Saturday, December 15, 2007

Untangling Florida Property Tax Riddle:

A) First we had the Florida Legislature rolling back property taxes (to their 2006 level!). However it left the door open for cities to override the rollback by a two third majority vote, which was actually done by a few of them.

Then they put on the January 2008 ballot a package of tax relief which included raising the homestead exemption to 75% of the first $ 200,000 of property value, then 15% on the next$ 300,000. Beneficiaries of "save our homes" would lose that benefit if they opted for the homestead exemption increase. We called that "the poison pill".

B) On October 29, after a judge had thrown out the ballot package, due to its confusing language, and weeks of indecision, the Legislature finally approved a new ballot proposal which consists of:

- Increasing the homestead exemption by $ 25,000, not applicable to school taxes, which would reduce it to a total of $ 40,000 approximately, instead of the present $25,000 exemption? The savings would amount to an average of $ 220 per year said the legislature.

- Establishing the 'portability' of the 'save our homes' protection, up to $ 500,000

- Putting a cap of 10% on yearly increases of assessed value of non homestead and commercial properties.

We called this proposal: the 'drop like a pebble'.

C) At the end of November 2007, a coalition of different group was starting to collect the 611,000 signatures needed to put a new tax reform project on November 2008 ballot.

The new proposal consists mainly of imposing a property tax limit of 1.35% per year on the taxable value of on all properties, including non-homestead and commercial real estate.

It would keep the 'save our home' protection. The sponsors claimed that it would reduce the average tax bill by 26%.

In this proposal, there is no mention of 'portability' of the 'save our homes', no protection against violent raises of property value like those that hit us between 2000 and 2005.

The sponsors called it: 'cut property taxes now' and any owner can add his signature on their website.

D) A new initiative is pending review from the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission.

It would eliminate all Florida school taxes and replace them by expanding the Florida sales taxes to include services.

The background of all these proposals is the general opposition of public employees, and local governments to anything that would have any meaningful impact on their spending.

They are actively campaigning with their eternal threats of crippling education and schools, cutting back on police department, ambulances, and fire departments.

I am not impressed. And I will not buy into their menaces. Florida budget has bubbled to levels we wouldn't have dreamed about a few years ago. At the same time property tax collections have doubled during the last five years, from about 16 billion to more than 30 billion. So what are these complaints all about when we try to roll back a couple of billions for the sake of our state and our people's economy?

It's about the ever-increasing public sector, with its dozens of cities, bureaucracies, police and fire departments, mayors and commissioners, which is a luxury that we can't afford when our education is at the bottom level in the US, our public health problems have not been seriously addressed, and so many people are in the danger of loosing their homes on the wake of sky-high taxes, insurance premiums and mortgages.

One of the main issues that worry them are the retirement pensions of this new-formed social class. These pensions are steadily guzzling their budgets and there are starting to feel the fear of loosing these benefits that are negated to many Floridians.

I will always affirm workers' right to secure their retirement. I will never negate the importance of good police and fire departments. But everything must be done within the reasonable and the possible.

That is the reason why we should address the problem in its deep root. Uncontrolled spending must be stopped and rolled back. Efficiency must be the rule and not the exception. And our local government, as well as our State government must abide by the same belt-tightening measures that they have forced onto a majority of our population.

One of the first steps, in my modest opinion, is the regrouping of city services, and the undoing of this hundred-head bureaucracy that we don't need.

The exercise of swapping and juggling with tax revenues is proving to be a vain purpose. We have to modify our Tax Property system to make it more equitable; encouraging first time buyers, investors and out-of-state buyers, instead of chasing them away. This won't be accomplished without reducing our government expenses to acceptable levels.

We definitely need a reform. We do not need a temporary patch. A big part of Florida's future depends on what is done now. All parties should agree on this basic fact and work to reach a real solution.

Please visit my website:

One more Florida Property Tax reform proposal!

December 15, 2007

The last addition is pending review from the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. It would repeal most of school property taxes, replacing them with the inclusion in the state sales tax of SERVICES that are mostly exempt at the present time.

In 1987, the taxation of services lasted for only a few months and was repealed by the Florida legislature under strong opposition by business interests.

The proposal was sponsored by Commissioner John McKay, a former Florida Senator. It came immediately under attack by business interests who claim that it would mainly affect small business and cause the losses of thousands of jobs. They claim that very few states levy taxes on services; service business could be easily transferred to neighboring states. The Coalition for to Protect Florida's Economy (which is said to represent more than 200,000 employers) is strongly opposing the proposition.

The proposal would allegedly cut total property taxes by about 40% and has received some approval by different groups who claim that it would be of great relief for businesses who now pay a disproportionate share of property taxes.

It would apparently target areas that are now exempt, such as legal fees, accounting, printing, transportation, automobile repairs, while retaining the non-taxation of food, medicine, electricity and some essential services.

This new proposal is aimed at correcting the shortcomings of the now legislature- approved tax reform that will go on the ballot on January 2008, which do not provide major relief to owners of non-homestead properties, as well as business and investment properties owners.

My opinion: Reduce taxes, reduce taxes, reduce taxes. Not by swapping creativity, not by increasing one tax to reduce the next one, not by ignoring the main issue. Which is: Reduce expenses, reduce expenses, reduce expenses.

Our bubbling bureaucracy, our absurd multiplication of services, our unreachable goals of pensions and benefits for the ever-increasing class of public employees is the real issue and the real problem to be solved.

Our teachers are the lowest paid in the US, but the most of the proposals to reduce property taxes will further compromise schools budget.

However, we still have a ridiculous amount of small cities with their own water departments, fire departments, mayors, commissioners, parties, cultural departments, and so forth. And the prospect of pension plans for this whole new class is an ominous threat on our future.

Is this an economical way to spend our money? Citizens' consensus is NO.

Magic cannot be performed without real reforms. Our public service expenses have not created a better school system (Florida has one of the worst in the whole country), has not improved citizens' quality of life. It has just gobbled the billions of dollars of property over-taxing and will not give up a penny without a bitter fight.

Is anybody going to put together a proposal that addresses the real causes of the problem, not its consequences?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Aventura, the new Peninsula II is a paragon of luxury, featuring a two-story health club overlooking the bay, a spectacular two-story lobby opening to the waterfront, tennis courts, and jogging paths. Also, all residence will have floor-to-ceiling glass walls alowing for panoramic views of the intracoastal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Peninsula II is located next to Williams Island, directly in the heart of Aventura, Florida. The affluent area of Aventura has some of the best shopping, restaurants and an exciting nightlife in all of South Florida. The location of the area enables quick access to many nearby desirable destinations; Bal Harbour, Ft. Lauderdale, and South Beach to name just a few. The Penisula II is also conveniently located within 20 minutes of Ft.lauderdale and Miami International Airports.


2 Luxury Condominium towers overlooking a marina, the intracoastal waterway
Manned Gatehouse
Heated swimming pool and spa
Barbecue/ bar area in a garden setting
Sunrise terrace with shade pavilion
Recreation room
Fitness center with state-of-the-art exercise equipment, steam room and sauna.
Sunning decks with pool furniture and umbrellas
Tennis courts


Private allocated storage facility
Valet parking services
Tinted glass for energy efficiency
Exterior doors and windows that meet or exceed
South florida hurricane standards


Decorator ready unit
High ceilings throughout
Double entry door
Marina or Water views in all residences
Security, emergency medical call and fire alarm systems with 24-hour on-call monitoring and entry door protection
Pre-wired for television, cable tv and telephone designed for High-speed data transmission
Expansive open-air terraces with glass panel railings
Fire protection sprinkler systems
Sliding doors and glass balconies offering grand views of the intracoastal waterway
Individually controlled high-efficiency air conditioning and heating systems with digital thermostat
Laundry room with top of the line washer/dryer and storage

Imported cabinetry
Granite kitchen countertops
Under-mount double stainless steel sink with single lever faucet fixtures and disposals
Stainless steel appliance package

For more details, please go to: Peninsula II

Please visit my website: where you browse through hundreds of condo buildings, find free search tools, area information about South Florida and much more.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A new proposal could go before voters in November 2008, sponsored by an umbrella group formed by several organizations which were developing different plans, but are uniting their efforts.
In essence, the plan proposes a general cap of 1.35% on the taxable value of any real estate property, as its yearly property tax.
This coalition must be able to collect around 611,000 voters’signatures by the end of January 2008
The tax cap would also apply to commercial properties and non-homestead homes such as those owned by ‘snowbirds’. It would preserve the ‘Save our Homes’ provision to cap at 3% per year any increase in the assessment of homestead homes, as well as the present homestead exemption.
I tend to like it, even though it might lack somehow to address all issues:

- It does not address the ‘portability’ of ‘Save our Homes’, which means that homeowners could carry these benefits when they upgrade our downgrade for their present home. This is becoming a key factor in reviving the real estate market.

- Since it is still linked to the actual value of a home, there is no protection if we should face again a violent raise in property value, as was the case during the “boom” period of 2000-2005. It limits the abilities of local government to raise millage percentages by limiting property tax to 1.35% of taxable value. This is a very effective short-term solution, but would fail to protect us if another ‘boom’ period raises the assessed value of our homes above inflation levels. A provision that future assessments increases should not exceed the official inflation rate could address this issue and avoid eventual spiraling “assessed values”. That would again put as in the sad situation our real estate market is living today.

However, the proposal would be a great step in the right direction.

Here is the text of the proposal:

Ballot Summary
Ballot Title: 1.35% property tax cap, unless voter approved

Provides that the total property tax on any parcel of real property shall never exceed 1.35% of the highest taxable value of the property. This property tax limit shall apply to all property taxes except property taxes approved by voters. Distribution of revenue from parcels that have reached the 1.35% limit shall be determined by general law. Does not amend Save Our Homes, the Homestead Exemption, or any other exemption.
Full Text of the Proposed Amendment

Article VII, Section 9 of the State Constitution is amended by adding a new Paragraph (c) to read:

SECTION 9. Local taxes.
(c) Notwithstanding any other provision contained in this Constitution, the maximum amount of all ad valorem taxes collected by counties, school districts, municipalities, and special districts on any parcel of real property shall not, when combined, exceed 1.35% of the parcel’s highest taxable value. The term “taxable value” refers to the value of real property to which millage rates are applied. The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the distribution of tax revenues derived from parcels for which the combined ad valorem tax levies exceed 1.35% of the parcel’s highest taxable value. This subsection does not apply to ad valorem taxes levied for the payment of bonds issued pursuant to Section 12 of this Article or levied for periods not longer than two years when authorized by a vote of the electors.

The proposal can be reviewed at

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and enjoy a wealth of information and search tools for all inquiries about
Florida Real Estate.

One of the finest buildings in South Florida, Bella Mare at 6000 Williams Island is
one of the most coveted luxury properties in Aventura.
You should visit the Bella Mare just for the experience.

The last addition at Williams Island is a stunningly modern, functional and architecturally rich project, that overlooks Biscayne Bay and adds a new dimension to Aventura luxury living.

Built in 2006, 215 units on thirty floors, with living areas between 1,316 and 4,840 square feet, and one to five bedrooms.

Breathtaking views, spacious floor plans, full services and recreation. All units have east and west views, and no hallways. Private elevator to each unit's foyer.
Bella Mare spoil its residents with more amenities that they could ever use. They include:

Fitness Center
Club House
Business Center
Front Desk
Property Management
Laundry Room
and much more.

Aventura has become one of the most famous destinations in South Florida, with easy access to beaches, word-class shopping at the Aventura Mall, beautiful parks, excellent public and private schools.
Conveniently close to both Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports, with many houses of worship, restaurants, clubs, the new casino, the Gulfstream racetrack and a short drive to the shopping and entertainment at Bal Harbour and Hollywood.

Visit our website:
A stunning display of Florida Homes and Florida Condos for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

By day, Brickell is the pulse of Miami's International business community, housing the city's most prestigious banks and financial institutions. By night, it transforms into a bay front oasis, boasting Miami's most elegant condominium residences.

The so called Brickell area extends south of the Miami River to SE 26th Road (the Rickenbacker Causeway).

Sometimes mentioned as Millionaires Row, the southern portion of Brickell Avenue, (US-1)is home to the Miami Financial District as well as the site of new high rise luxury condominium developments that constantly redefines the Miami skyline.

On the East side is Brickell Key. Brickell is divided into two sections: Upper Brickell and Lower Brickell.

Upper Brickell is the area north of Southeast 15th Street (Broadway) including the financial district, and is technically part of Downtown Miami. It has a mixed use of both office and residential buildings. The financial district, which is sometimes called the Manhattan of Miami, has the largest concentration of international banks in the US.

Lower Brickell which extends between Broadway and Southeast 26th Road, is mainly residential and includes the Millionaires Row.

Jade at Brickell is one of the most appreciated buildings on Brickell.

Located at 1331 Brickell Bay Drive, it has stunning amenities, great views on the Bay, luxury throughout.
Some of the amenities:

Beautiful pool
Outstanding Fitness Center
Club House
Ample storage facilities
Business Center

Technological advances are always present in Jade lifestyle.

With the ease of a touch-screen monitor, they provide: entertainment, information, convenience, and security, as well as wireless internet, simultaneous hi-tech audio and video entertainment throughout the residences. Security and fire-prevention systems are computer-monitored around-the-clock, not to mention a full service business center with all of the latest software and communication systems.

Residences luxury features:

State-of-the-art kitchen complete with Italian designer cabinetry, stainless steel appliances, wine cooler and cappuccino maker. Marble throughout bathrooms and vanities.

When looking to buy or rent a Condo at Brickell Avenue, please check our CONDO SEARCH where you can review all listings in most Brickell Condominium buildings.

If you are looking for a condo or home in the Brickell area, we at can assist you and help you find the home, vacation home or investment property, that you are searching for. Our great experience in South Florida Real Estate and our friendly attention will make all the difference

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Who says that there is no affordable housing in South Florida?

Aqua Isles, a luxury gated waterfront community of exceptional privacy and elegant design. Located in Dania Beach, this new luxury townhome community features distinctive Spanish Revival-style architecture, waterfront views, and direct ocean access. Aqua Isles offers a sophisticated lifestyle with manicured landscaping, gated courtyards, and recreational amenities.

Dania Beach is located between Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale. Dania Beach homes and condos are highly appreciated by homebuyers, due to the proximity to Fort Lauderdale Airport, and the fact that most location are no more than 10 or 15 minutes drive from the Beach. Next to Hollywood Beach and Hollywood Circle with all their entertainments venues, Dania Beach is famous for its many antiques stores alongside US-1.

Aqua Isles marina-inspired community also features ocean access via the Intracoastal waterway with a limited number of private boat slips available for purchase.

Residents of Aqua Isles enjoy the tranquility and serenity of a private gated community, which features a majestic entry feature that invites them into a world all their own. Here, residents can enjoy the pleasures of their own private swimming pool and cabana, plus passive parks, a tot lot and wonderful water views.


Alessandria: 1,141 Sq. Ft; 2 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, private courtyard, $199,990
Brescia:1,429 Sq. Ft.; 2 bedroom, 2 1/2 baths, private courtyard, $224,990
Cannes: 1,429 Sq. Ft; 3 bedrooms/den, 3 baths, private courtyard, $ 232,900
Delano: 1,489 Sq. Ft, 3 bedrms 2 1/2 bath, family room, balcony, private courtyard, $235,990
Europa: 1,436 Sq.Ft, 3 bedrms 2 1/2 bath, family room, balcony, private courtyard, Corner Unit, $235,990
Ferrara: 1,666 Sq. Ft., 3 bedroom 2 ½ baths, Family Room, Private Courtyard. $249,990


Ocean access. (Limited number of boat docks available).
Impressive entrance features with guard house
Electronic gated entrance.
Interlocking brick paver sidewalks
Sparkling swimming pool and cabana
Passive parks
Architecturally-designed lush tropical landscaping in common areas
Decorative street lighting for security
Ornate entrance gate
Tot lot

Homes Features:

Sturdy lifetime concrete exterior walls on first and second story.
Steel reinforced cinder block construction on first and second story.
Architecturally-selected white aluminum window frames with light tinted glass for energy efficiency.
Tempered safety 8’ high sliding glass doors.
Architecturally-accented front entry door.
Central air conditioning and heating distribution system.
Dramatic ceiling heights on first and second floor living areas.
Monocottura ceramic tile flooring in the kitchen, bathrooms and powder room, in your choice of designer colors.

If you are looking for a Aventura Condo, a Sunny Isles Condo or any other South Florida Real Estate property, please visit our website
where you will find a wealth of information and updated MLS data at your disposal.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Florida Condominiums for Sale

Sunny Isles Beach Condos

Searching for Florida condominiums for sale? Is your choice a luxury building on the beach, or at walking distance to the sand? Do you like to wake up in the morning to glance on the wonderful blue water of the Atlantic Ocean, through your floor-to-ceiling windows, while you are sipping on your orange juice and biting on your croissant?

If your budget allows, then you can be a candidate to purchase an ocean front Sunny Isles Condo. On Collins Avenue, you will definitely find this ultra-luxury building, with endless amenities, tennis, racquetballs, pools, saunas, fitness centers, you name it.
Starting in Golden Beach, look at the Ocean Condos. They are some of the most appreciated buildings, built gradually since 2000.

Right across the street, the Oceanview Condos and Ocean Reserve condo conversion present you with more affordable alternatives, albeit lacking the direct ocean views and being only refurbished buildings from the 70’s.

Continue your walk South, and if you would still like to consider more affordable condos in Sunny Isles, what about the Kind David Condos, a 2005 building, with good amenities and well appointed apartments, just across the street from the beach.

You could also consider the Porto Bellagio Condos, (2003) around 171st Street, also on the opposite side from the beach.
What about the Golden Bay condos (1999)? They are a good value.

The Sole Condos are also a good alternative, right on the beach.
Also on the sand, the Sands Point built in 1996 is a great option.

I wouldn’t discard the Ocean Point Condos (2000) right between 173rd and 174th Street and Collins. They are a good compromise on luxury and location.

Let us talk now about some of the best condos in Sunny Isles, although not the newest.
I refer to the Pinnacle Condos with its peculiar shape, a great architectural landmark in Sunny Isles Beach. Great luxury has not been spared, marbles, Italian kitchen cabinets and bathrooms vanities, wonderful views through its floor to ceiling windows.
It is a 1998 building, but one of my favorites.

The Millenium Condos, built just in 1999 have some wonderful units with a frontal ocean view. It is also a high end building.

Le Meridien Condo Hotel, also known as M-Resorts, is a beautiful place, no doubt, if you like this modality.
Trump has built a few places in Sunny Isles. Let’s look at the Trump Palace Condos. Just completed, Trump luxury at its best.
Next to it, is the Trump Sonesta is a condo hotel with very upscale amenities.

La Perla Condos at 166th Street is on the sand. A 2006 building, some of the condos have good water views.

The Sayan Condos have just been delivered in 2007. At the 163rd. Street, they are a good value for your money if you are looking to walk on the beach without crossing the street.
Let me mention Oceania series of building. Located in the south end of Sunny Isles, the first three Oceanias, Oceania 1, Oceania 2 and Oceania 3, are located on the beach.

Oceania 4 and 5 are on the Oceania Island, across from Collins and the Beach.
They were built in the early 90’s. They could be a good midway between the most expensive Sunny Isles Beach condos and the budget condos built in the 70’s.

Talking of these older buildings, we have the Arlen House Condos on Bayview Drive, a couple of minutes walk from the ocean. Then I would like to mention the Winston Towers, a series of large structures on 174th Street, some of them with great views on the Intracoastal, docks and marina make it a good value if you can’t afford the newer condos.
They are conveniently priced and a good option for somebody who doesn’t mind walking 5 minutes to the Beach.

The Plaza of the Americas is another complex in the same kind.
You can also consider the Poinciana Island townhomes, across the street from the water. They have small 25 foot docks and you can have your own boat in your backyard.
And the Marina Bay Condos, a 12 floors structure, built not later than 2002 is also an intermediate solution.

By the way, I was just forgetting one of the most beautiful (and expensive) places in Sunny Isles. The famous Acqualina, a landmark. The Acqualina condos are some of the most expensive properties in Sunny Isles and the outside of the building is surely a statement.

Did I forget something? Of course, there are a few new developments, the Solis, a top-luxury place, the Jade Ocean, the St. Tropez on 163 Street, across the street from the water, and so many more are either on the drawing board or being completed.
Check my website: and take a look.

I didn’t cover everything. But perhaps I gave you a good idea. Good luck in your search of a condo on the beach at Sunny Isles.

If you are interested in Sunny Isles Beach Condos or any South Florida Condo, please visit my website:

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Reflections about Florida Property Taxes as of November 4th 2007

I just learned that eleven citizen’s initiatives regarding Property Taxes have been registered so far with Florida Division of Elections. They all need to get 611,000 signatures to be placed on the ballot, and would have to be approved by 60% of the voters.
They range from:

- requiring voters to approve any local government initiative to increase their tax revenue by more than 3 percent, to
- Limit property taxes to 1.25% of any property assessed value (after homestead exemption)
- Replace property taxes with new revenues to be determined by the Legislature and transfer funding counties, schools and cities funding to the state government.
- Rollback revenue collections to the 2004-2005 fiscal year, adjusting it to the change in population and consumer price index.
And so forth.

The “Ax-the-Tax organization, which sponsored some of these initiatives, has influenced our tax laws over the past 20 years by helping to defeat 14 tax increase initiatives in Florida and other states, one of t hem Broward County’s attempt to increase its sales tax.

However, gathering these signatures means big money and strong political leadership and that will be their main challenge.

What does this mean? Floridians are not happy with the recent legislature initiative.

The provisions to be placed on January 2008 ballot evidently fall short of what Floridians had been asking for. Everybody agrees that the present tax system is flawed. It will be difficult to really fix it without major changes in the whole economical structure of our local and state governments.

The bottom line is there has been a very large windfall in counties and cities revenues from rising property values and the resistance to give it up is the main reason why we did not get a tax reform that would satisfy Floridian homeowners, snowbirds, investors and commercial properties owners.

Some facts to analyze are:

In 2001, the total of property tax levied statewide was about 16.6 billion

In 2006 it increased to 30.4 billion. Almost 85% hike in 5 years. The large increases have been in larger cities and municipalities.

During the same period, the state budget grew to 71.5 from 47 billion. The bulk of this revenue is produced by Florida sales tax, and document stamps from real estate sales.

During this same period, Florida’s population has not doubled and inflation index has not been by any mean disproportionate. In fact, what is happening these days is a reduction of part-time residents, many of them just waiting to sell their homes to go elsewhere.

It is evident that our government has extended too much during the last 5 years. And they have found their way to spend all the extra revenue. One of the factors is the public-sector employees and their geometrically growing retirement pensions that are not ultimately sustainable.

The local government excesses, the ridiculous amount of cities with their mayors, commissioners, fire departments, police departments, cultural departments, celebrations, city halls, and what more, has naturally managed to spend the extra money and they now threaten us to cut down on fire and police departments if we make any intent to control this nonsense.

The new tax reform proposal extends the privileges of the long-time homestead homeowners by allowing them to “transport” when they move to a new home.
Almost every body else has got a very limited relief. The new home buyers, the landlords, the business owners have been almost completely ignored. While the “save our homes” provision should be maintained as an instrument to avoid abusive budget spending by our governments, any meaningful property tax reform must address the necessities of all property owners.

Henry B. Nathan is a Real Estate agent in South Florida.
Please visit my website;
with information about all Florida Condos and Florida Homes,
Aventura Condos, Sunny Isles Condos, Miami Beach Condos,
Hollywood Beach Condos.

Please visit our website and find out about:

Florida Condos
Miami Beach Condos
Hollywood Beach Condos

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Florida Property Tax Reform to go on ballot January 29

Voters will have to approve by a 60% majority votes the property tax reform approved by the House and Senate, Monday October 29.

The trimmed down package will reduce the average homeowner tax by an estimated $220 per year. By increasing the homestead exemption to $ 50,000, (excluding school taxes – which brings it at only about $40,000), this will hardly jump start the stalled real estate market, but it is the only choice homeowners will have next January. Take it or leave it. So, we’ll take the $ 220. We were promised that taxes would drop “like a rock”. Let’s see.

A positive provision is the portability of the “save our homes” protection, albeit also truncated to a maximum of $ 500,000. It will allow some people to move out of their homes, to upgrade or downgrade. That will possibly be a factor on the market.

The losers:
- Non- homesteaded owners, which will hardly see any difference.
- New home buyers, who will have to live with the $ 220 savings.
- Commercial properties owners who got nothing, but a small tax cut.

Consolation prize: 10% yearly cap on assessments increase for non-homesteaded properties, up from the previously 5% approved by the house. Should we add that it’s sounds like a ridiculous provision.

Anyway, they kept their promise.
Property Tax will drop.

Like a pebble.

For Sunny Isles Condos and Miami Condos, please visit my website:

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Donald Trump place Fort Lauderdale project on hold.


Condo-hotel projects once were so hot in South Florida that Donald Trump planned two in Fort Lauderdale. Now he’s back down to one amid cooling enthusiasm for the novel real estate product behind much of South Florida’s recent hotel boom.

The celebrity developer expressed confidence in the Trump International Hotel and Tower under construction on the northern end of Fort Lauderdale Beach. But his partners are worried enough about condominium sales, he said, that they’ve suspended plans for the Trump Las Olas Resort to the south.

Fort Lauderdale Condos can be found on our website.

”They want to wait until the market comes back. And I agree with them,” Trump said. “At this moment, to build in this market would be foolish.”

Other developers are putting the brakes on condo-hotel projects, too. Smith Travel Research says the 7,629 condo-hotel units under development in Miami-Dade County this summer represents a 28 percent drop from a year ago.

Ugo Colombo and his partners scrapped plans to sell off rooms as condo-hotel units at the Cipriani in Miami Beach, saying they’d rather run the former Saxony hotel as a traditional resort with a separate tower of residential condos.

Miami Beach Condos can be found on our website.

Jorge Perez’s Related Group froze sales of condo-hotel units at its Viceroy South Beach and condo-hotel units at its Viceroy Miami projects as executives decide whether to keep the units as standard hotel rooms.

”We’re kind of weighing the market right now,” said Bill Thompson, head of the Viceroy project on Miami Beach.

While the depressed housing market clearly plays a dominant role in the condo-hotel pullback, the hybrid real estate product — unit owners can rent out their condos to hotel guests — faces other challenges now being magnified by the housing slump.

National hotel chains have tempered their enthusiasm for condo-hotels, refusing to lend their brands to projects unless developers pledge to leave a large chunk of rooms unsold. With hotels charging record room rates, lenders and others see the lodging sector a better bet than condominium real estate.

And with the first generation of new condo-hotel projects up and running, some developers are facing buyers disappointed by their units’ monthly returns. Two recent lawsuits against projects in Marathon and Las Vegas accuse developers of securities fraud for touting condo-hotels as lucrative investments that ended up yielding weak returns.

Edgardo Defortuna, the Miami developer planning a Mandarin resort at the site of Fort Lauderdale’s Ireland’s Inn, said the strategy remains selling condo-hotels there. But that could change.

”It does today make a lot more sense to at least consider the possibility of doing a straight hotel,” said Defortuna, president of Fortune International Realty. “Certainly the market has changed, and it’s a lot more favorable toward regular hotels.”

Hollywood Beach Condos can be found on our website.

A soaring real estate market helped scramble buyers’ expectations, since many condo-hotel units sold at prices largely divorced from what vacationers would pay to stay there, said Gregory Rumpel, a broker with Jones Lang Lasalle Hotels.

He noted the ”old adage” that developers should assume $1 in rental revenue for every $1,000 they spend building a hotel room. So a room that cost $300,000 to build should rent for about $300 a night. But some condo-hotel units in South Florida sold for $600,000 or $800,000 — meaning they should rent for as much as $800 a night.

”We just don’t get that kind of rates here,” Rumpel said. “New York maybe. Not here.”

Condo-hotel sales helped bring a number of premier lodging brands to South Florida, from the new St. Regis in Fort Lauderdale to Miami’s Four Seasons. Only Las Vegas and Orlando have more condo-hotel units under development than Miami-Dade does, according to Smith Travel.

And while Broward ranks as the nation’s 36th largest lodging market, it finishes sixth in terms of condo-hotel activity, with nearly 2,800 units under development.

Rumpel and others see the condo-hotel product enduring the current real estate downturn, but with a shift from real estate speculators to those more interested in owning vacation homes than turning a profit by renting out hotel rooms.

”For an occasional user, there is no better buy than a condo-hotel,” said Dante Alexander, president of the National Association of Condo-Hotel Owners. Along with generating more rental income than typical vacation condo, “the beauty is somebody else takes care of it for you.”

For sure, developers continue selling the concept here and in other resort destinations. Stanley Levine and partners hope to sell 17 units at their new Browns Hotel and Marina in Bimini, Bahamas. The Mondrian on South Beach reports strong sales for its West Avenue location.

And with 70 percent of the units sold at the Trump International Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, the real estate mogul whose name adorns about a dozen condo-hotel projects around the world predicts a bright future for the product — particularly in popular vacation spots like South Florida.

”You get income pretty easily, because the hotel market down there has been pretty good,” he said. “I find people really like it.”
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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

In the news this week:

A Judge has annulled January, 2008 referendum vote on Property Tax Reform.

A lawsuit, personally filed by Weston's mayor, Eric Hersh, and a court ruling all but killed the property tax reform project. The issue is that the proposed ballot language is flawed and confusing. At the same time, the ruling upheld Florida legislature's right to limit local governments' spending.

A simple fix would be to clarify the ballot summary. Make it transparent that whoever chooses the 'supersized' exemption would be dropping his right to the 'Save Our Homes' benefits and, perhaps, on the long run, suffer the effects of an uneducated vote, in exchange for short term relief.

Hersh suggests a possible intent to deceive voters on such an important issue, and that it could have long term effects on homeowners' pockets.

Fixing the ballot language shouldn't be a difficult task but legislators apparently prefer to take the matter to appeal court, where their odds of loosing are very high. That would avoid them the embarrassment of voters' rejection. Rumors are that this is a possible outcome since recent polls showed voters' approval dropping below 50%, while 60% is the minimum needed to pass the tax reform.

One evident blunder in the ballot summary is the promise of a minimum homestead exemption of $ 50,000 for all homeowners. This wouldn't be true for homeowners who opt to stay with their 'save our homes' exemption and their present $ 25,000 homestead exemption, dropping the new $ 50,000 'supersized' exemption.

Another evident flaw is that the ballot summary does not make it at all clear that the reform would eliminate the 'Save Our Homes' protection for whoever takes the bait and opts for the immediate 'supersized' tax relief. Additionally, it fails to clearly mention that the final objective is to definitely phase out 'Save Our Homes': the ultimate salvation of many Florida residents. Save Our Homes was instituted in 1992 and essentially keeps a cap of 3% maximum increase of the assessed value of full time residents homes.

'Save our Homes' is apparently a thorn in the side of our government. Removing it seems to be the main agenda of this tax ballot. Once phased out, our cities will very easily find their way to routinely raise their taxes according to their growing needs without any limit.

What better evidence than the steps that some cities are taking to bypass the tax rollbacks recently mandated by the legislators. Apparently, they have done it either by having it voted off by a large majority of their commissioners or through the not-so-subtle recourse of lowering the taxes on one hand and on the other hand increase their fees for many services or charging for services that were previously free.

The 'save our homes' 3% limit has been in fact a reasonable and fair way to keep tax increases within what has been the inflation index during the last 15 years.

However, while 'Save Our Homes' has protected residents from the government's taxmen, it has established a two-tier system that puts a much heavier burden on new buyers, rental properties owners, vacation home buyers, real estate investors and commercial property owners.


- Keep the 'save our homes'exemption at its present status for homestead homeowners.

- Keep the supersized homestead exemption as it was structured in the failed proposal, i.e. 75% on the first $ 200,000 of assessed value, then 15% on the next $300,000. However, this supersized exemption would not be applicable to the present 'save our homes'beneficiaries who have bought their present home before 2001 (they have already been protected from the wild home value increases during the recent 'boom').

- Extend this protection to all residential properties, vacation homes, rental properties, and commercial real estate by putting a cap on assessed value increases indexed on US inflation.

- Allow the 'portability' of their'save our homes'benefits to homeowners who are presently enjoying this protection. They are presently 'trapped'and unable to downsize after retirement age.

Of course, these reforms would not solve the immediate troubles of vacation homeowners and investors who have seen their tax bills balloon during the last 4 or 5 years. May we suggest a temporary rollback or reduction of their taxable values in 10% during the next 2 or 3 years.

Not a perfect solution, but it would give us all at least some confidence in the future.

If the 3% 'save hour homes' cap had been applied to all types of properties, regardless of their homestead status, perhaps our cities and counties would have found some restraint in their uncontrollable appetite and their growing bureaucracies and budgets; The huge increase of their 'tax base'produced by the mushrooming development should have been more than sufficient. However the automatic 'bonanza' brought over by the wildly rising property values was not compensated by a reduction of the tax rate. The new money just found its way in the local governments' budgets.

The present system is not really based on the government's needs or the citizens ability to pay. It is based on the local government's authority to tax us as much as they can. The 'save our homes' protection is the only exception.

My last suggestion: Frugality. If we all want to keep our taxes low, we have to mandate our local governments a prudent and thrifty approach. Citizens must also be prepared to limit the extent of the services received, as well as require cutbacks in unnecessary bureaucracy and duplicated services.

It is evident that the property tax system needs an overhaul. A rushed and uninformed referendum, with hidden implications and unaddressed issues, is not the solution. We are sure that this is not the way our legislature prefer and that their message will not be: 'that's all we are giving you, taking or leave it'.

Not all hopes are lost. Weston's mayor has mentioned that there are other means to put a new and better proposal on January's ballot. Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission could eventually place tax amendment proposals directly on the ballot.

Let's hope that something will be done in time. offers you the most amazing tools for your Florida home or Florida investment property search. Please visit our Website and use our multiple search tools to find an Aventura Condo, or a Hollywood Beach home, or all type of South Florida Properties.

Please visit my website, where you will find the most amazing tools for your Florida home or Florida investment property search. Please visit our Website and use our multiple search tools to find an Aventura Condo, or a Hollywood Beach home, or all type of South Florida Properties.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

International Sales of Florida Real Estate

It was a bargain last year, and it’s even much more of a bargain this year. For a European buyer, Florida is still a steal.

In 2000, a Euro would only buy 85 cents per US dollar. Now, it’s US$ 1.36 for each Euro. An increase of 60%. If one factors in the steady decline of Florida real estate prices during the last couple of years, it makes sense for a European investor to look at our side of the ocean.

A new 3 bedroom Orlando Condominium costing less that $200,000 is appealing to any European sun lover. An Aventura Condo that has been reduced to its pre-construction price levels and even less, a Miami Beach Condo listed at “short-sale” price, single family homes in Miramar, or Pembroke Pines offered at “distress sale” prices are great deals. They all offer buyers great opportunities. High-rise and condo developers are willing to negotiate. They've been holding out for almost two years of slow sales and some of them are at the point where they can't pay back their bank loans. Highly motivated to sell, they will either discuss a price reduction or throw in additional amenities (e.g., upgraded kitchen and baths, extra parking space), or contribute to closing costs or prepaid condo fees.

With the currency advantage in mind, I have tried to make some comparisons. A recent trip to Europe helped me understand the complexity of the task. Different types of construction, environment, lifestyle, level of standard features and luxury are just part of the difficulty.

In any case, some quick calculations had to be complemented by direct talks with prospective investors, familiar with Florida. Not unexpectedly, nobody fails to admit that we are a bargain. Many of my interviewees actually mentioned relatives who had recently bought property in Florida. I would make a special mention of the Irish and British as the most enthusiastic. It seems our prices are absolutely LOW!

Some objections were raised. Most asked if the prices had already bottomed or if it would be advisable to wait a bit longer. Questions about taxes and maintenances fees raised some eyebrows. At about 2% per year of the property value, they seemed high, compared to taxes on residential property in Europe. (It looks like European property taxes might be about a quarter of what we are paying here). But the deal killers could often be high condo maintenance fees, or insurance premiums on single family homes. This could well add an annual charge of one to three percent (of the property value). And Europeans will ask these kinds of questions.

All in all, I still think that we will see more interest in the near future. It is evident that there is a limited amount of land and buildings available in South Florida’s cities.

The continuing trend of well-to-do baby boomers migrating south is also a factor that is not ignored by these sophisticated buyers. And Florida hasn’t lost its attraction. Just stroll on a crowded Prague downtown street or a walk on the sand through thousands of bodies on a French or Spanish beach and you will understand why. Russian buyers are still very active. Sales to affluent Latin Americans are sluggish but continue to be a driving force.

Let's hop*e that international sales will help absorb the excess inventory and put Florida real estate back on track.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

Not so good news for homeowners.

With this week's mailing of tax notices by Property Appraisers in Florida, it becomes more and more evident that the Save-Our-Homes provisions will gradually be phased out and are already under attack.

This regulation protects the homestead-homeowner by preventing an annual increase in the assessed value of his property tax of more than 3 percent. It protected many homeowners from being suddenly hit by the doubling or tripling of home values during the “boom” years.

But, as many taxpayers found out this week, by a rather strange twist, the situation has changed. Even though the market value of your home has gone down, your tax bill could still increase up to a 3 percent every year. In effect the taxable value will be increased by this 3% until it reaches the actual market value. Does it make sense?

It does if you belong to our counties and cities government. Not so if you are trying to keep your home, maintain your life level, and raise a family.

Even though it is evident that real estate values have been sensibly reduced during the last year, assessments have gone up overall, perhaps because they are based on 2006 values.

The tax reduction was aimed at the “Tax Rate”, not at the” Assessment Value”, as property owners are starting to understand.

Basically the “Save-Our-Homes” protected-homeowner will get some relief now, since his assessed value will go up no more than 3%, while the tax rate could been rolled back as much as 9%, as mandated for this year by the legislators.

Any other property-owner will hardly get any break.

No relief for snowbirds vacation-home owners; no relief for investors, no relief for new home buyers.

Empty-nesters thinking of moving to downsize? Anybody remembers that story? It should have been one of the important parts of the “tax-relief” laws, but evidently our legislator forgot.

And, despite the “roll-back” provisions, taxes do not necessarily go down.

Remember the opt-out clauses for the cities? They are part of the legislature provisions. Cities can invoke the “tax-relief” op-out exception and just ignore the rollbacks. And a few cities have already taken advantage of the opt-out to ignore the tax relief laws.

At the same time, property taxes that pay for public schools haven’t been reduced. According to the new law, they can be and have been increased. And they count for almost thirty percent of your tax bill.

All in all, the “tax-break” is much less than most homeowners expected. The tax cuts are insignificant or just non- existent.

This is not what will revive Florida real estate.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Beware the trap!

Questioning the new tax property laws.

Letting my thoughts settle down after the initial confusion, I come out with a disturbing conclusion.

1) Isn't this whole thing a first step to killing the "save-our-homes" amendment?

The fact is (if the January 2008 proposals are voted) that a homeowner will be dropping his "save our homes" rights if he takes advantage of the new "super-sized" homestead exemption.

Historically "save our homes" is the only amendment that protected the homeowner against local governments abuses in a consistent way. Are you going to believe that, from now on, cities and counties will start to behave and give you, the citizen, their upmost considerations ahead of their deep rooted bureaucracies, and free wheel spending?

2) In fact, after a few years of savings, the inevitable will occur. The initial savings will be wiped out by inexorable real estate valuation. Had you opted to accept the super-sized homestead exemption, you will pay for it later, take my word for it.

2) Wouldn't it have been fair to allow a homeowner to accept the new homestead super-sized protection and keep his "save our homes" privileges which allows the governments to raise their tax bill only 3% per year? Why eliminate this protection for the beleaguered first-time home-buyer struggling to afford a home?

3) That leads me to believe that the poison pill given to us has a hidden purpose:
slowly kill the "save-our-homes" provisions as present beneficiaries die, sell, or move out of their homes.

4) What about constitutionally prohibiting any property assessment to raise above the national inflation average? Isn't the inflation index a perfect gauge of keeping taxes and spending within a reasonable level?

5) As a matter of fact, I first thought that the new provisions were pathetic. Now I am starting to believe that they are mischievous.

I welcome your thoughts.
The only way to know if I am wrong is hearing it from you.

Henry B. Nathan
is a Florida Realtor
Please visit my website

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Is this all?

Property tax relief by Florida Legislature falls short.

What did they vote?

1) Roll back property taxes to their 2006 level, and then cut an additional 0,3,5,7, or 9 % depending on how the specific cities raised their taxes the past 5 years - Local governments can override these rollbacks by two-third votes or a referendum.

2) A constitutional amendment will be submitted to voters on January 29th, 2008 to modify the homestead exemption. If approved, this exemption would be raised to 75% of the first $200,000 of home value and 15% of the next $300,000. It will be a minimum of $ 50,000 or $ 100,000 for low income seniors.

3) Beneficiaries of Save our Homes rule, have a one-time option to accept the new homestead exemption or keep their present benefits and limit their homestead exemption to their $ 25,000 level.

4) In the future, taxes cannot increase more than an indicator of personal income and allowances for new construction. How will that be calculated, is something that we ignore.

The comments:

Legislators are saying that the average homesteaded owner will get a $ 174 drop in his taxes for 2007 and a $ 1,132 in 2008 if the new homestead constitutional amendment passes.
The average non-homesteaded owner, will get an average $ 245 a year drop by 2008.
The average commercial property tax bill will be reduced by $ 1,240 in 2008.

Most Realtors are not impressed at all. This is not going to have any significant effect on the sagging real estate market. The issue will have to be addressed again down the road, said Richard Barkett, chief executive of the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Lauderdale.

What issues were not addressed.

- Snowbirds, investors, commercial property owners, will hardly notice any change in their tax bills. They are an important factor in Florida Real Estate, and they a good part of its downturn.
But they have been mostly ignored.
The owners of vacation homes, who have seen their taxes and insurance bills triple in a short time, are the big losers.

- The rollbacks, even if they reach their maximum of 9% will not solve the problems of property owners who have seen their assessments triple or quadruple during the last few years.
These reductions, compared to the tripling of tax bills during the last 5 years will hardly make a dent in the bills.

- The issue of the "portability" of the save-our-homes tax savings has not been addressed. A big disappointment for thousands who are trapped in their present homes, unable to purchase smaller or larger homes because their taxes would triple or even quadruple. Many potential buyers are very disappointed.

- The so-called relief of insurance premiums was just a hot balloon. They are still a huge factor in maintenance expenses of residences and commercial properties alike.

- If passed, the homestead exemption raise will be the only significant gain for low-income and first-time home buyers. A typical entry-level $200,000 home might pay a yearly average of $900 in property tax instead of the present $ 3,150: a saving of $2,250 or about $190 per month. That's good news for the affordable housing segment.

- A $ 500,000 homesteaded home would be taxed an average of $ 5,490 instead of $8,550 - a saving of $ 3,060 per year or about $ 250 per month. To pay the mortgage, insurance and maintenance of a $500,000 home, a combined household income of more than $ 150,000 per year is necessary, as per FNMA guidelines. That is at least $ 12,500 gross income per month.
A $ 250 break is a welcome relief, but will not be the deal maker.

- In essence, the real issue of local governments skimming their constituents during the real estate boom has largely been ignored. Rolling back a maximum 9% will not recoup the 300% tax increases that have beaten up our home buyers and non-homestead owners.
Real estate is a very large part of Florida's economy. It could not remain ignored. Something has been done, it is true. I would say that it's mostly a kind gesture to voters, not a solution.

- This is not going to be the shot in the arm that our real estate market was expecting. However, it will provide a minimal relief, and,hopefully, just a first step in the good direction.

- The proliferation of cities and municipalities in South Florida is an issue that must be addressed. Hundreds of commissioners, city managers, city compliance officers, city water managements, unnecessary bureaucracies, police departments, fire departments, almost encroaching on each other, are weighing on the taxpayer. This is not the most sensible approach to government economy. It is not bordering the ridiculous: it is laughable.

Trying to control this insanity has caused the panic of these local governments and their heavy lobbying on state legislature to prevent major changes. Will they be held accountable?
Judging by the pitiful low percentage of voters on city elections, it won't happen any time soon.

Henry B. Nathan June 16, 2007

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

As Market Cools....

As Market Cools, Home Buyers Seek a Way Out

Builders Face Lawsuits, A Rash of Complaints; The $266,000 Refund

The Wall Street Journal May 4, 2007

In the latest fallout from the housing market's decline, disputes are breaking out between builders and buyers who signed contracts for new homes and condos when the market was hot -- and now want to get out of them.

Even as many of the new buildings are completed, buyers are filing lawsuits claiming they were duped into purchases they couldn't afford, or victimized through fraudulent investment schemes. Some are scrutinizing their contracts looking for loopholes, or searching out tiny flaws in finished homes that might allow them to back out without losing their deposits.

For some builders, the disputes are contributing to cancellation rates as high as 30% and writedowns in some markets. "People will go to great lengths to get out of a legally binding transaction," said Larry Sorsby, chief financial officer of Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. "They were willing to ride the real-estate boom on the way up, but some are not willing to ride it on the way down."

Newly constructed homes make up only about 15% of total home sales. But a wave of building helped fuel the run-up in housing prices during the real-estate boom, especially in Florida and California. As the marketstarted turning last year, prices on new homes and condos quickly stalled, then began dropping. That gave skittish buyers time to get cold feet.

Florida, a magnet for housing speculators in the boom, is ground zero for such disputes. The state long has been a boon to housing attorneys, some of whom are now filing lawsuits against developers.

One lawyer recently took out an ad in a Palm Beach newspaper reading: "Do you want your money back? Your contract for purchase of a new house or condominium may be illegal...To see if you are entitled to a refund, call us for a free consultation."

Typically, buyers of new homes and condos put down a cash deposit when they decide to buy, then pay the balance when the home closes and is ready to occupy. But condo buyers, in particular, have a lot to lose by walking away from their contracts because their deposits can total as high as 20% -- and some buy multiple units.

Consequently, some condo buyers are aggressively seeking ways to back out, said Brad Hunter, director of the South Florida region for Metrostudy, a residential real-estate market research firm. He expects more to do so in the next year as projects sold during the boom become ready for occupancy.

"If they can find some way in which the developer has not delivered according to the contract, they're using that as a way to get out," he said.

Dennis Freeman, an attorney in Aventura, Fla., said he is representing a family who bought a roughly $1.6 million condo in a waterfront high rise, expecting a private entrance. But, he said, the family has now learned that the door to the garbage chute, which is shared with neighbors, cannot be locked. "The privacy of my client's apartment has been lost," said Mr.
Freeman. He is suing to rescind the contract.

Mr. Freeman recently settled another case in which the developer agreed to return a $266,000 deposit to a condo buyer who claimed that the size of the pool deck and gym were smaller than the developer promised. Mr. Freeman said he was surprised by the settlement. "To me, it's a reach," he said.

Other disputes are more heated. Red Bank, N.J.-based Hovnanian, one of the largest builders in the U.S., currently is embroiled in one such dispute with buyers in Florida.

One of those buyers, Daphne Sewell, received three construction loans, totaling about $750,000, to buy three houses in Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres, Fla., in May 2005.

An administrative assistant in Broward County government, Ms. Sewell said she and her husband, a carpenter, earned $90,000 a year at the time of the deal and never should have qualified for their mortgages. She also claims a real-estate firm involved in the deal promised that it would find them tenants to rent out the houses. But the renters never materialized, her
houses are vacant, and two of her loans are in foreclosure.

"If I close on them I deplete my savings in two or three months," said Ms. Sewell. "It's worth the fight."

After she was served with foreclosure lawsuits by the lender, she filed a countersuit, which names the builder, First Home Builders of Florida, the lender and a real-estate firm that she alleges promoted the deal, claiming she was defrauded by an investment scheme that promised minimal risk. A lawyer for First Home Builders said his client denies any wrongdoing.

Hovnanian, which bought the assets and contracts to build homes from First Home Builders in August 2005, said it has not been served by Ms. Sewell's
lawsuit and that she took out her construction loans before Hovnanian bought
out the assets of First Home Builders.

Still, complaints like Ms. Sewell's are causing a major headache for the company, which says it is trying to help buyers close on the homes by lowering prices by as much as $100,000 while fending off allegations of fraud. Hovnanian took a charge of $175 million in over the fourth and first quarters related to the Fort Myers market, partly because it had to lower prices on the First Home Builders homes.

Mr. Sorsby, the chief financial officer, said many of these complaints are from regretful buyers trying to take advantage of a public backlash against the housing industry amid the subprime mortgage meltdown. "They are going to great lengths to paint somebody other than themselves the bad guy," Mr. Sorsby said.

In Alexandria, Va., real-estate attorney Beau Brincefield said he has settled roughly 50 contract disputes and has another "50 or more" in the pipeline. They include a case brought last year by more than a dozen buyers who had contracts to purchase homes from NVR Inc., a Reston, Va., builder that sells homes in 13 states.

Mr. Brincefield said the terms of that settlement are confidential. In general, he said, builders have agreed to lower purchase prices by as much as 35% or refund 25% to 100% of a would-be buyer's deposit. NVR declined to comment.

Mr. Brincefield said that in many of the contracts he's seen, "the remedies are very one-sided." These contracts allow the builder to retain the borrower's deposit or sue for damages if the buyer cancels, he said, but only allow buyers to get their deposits back if the builder doesn't meet its
obligations. In some cases, he said, builders may have violated the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act, which requires them to make certain disclosures and meet other requirements.

Some developers are not backing down. Ceebraid-Signal, a West Palm Beach developer of condominiums and condo-hotels across Florida, and its affiliated development entities are suing about 30 buyers who are trying to cancel their contracts. Ceebraid-Signal said it is citing a "specific performance" provision in its contracts requiring buyers to hold up their end of the deal and close.

"That's called chutzpah," said Marvin Moss, a lawyer in Aventura, Fla. He represents a client who did not want to close on a $375,000 condo because real-estate values had fallen dramatically since she put down her 10% deposit, from which she was willing to walk away, he said.

"This is to frighten people and force them to close," said Mr. Moss. "It costs a lot of money in legal fees to defend these actions." A couple of buyers hit with such lawsuits have backed down and gone through with the sale.

Said Richard Schlesinger, managing director of Ceebraid-Signal: "I don't think there is anything that we are doing that is inappropriate." "These are not situations where a woman bought a unit and she's now a widow and can't pay," he said. "These are people who don't want to close because they can't flip and make $100,000."
Henry B. Nathan is a Licensed Florida Realtor. Please visit my website to search for

Article by Jason Garcia, The Orlando Sentinel May 21, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Local governments across Florida are spending millions of dollars lobbying the Florida Legislature this year as they battle efforts by lawmakers to slash billions of dollars in property taxes.

An Orlando Sentinel review of recent state records shows that during the first three months of this year, Florida cities, counties and school boards spent at least $1.7 million and perhaps as much as $4.3 million on lobbyists hired to influence the Legislature. Separate government districts and local government associations spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more.

Nearly three dozen Central Florida governments were among those pouring money into the lawmaking process, from Orange County and Orlando to Eatonville and Mount Dora.

The money paid for an elite roster of lobbyists that includes former lawmakers, governor's office aides and other insiders, many of whom were intimately involved in the property-tax fight that consumed the Legislature during its 60-day regular session this spring.

Lawmakers were unable to agree on property-tax changes and have been forced to schedule a special session beginning June 12 to tackle the issue again.

Critics call the lobbying efforts a perfect example of overspending by cities and counties that experienced a property-tax windfall during the state's recent real-estate boom.

"The fact is that all of these cities and counties -- for the most part -- have bloated budgets, and they've been spending taxpayer money over the last five years like drunken sailors," said Jose Cancela, co-chairman of the anti-tax group Floridians for Property Tax Reform.

Cities and counties, however, say lobbying is a necessary investment -- and that it isn't just about fighting property-tax cuts.

They say lobbyists help them compete for millions of dollars in state grants handed out for everything from sewer lines to road construction, as well as monitor the thousands of bills legislators debate every year, many of which have significant impacts on local governments.

"It's money well-spent," said Volusia County Chairman Frank Bruno, whose government spent from $50,000 to $70,000 on lobbyists in three months.

"Lobbyists are very important to keep us informed as to what the Legislature is doing. It also enables the Legislature to have our input," Bruno added. "Those folks up there cannot be operating in a vacuum."

Year-old disclosure law

The records released last week were made available under a year-old state law requiring Tallahassee's more than 2,000 lobbyists to disclose details about their fees. The reports must list each client who hires a lobbying firm and how much it paid. But the range is so wide -- from $1.7 million to $4.3 million -- because fees are reported in broad ranges rather than exact figures.

The first wave of reports covers Jan. 1 through March 31, or about halfway through the 60-day legislative session. They cover only contract lobbyists, not in-house lobbyists who are employed directly by a business or a government.

As they were a year ago, utilities such as cable, power and phone companies were among the heaviest spenders in the $20 million to $48 million of legislative lobbying expenses that were reported.

Records show that BellSouth, for instance, spent $800,000 to $1.1 million lobbying the Legislature. It and other telecom giants were battling cable companies for a measure designed to help phone companies break into the cable business. The Legislature approved the bill, and Gov. Charlie Crist signed it last week.

But the amount spent on lobbyists by local government is drawing particular attention in light of the property-tax debate.

The Sentinel's review focused on cities, counties and school boards, as well as related countywide agencies, such as sheriffs' and court clerks' offices. It did not include other local governments, such as hospital districts or airport authorities, or groups such as the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities.

South Florida governments were the biggest spenders. Miami spent from $148,000 to $168,000 on more than a dozen lobbyists. Miami-Dade County spent at least $92,000 and as much as $122,000.

But Central Florida communities also paid handsomely for access in Tallahassee. Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary's office spent from $30,000 to $40,000 on lobbyists. Winter Garden paid from $20,000 to $40,000.

Orlando spent from $10,000 to $40,000, while Orange County spent from $10,000 to $30,000. And nearly a dozen Central Florida governments spent from $10,000 to $20,000.

Is 'diet' needed?

For critics of local government spending, the lobbying expenses offer easy fodder.

"I think it's clear that, as tax reform does take place, [is] what they can cut first," said Senate Finance and Tax Chairman Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, who has repeatedly said cities and counties need to be put on a "diet."

Still, local officials say that lobbyist spending, as ripe a target as it might be, is a crucial expense.

It's especially important now as lawmakers weigh property-tax plans that could slash billions of dollars from local government tax rolls, Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty said.

Crotty has warned that Orange County could lose as much as $150 million under some of the plans being considered in the Capitol, jeopardizing a host of local services and projects, including a $530 million plan to build roads, buy environmentally sensitive land and pave sidewalks.

"This session is the greatest example of why" local governments need lobbyists, said Crotty, a former state legislator. "If you're from Miami or Fort Lauderdale or Palm Beach or Orlando, you've got to have those eyes and ears there at all times."

Jason Garcia can be reached at or 850-222-5564.

Henry B. Nathan is a Florida Licensed Realtor. Please visit my website:

where you can find the most complete information about Aventura Condos, Florida Condos,

Florida Real Estate, Hollywood Condos, South Beach Condos

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Do we really care about our money?

Do we really care about where our tax money goes?

I have found this article by Michael Mayo, from the Sun Sentinel to be very illustrative about why the tax reduction talk might mostly end up in…talk. Budgets have grown so fat that, unless citizens’ action occurs promptly, cities and counties will strongly resist before allowing any tax reduction.
If a politician engineers an outrageous pay raise, it doesn't take long for citizens to snap to attention.
Funny, then, how the bigger, more outrageous things can slide along more subtly.
Such is the story in Hallandale Beach, where Vice Mayor Bill Julian's rescinded attempt to boost city commissioners' salaries from $20,500 to $75,000 triggered angry howls and brought camera-toting media hordes to City Hall last week.
"I feel like a leper. I'm public enemy No. 1," Julian said Monday. "I would have been better off getting an intern pregnant."
It's easy to go off on Julian, because he still doesn't get it. One minute he's apologizing for his "dumb" and "stupid" maneuvers, the next he's unapologetically detailing plans to push for a smaller raise, "maybe $6,000-8,000," in upcoming budget hearings.
But where's the outrage that the city's budget has gone from $68 million to $93 million in the past two years, a 36 percent increase?
Where's the outrage that the city has seen its cash reserves dwindle from $52.6 million in 2005 to a projected $30.3 million at the end of this budget year?
Where's the outrage that the current budget includes a discretionary $2.1 million fund for the city manager to hire outside consultants and additional personnel?
With one dunderheaded move, Julian has become the symbol for all that's wrong with municipal government: the bloat, the sense of entitlement, the sneaky tactics to bypass the public.
Julian brought up the proposal at an unrecorded lunch planning session last Wednesday, and it passed 3-2. But it didn't hold up to the light of day. On Friday, the commission unanimously rescinded the raise.
"Ethically, it was on the border," Julian said. "I didn't give the public a chance to give their input, and that's not right. I know it's not our money, it's the people's money. ... The way I did it gives the perception of deception."
He also did it at the worst possible time, with the Legislature poised to chop property taxes and local governments carping about the havoc it will wreak on essential services.
For all the heated reaction to the raises, the bigger issues behind spiraling city budgets often get lost.
One, involving future worker pension benefits, has been quietly playing out the past 19 months. Hallandale Beach has some 250 unionized city workers who haven't had a pay raise since October 2005, when their contract lapsed.
They are caught in the crossfire of a bigger battle with national implications. It's one that cities have to win for a semblance of budget sanity.
The city wants to change workers' pensions from a traditional "defined benefit" fixed pension to a riskier "defined contribution" 401K-type plan that most private sector firms now offer.
Representatives of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, are resisting.
"This is the future," said Assistant City Manager Mark Antonio.
But in the future, Julian's chutzpah is what people all over South Florida will remember, even if the scuttled raises amount to a drop in the fiscal bucket. I asked if he thought voters would forget by the time of his next election, in 2011.
"I think people should forget by the end of the month," Julian said. "What do they want to do, flog me on the City Hall steps? This is the first mistake I've made in six years. It's a big one. But at least I'm big enough to admit I did wrong."
Julian, a former thoroughbred trainer, was re-elected to a four-year term in March. He received 942 votes in a city of 18,442 registered voters. The city has about 35,000 residents.
"The apathy is unbelievable," Julian said. He said the commission switched from day to night meetings to accommodate the public, and "we still only get like three people in the audience."
No wonder these people feel they have a license to steal.
Michael Mayo's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Read him every weekday online at Reach him at or 954-356-4508.
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