Florida Homestead Law for Beginners

PALM COAST, Fla. – November 20, 2022 – Understanding the Florida Homestead Law Can save permanent Florida residents thousands of dollars over the term of their home ownership.

To qualify for homestead protection, the property must meet three major criteria:

  1. The owner intends to maintain the property as a primary residence
  2. The owner occupies and resides on the property
  3. The owner holds legal title individually or as a revocable living trust (LLCs do not qualify)

There are three primary benefits to homesteading in Florida. Each has its own key dates.

Asset Protection

The Florida Constitution protects up to 1/2 acre of homesteaded property in incorporated towns and cities and up to 160 rural, unincorporated land from civil judgments. The protection has no value limits. There is no filing requirement. The owner is protected beginning on the day he/she occupies the home and declares it as their permanent residence.

Homestead Exemptions

Homesteaded property in Florida qualifies for a homestead exemption of $50,000 (slightly less for very inexpensive homes). Only $25,000 of the exemption applies to school taxes. Subtract the exempt value from the Assesses Value to derive the Taxable Value. The homestead exemption saves homeowners about $800 annually in a typical jurisdiction.

A 65-year or older homesteader may also qualify for an additional $50,000 exemption. The senior exemption is income restricted and applies only if the county or municipality adopts an enabling ordinance. It applies only to the taxes levied by the unit of government granting the exemption. 

Homestead status and exemptions apply on a tax-year basis. Owners must meet the homestead criteria on January 1 of the applicable tax year. Exemptions require a one-time application to the county property appraiser. They must be filed by March 1, but you can file the application any time after the criteria have been met. It is not necessary to wait until January, but the homestead exemption will not be effective until January 1.

Once established, the homestead exemption applies for the full tax year. New owners pay the same amount the seller would have paid if the property is sold during the year. Homestead status and all exemptions expire at the end of the year. A new owner MUST establish their own homestead status going forward.

Save Our Homes

The 1993 Save Our Homes constitutional amendment to the Florida homestead law caps any increase in a homesteaded property’s Assessed Value at the lower of the CPI or 3%. Like the homestead exemption, it is effective for the tax year beginning January 1. The prior Assessed Value is irrelevant All Florida properties are reassessed each year.

The Just Value is established by the property appraiser for Ad Valorem purposes. It is determined by the analysis of not only the individual property but also comparable properties sold within the prior year. Just Value is typically 75% – 80% of true market value in a flat market. In a fast-moving market, the property appraiser will put more weight on the most recent sales when determining Just Value. Caution: In a fast-rising market such as the past few years, a home purchased early in the year could easily be assessed the following January 1st at or above its purchase price.

Property Record

This is the property record for my own condominium from the Flagler County Property Appraiser’s website. We purchased the condo at the bottom of the market in 2011. The market has appreciated significantly since, thus the substantial protected value. Note the interrelationship between Just Value, Assessed Value, Exempt Value, Taxable Value, and Protected Value.

Sample Property Record

 

Illustrative Example

Assume a property was purchased in July 2021 and has appreciated since. The 2021 tax bill would be sent to the new owner on about November 1, 2021. The tax would be based on the homesteaded status and qualified exemptions of the seller. Taxes are paid in arrears, so there would have been a proration of the year’s taxes at closing with the seller contributing the estimated taxes due from January 1 to the closing date in July.

 

Tax YearJust
Va
lue
Assessed
Value
Exempt
Value
Taxable
Value
Protected
Value
2021$400,000$200,000$50,000$150,000$200,000
2022$440,000$440,000$50,000$390,000$0
2023$490,000$453,200$50,000$403,200$36,800
Illustrating Florida’s Save Our Homes and Homestead Exemption

Summary

In the year of a home’s sale, the tax amount is what the seller would have paid. The buyer pays the tax bill but would have received a prorated credit from the buyer at closing for the portion of the year the seller was in possession.

In the next year, the buyer’s homestead exemption applies. The Just Value and the Assessed Value are equalized.

In the following year, the homestead exemption continues to apply, the increase in Assessed Value is capped, and Protected Value is established.

Going forward each year, the exemption continues, as does the Assessed Value cap. The Protected Value continues to accumulate.

Is it fair for new arrivers to pay a multiple of their established neighbor’s property tax? Before answering, understand the genesis of Save Our Homes. It was put in place to protect residents on fixed incomes, primarily retirees, from runaway tax increases fueled by rapidly rising housing values. Just as time heals all wounds, time converts new residents into defenders of Save Our Homes as they watch their Protected Value accumulate. Florida is really good at protecting its long-term voting residents.

Reminder: Save Our Homes caps only the increase in Assessed Value, not real estate taxes. So taxes can rise by more than 3%.

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