Seller Opens House For Superexemption Rally
By KAREN BRANCH-BRIOSO The Tampa Tribune
Published: Sep 18, 2007
TAMPA – Since Veronica Greco put her North Hyde Park bungalow on the market, she has held three open houses – with barely a peep from potential buyers or agents.
“Maybe five people came,” she said. “At the one this past Saturday, nobody showed up.”
What a difference a political campaign makes. More than 50 people, including wall-to-wall real estate agents and Gov. Charlie Crist, packed Greco’s small living room Friday. Most came to promote a constitutional amendment that would allow homeowners to take a homestead superexemption – which the real estate industry hopes will kick-start a sluggish market.
Greco’s fruitless efforts to downsize to a condo were a prime part of their pitch.
She said the Florida Association of Realtors e-mailed her, asking to use her home for the news conference after they took a survey of homes for sale in the area, looking for one that had been owned for a while and near the sales-price range: “I thought it was somebody playing a mean joke.”
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, leads “Yes on 1 – Save Our Homes Now,” a group pushing for passage of the Jan. 29 ballot amendment. The group unfurled its banner across Greco’s living room.
“This is an opportunity for homebuyers, future homebuyers and those who live in their homes like Miss Greco, who, of course, has this home for sale, but she’s locked in because she can’t find anyone who can afford the taxes on this home,” Fasano said.
Greco’s property tax bill last year was $671. It’s been shielded from big increases for more than a decade by another constitutional amendment, Save Our Homes, that limits increases in assessed value to a maximum of 3 percent per year.
But the Save Our Homes protection resets once a home is sold. The new owner’s tax bill is based on an updated assessment tied to market value. Greco’s asking price for her home: $234,900. If sold and assessed at that value, taxes would be more than $4,000. “That’s almost $400 a month additional expenses,” Greco said after the news conference. Prospective buyers told her “they can’t afford to get the mortgage, because they can’t qualify for that amount of money.”
Nancy Riley, president of the Florida Association of Realtors, said the constitutional amendment would save Greco’s homebuyer far more than the current $25,000 exemption for owner-occupied homes.
“Under the new super homestead, they would get an exemption of over $155,000 and pay taxes on less than $80,000,” Riley said. “This is a buyers’ market and with this super homestead exemption, it becomes better than ever for our first-time homebuyers and those who want desperately to move.”
It’s Superexemption Or Save Our Homes
But there’s a catch. Those who choose to get the homestead superexemption would give up the protection of the Save Our Homes amendment. So although more of a home’s value is tax-exempt, its assessed value would increase with market values.
If the amendment passes, homeowners would have a choice: Save Our Homes protection or superexemption. Not both.
The unpredictability of such a change has local governments concerned, said John Thomas, director of policy and political affairs for the Florida League of Cities.
“It’s still very much an unknown,” Thomas said. “I would challenge anyone to tell me what the fiscal impact is going to be – not just for each individual homeowner but each individual unit of government or city or for our state generally. How many people are going to choose homestead [superexemption] versus Save Our Homes?”
Polls Show Tax Break May Not Happen
Recent polls have shown that the number of voters who support the amendment may not be enough to make the superexemption a reality. It takes a 60 percent vote to change the state constitution, but the polls show support is slightly less than that – 57 or 58 percent. Most who are wary are longtime homeowners who plan to stay in their homes. They’ve run the calculations and found they’re better off with the Save Our Homes protection.
Crist said the plan is one that can make everybody happy: “That’s the beauty of what the Legislature did. You can have Save Our Homes [or] you can have a super tax exemption on your property taxes … I think we have a duty to talk more about what good this will do for the people of Florida. I’m going to work like crazy to make sure people know: they have the power to cut their property taxes yet again.”
As for Greco, she hopes the amendment will make it easier for someone to buy her bungalow so she can move into a maintenance-free condo. For the short term, however, the 59-year-old won the gratitude of more than a dozen local Realtors.
“Thank you,” one told her as he left her house. “If I find a buyer for your house, I’ll bring him for sure.”
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