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Fewer Treasure Coast property owners contesting values set for tax purposes Treasure Coast Newspaper

By Jim Turner

The number of Treasure Coast residents who have questioned their projected property values is down slightly from a year ago. However, petitions to appeal the assessments continue to trickle in to the appraiser’s offices and with each county’s Value Adjustment Board.

Appraisers cite a possible greater acceptance of decreased values by property owners, as well an increase in foreclosed properties being acquired by banks, as reasons for the dip in numbers.

“It’s just the times, the economy,” said Indian River County Value Adjustment Board Clerk Maria Suesz.

St. Lucie County has recorded 1,154 petitions being filed with the county Value Adjustment Board, down from 1,326 last year.

Indian River County has had 320 petitions filed, down from 652 in 2009.

Martin County has had 634 petitions filed, down from 803 in 2009.

Michael Fribourg, assistant Martin County property appraiser, said the number of challenges is not typically much higher or lower.

“We’ve never had multiple thousands or a few hundred, It’s always been around this number,” Fribourg said.

The deadlines for each county — 45 days from the time the Truth in Millage, or Trim, notices were mailed out — came in mid-September.

Still, appraisers in each county say when someone comes in after the deadline, and can show there is an error, the appraiser’s office has been willing to make any needed correction.

Meanwhile, some tax appeal firms say now is an opportune time for homesteaded owners to challenge their county-assessed values, because locking in a low assessment this year will pay dividends in the future, when housing values eventually go up.

Florida’s Save Our Homes law limits the increase in assessed values to 3 percent annually for homesteaded owners.

Barry Sharpe, president of the Real Estate Tax Appeal Group, a Hialeah-based property tax appeal company, who is filing appeals for all of his personal properties, encourages his clients to challenge their assessments this year to take advantage of the Save Our Homes law.

“Think about the additional advantage of the cap of 3 percent [moving forward],” he said. “It’s like resetting the base.”

Sharpe said one of the strategies he’s used successfully is getting a professional Realtor to survey the property, and write down all the improvements that need to be made in order to make the home sellable. Presenting the costs of those improvements at an appeals hearing could help get the assessment reduced, he said.

In the end, property owners know their property better than anyone else, kind of like their spouse, he said, using a light-hearted metaphor.

Tax bills go out after Nov. 1.

The Miami Herald contributed to this report.