Understanding Florida's Homestead Exemption Laws
Florida’s homestead laws are one of the many attractive features of living in the Sunshine State. Here's what you need to know about how they work.
Florida’s homestead laws are one of the many attractive features of living in the Sunshine State. Realtors® should have a basic understanding of the benefits of the homestead laws, especially since some recent developments have made it more important than ever. Knowing these laws allows you to help sellers avoid costly mistakes. Here are the high points:
1. The Save Our Homes Act
Due to this long-standing law, homestead properties in Florida will not see an increase of more than 3% a year or CPI (whichever is less) in their taxable value no matter how much the market value of the home increases. This is why someone who has lived in a home in Florida for a long time will have a tax bill far lower than the market value of their home would otherwise dictate.
The difference in the assessed value of a home (what we base the taxes on) and the market value of a home (what it would sell for in a free and open market) is what we call portability. Portability went into effect on Jan. 1, 2008, and has become important given the decade-long runup in Florida property values. Before portability came along, some homeowners wouldn’t consider a move because they didn’t want to lose their low tax bills. With portability, they can take the savings with them, up to a maximum of $500,000. Given that Florida has around a 2% average tax rate, that means a homeowner with $500,000 in portability will see a tax bill about $10,000 a year lower than it would be without it.
3. Homestead Exemptions
Most Realtors® know about the $50,000 standard homestead exemption, but did you know that there are around two dozen other exemptions? There are exemptions for deployed servicepersons, disabled veterans, people who built granny flats onto their homes, homeowners who suffered damage from a storm or other catastrophe, senior citizens … the list goes on. Some of these exemptions can be valuable. There is a “Super Senior Long Term Exemption” that completely exempts some senior citizens who have lived in their homes for more than 25 years from having to pay any property taxes at all. Check with your county property appraisal office for a list of these exemptions.
Timing and Other Information
Most of the complication involves portability. Portability requires a separate filing that many homeowners don’t realize they have to complete. Also, there are time limits for moving portability. Thanks to the passage of Amendment 5 on the November 2020 Florida ballot, you now have until the end of the second year following the year in which you sell your homestead to establish your next Florida homestead. If you sold in December 2020, you have until Dec. 31, 2022, to buy and move into your next Florida homestead.
Have you ever noticed that oftentimes the market value of a home on the tax rolls is far below what it will likely sell for? It’s OK for the tax roll market value of a home to be up to 15% below the actual value, but any more than that will cause the seller’s portability to be lower than it should be. This has to be recognized and addressed before the home is sold or the loss of portability will be permanent. There’s no need to hold up the closing—just having the buyers and sellers sign a simple form, available at floridarevenue.com, can allow the issue to be fixed post-closing.
Exemptions are also a big source of lost property tax savings. Quite often, homeowners don’t realize that they’re eligible for an exemption and don’t file for it.
It’s vital to understand how your knowledge of homestead and portability can help when working with a new seller. Here are suggestions:
- When you start working with a seller, you should make sure that their market value on the tax rolls is not substantially less than 85% of a reasonable estimated sales price. This can usually be easily fixed and doing so will not raise the tax bill for the year of sale, or for subsequent years for the new buyer.
- You should also make sure that the seller filed for portability when they filed for homestead on the property about to be sold. If they forgot, and you recognize this before closing, many times the unclaimed portability can be claimed and passed forward to the next home, resulting in valuable tax savings.
As a real estate professional, the more knowledgeable you are about the advantages of homeownership, the better you can help your customers.
Blake F. Deal III, Esq., is a Jacksonville-based real estate attorney. He served as an instructor for the Contracts and Listing Agreement classes for the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors for over 15 years and concentrates his practice in the areas of residential and commercial real estate and property tax law.
How to Check Portability and Homestead
Florida Homestead Check, LLC offers a Free Portability Checker at portabilitypros.com. They also offer a Realtor Assistance Center where Realtors may ask free homestead-related questions.
The Florida Department of Revenue also has information at floridarevenue.com. Or, check your local property appraiser’s website.