Q: When we bought our house last year, we were told that property tax wouldn't increase more than three percent each year with the homestead exemption. Last year, we paid close to $3,000, but, this year, we're facing $7,900!
A: Property taxes on a homesteaded property can't increase more than three percent a year. However, the $3,000 you paid was actually the previous owner's bill.
Upon sale, a property's value is reassessed and, as the new owner on the title -- and the new bearer of the homestead exemption on that house -- your bill is based on the home's current assessed value.
You can appeal the assessed value of the home, if you believe it is inflated. If the county's Value Assessment Board rules in your favor, your tax bill will be adjusted accordingly. However, keep in mind that assessed value is only one factor in the calculation of your tax bill. (See below.)
Q: I'm looking to buy a house, but I don't want to be shocked by a huge property tax bill. Is there a way to find out how much I'll pay in taxes before I buy a house?
A: Yes. Both Broward and Miami-Dade property appraisers' websites have calculators that can estimate the taxes on a future home.
For Broward, go to www.bcpa.net/TaxCalc.asp to try out the Home Buyer's Tax Estimator. Enter a purchase price, and the estimator will give you an amount roughly equivalent to what the property taxes would be, based on an average of countywide millage rates. The total won't reflect non-ad valorem fees or assessments for garbage, drainage or fire protection, but it's a start.
Miami-Dade's Property Appraiser has a similar tool at www.miamidade.gov/pa/taxestimator.asp. If you're keen on a particular property, you can even enter its folio number (available at www.miamidade.gov/pa, if you search the property by address) and the purchase price to get a more precise view of what the yearly taxes will be after you buy.
Q: How are property taxes calculated?
A: Several entities determine the outcome of your property tax bill. If you take issue with a particular charge, complain to the appropriate authority.
Your county property appraiser assesses the value of your property. Taxing authorities -- cities, counties, community development districts, the water management district, etc. -- determine local millage rates and special assessments. The tax collector acts as the accountant, tallying up the various taxes, billing homeowners and collecting monies. The Value Adjustment Board hears and rules on homeowner appeals on the assessed value of property.
Disasters, improvements and reassessments: Structural improvements to property -- additions, pools, whole-house generators -- can add to the assessed value, causing your taxes to increase accordingly. Hurricane damage actually can reduce a property's assessed value until repairs are made, but when the repair is finished, if it's a significant improvement, it could be considered new construction rather than just a repair.
Note to new homeowners: If you haven't already, apply for the $25,000 homestead exemption. Those who bought a house after Jan. 1 this year may inherit the previous owner's bill and the benefit of the 3 percent, Save Our Homes cap on assessed value. But in order to get a homestead exemption on next year's tax roll, you need to apply by March 1.