The dread of the unknown keeps us frozen in fear, but if we had crystal balls then life would be a drag.
Still, it helps to know what some of the annual costs of owning a home will be. 

In regards to real estate taxes, there’s a lot of hear-say along with a bunch of unanswered questions.
I figured it was best to go straight to the source and ask the questions that are the most common.

January 15th, I had the privilege of speaking with Susan Rowe who is the department head for Exemptions at the Saint Lucie County Property Appraiser’s office.
Susan took the time to explain the following:

  1. How are Houses’ Values Assessed and When?
    Coming directly from the St. Lucie Property Appraiser’s Website:
    “The St. Lucie County Property Appraiser’s Office determines the value of your property based upon the current real estate market. To find the value of any piece of property, the Property Appraiser must first know what properties similar to it are selling for, what it would cost today to replace it, how much it takes to operate and keep it in repair, what income it earns, as well as other facts affecting value. The Property Appraiser has not created value; people create value by their transactions in the marketplace. The Appraiser’s Office, simply, has the legal responsibility to study those transactions and appraise the property accordingly.”
    There is a tax estimator on the Appraiser’s website that will calculate  the range of what the taxes could be based on the value you put in.Susan’s best advice was to predict worst-case scenario:
    Look at the current assessed value of the property you’re interested in without the exemptions and enter that number into the estimator for a range. 
    Leave off the homestead exemption (especially when you’re buying at the beginning of the year) if you’re buying a foreclosure or short sale. The reason for this is explained in item number 5.
    Beware of special assessments. An example would be a home owner’s community or particular area may have a special assessment called “Non-Ad Valorem” that is added to the tax bill.   
  2. What is a Homestead Exemption?
    This answer I have copied and pasted from the Florida Department of Revenue website because I felt they said it best:
    Every person who owns and resides on real property in Florida on January 1 and makes the property their permanent residence is eligible to receive a homestead exemption up to $50,000.  The first $25,000 applies to all property taxes, including school district taxes.  The additional exemption up to $25,000, applies to the assessed value between $50,000 and $75,000 and only to non-school taxes. 
  3. Who is eligible for the Homestead Exemption?
    Florida Residents that live at the property as their primary residence as if January 1st of the year you’re filing for. You have to prove you’re a Florida resident by providing your Driver’s License number, stating that your car is registered in Florida, and stating that you are registered to vote in Florida. You must provide a Permanent Resident Card if you’re not a U.S. citizen.
    Key Point: Make sure the address on these items matches the address of the property that you live at.  
  4. When can you apply for the Homestead Exemption? 
    In whatever year that you buy, you have until March 1st of the following year to make application. So if you’re buying in August of 2009, you have until March 1st, 2010 to apply for Homestead that will benefit you in 2010. 
  5.  Can You Inherit the Current Owner’s Exemption?
     This was interesting to me: Let’s say you’ve just made an offer on a short sale and the current owner has the homestead exemption but they’ve moved out. Annualy the property appraiser’s office sends out an exemption card to the home. If the card gets returned (they are not forwardable) then the office attempts to send out a questionaire. No response from either will result in the appraiser’s office dropping the exemption on that property. So if you’re buying in 2009 and the owner had exemption in 2008, which you’ve verified on the property appraiser’s site, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get this exemption for 2009 as well. At this point, I would suggest running the “worst case scenario” method from item number 1.  
  6. When and How Do You Pay Taxes? (from my own research)
    The proposed tax bill comes out around August of each year and the due date is November 1st. The last possible day to pay taxes are March 31st the following year and then they get auctioned off as a lien on your property (yikes!). If you have a mortgage, you can opt for the mortgage company to “escrow” your taxes (and usually your insurance) which means they will collect 1/12th of the payment each month and save it in an account for you. Once the bill comes due, the mortgage company pays the bill with the money they’ve accumulated. You can guarantee that you’ll be forced to escrow if you aren’t putting 20% down on your mortgage. If you aren’t escrowing your taxes, then you can mail the bill in or pay it online.  
  7. What are the Current Taxes on a Property?
    Follow my lead: > Real Estate Tab > Search by Address Tab > [enter address and click search]  > Click the Card link next to the property that matches your searched address > Click on the Taxes tab at the top of the Card page.
    If there are special assessments on the property, you will find those by clicking on Non Ad Valorem to expand that section and see if anything is listed.

On January 29th, 2008, Florida citizens voted to make Homestead Exemptions “portable.” That means if you have homestead exemption on your current house and you’re moving, you may not lose the exemption but could take it with you! Read the specifics about the Portability by clicking the scrolling banner on the Property Appraiser’s website.


Thank you, Susan, for all the great information and I encourage anyone with further questions to visit the Port St Lucie Property Appraiser’s website or call their office at 772-462-1000.


Suggested further reading – History of Florida Real Estate Tax which explains, in detail, about what the Homestead Exemption encompasses.


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