’s been a restaurant boom. Dick Parsons has opened The Cecil in the ground floor of the old Cecil Hotel. The Grange on Amsterdam Avenue at 141st Street features signature cocktails and seasonal local produce on its menu. Bier International, a beer garden with a brilliantly curated range of brews, and the speakeasy 67 Orange have become popular nightspots. 

To a community with 19 percent unemployment, these places bring hundreds of jobs that can’t be outsourced. They don’t just offer cooking and serving positions, but jobs for artists and musicians, lighting and sound engineers, handymen and electricians. Now people are coming uptown for a night out. 

I travel all over the world for work and I am constantly asked to define Harlem. What’s it like, people ask. Is it cool? Is it safe? When I go to places like the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to speak among celebrated thinkers and leaders, I’m often asked: Is Harlem good now? I always have to pause before answering. Good compared with what? To when? These questions all miss the mark. Is Harlem good now? That is a question loaded with long-held ideas about race and class, one that dismisses the complex, vital history of this neighborhood and its people, their contributions to civil rights and art, under one word: “bad.”

Good or bad doesn’t begin to describe this neighborhood I love. The beauty of Harlem is that it isn’t definable as one thing or another. It has always been a place for the strivers: immigrants of all races and nationalities, artists and musicians and entrepreneurs. People have sought refuge here and have felt the need to seek refuge from here. It’s been brought to its knees by poverty and drugs and unemployment and has been pulled up by its art, its music, its food and its people. 

After talking to Crab Man Mike that day on the street, I invited him to host a summer crab fest as guest chef at Red Rooster. Like any great chef, he brought his own equipment — his magic pot — and he cooked up delicious fresh crabs and clams from the Hunts Point Market, seasoned with his secret spice blend. It was one of the most memorable nights we’ve had at the Rooster. Living and working here and walking these streets, I have learned a new sense of hospitality from Harlem. It’s the feeling that lets me know I’m home.

Marcus Samuelsson is a co-owner of Red Rooster Harlem.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 16, 2014, on page SR9 of the New York edition with the headline: Is Harlem ‘Good’ Now?.