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An Evening With Chris Jones, Escambia County Property Appraiser

In the March 2008 monthly meeting of Pensacola Real Estate Navigators, our local Escambia County property appraiser Chris Jones was the guest speaker. I have never met Chris, although I have been friends with other members of his family for many years. And Chris, like the rest of his family, is a warm and friendly person and truly cares about his Pensacola community.

I have also had to work through real estate related issues with the Escambia County Property Appraisers office, and they are a pleasure to deal with. (I’m not kidding. No sarcasm intended.) Maybe you’ve dealt with our local county or city government and were left wondering how anything ever really gets done in our county. That is not Chris Jones’ office. They are extremely customer service oriented and just as helpful and friendly as they can be.

The main topic of the speech was Property Tax Exemptions: Limitations on Property Tax Assessments, also known as Amendment 1. If you are not familiar with Amendment 1, follow the links on the Escambia County Property Appraisers home page for more information.

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The first topic Chris covered was the doubling of the $25,000 homestead exemption. Chris made the point that this was not a “true doubling”. The homestead exemption was increased to $25,000 in 1980. At that time, it should have been indexed to increase at a rate to keep pace with inflation. However, it was not. It was kept at $25,000 for the next 27 years. If the homested exemption had been indexed to keep pace with inflation, the exemption would now be $65,000, not $50,000. Hence, not a true doubling. This exemption does not apply to school taxes.

Why did we end up with Amendment 1? The taxable value of Escambia County real estate doubled over the last 7 years. The taxing authorities refused to lower tax rates, and just raked in all the extra money. Citizens of Florida said enough is enough. Hence, Amendment 1 was the Florida citizens’ way of stopping the government from taking advantage of rising property values while not providing any better service to the people. Chris_Jones_Text1

Another feature of Amendment 1 is portability. Portability refers to being able to move your “Save Our Homes” benefit from one home to another if you buy and sell your home in Florida. Without this portability, it can be cost prohibitive for many citizens to move in Florida. Chris gave the example of a gentlemen in his 80s who had lived on waterfront property on Bayou Texar for many years. His current property value is well over a million dollars. However, to downsize and move to a more modest $250,000 home would result in an increase in property taxes paid by this man. Portability will help with these types of issues. Chris believes that the portability feature will help absorb much of our current glut of inventory in the Pensacola real estate market. You can follow my Pensacola real estate market reports to keep track of local inventory.

The next feature of Amendment 1 discussed was the Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption. This exemption pertains to Florida businesses. It basically helps the property appraiser’s office focus their efforts on larger businesses that have more assets, versus wasting valuable resources on smaller businesses.

The last feature of Amendment 1 discussed was the 10% per year cap on non-homestead property. Thus if you own land, a second home, or other investment properties, your property taxes cannot increase more than 10% per year. This does not apply to school taxes.

Chris_Jones_Text2After Amendment 1 was discussed, Chris went on to give his assessments of what he felt was the state of the Pensacola real estate market. He felt one of the big positives for the area was commercial property. We are seeing commercial property selling well, and holding its value. In addition, homes under $200,000 are holding their value fairly well.  This should be a call to action for first time home buyers. There is bond money available at low interest rates, down payment assistance, and other programs to help first time Pensacola home buyers.

Of course we also have our negatives in Escambia County. Chris saw our big negatives being sales of waterfront properties and condos. These properties are not selling well in the current Pensacola real estate market. However, the prices are coming down on waterfront. See my article on Cheap Pensacola Waterfront Properties. Unfortunately, insurance rates are a big factor in preventing sale of these properties.

Chris also sees that people are leaving Escambia County faster than they are coming in. We need new business to attract people to our area. Santa Rosa county is rated as the 5th fastest growing County in Florida. Mobile Alabama is booming, along with Baldwin County and Orange Beach. And here sits Escambia County, sandwiched between 2 of the fastest growing areas in the nation. Our economy is stagnating and we are losing residents, while our neighbors are creating new business and have positive growing economies. Something is wrong. My feeling is that our local government leaders are not proactive in bringing new business to our area. Chris did not go so far as to say this, but I did hear several people in attendance mention poor leadership as our biggest problem.

I would like to extend a big thank you to Chris Jones for sharing his time and his knowledge with our local real estate investment group. It was a great educational experience for all who attended.

Click on Pensacola Real Estate News for a list of articles indexed by category.

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