Can you feel tax time creeping in? There is nothing Brad and I despise more than doing taxes I have to admit, but when it comes to this time of the year, there’s a sneaky deadline that comes and goes just like that. And if you miss that deadline, you lose out on some big property tax savings.

What am I talking about? I’m referring to the Homestead Exemption. So if you recently purchased a house or condo in Florida, it is your primary residence, and you have not yet filed your homestead exemption forms with the county, you need to pay extra attention to today’s episode because that filing deadline is coming up fast - and nobody else is going to remind you! 

Before we get into it, we have to preface this by giving you our disclaimer that we, as in Brad and I, our team the Florida Heritage Team, and/or Premiere Plus Realty does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should always consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.

Now that that’s out of the way, here are the three main points we’ll cover today: 

1) What is a Homestead Exemption? 

2) Who is Eligible to File for an Exemption and Who Isn’t?

3) Where & How to File for Homestead?

And this week's freebie: Click here to subscribe

Let's jump right in: 

1) What is a Homestead Exemption? 

You likely heard that word tossed around at your closing, and the title company or attorney that facilitated your closing likely even gave you the forms to fill out. You know - that giant folder of paperwork you get after you sign your life away to buy real estate in Florida? The one that always ends up getting buried in some file folder or box and you can never quite put your finger on where that even ended up in your home? Yes - that one. But don’t worry - if you misplaced that folder and don’t know where those forms are, we have you covered with all of them right here on this page. 

In short, homestead exemption is a constitutional benefit of up to a $50,000 exemption removed from the assessed value of your property. This means, instead of paying property taxes on a $250,000 dollar home, $50,000 of those $250,000 are exempt, and you end up paying taxes on $200,000 instead. Make sense? If you want to take advantage of this exemption, you need to file the official documentation with the county no later than March 1st.

But there is a caveat. The house or condo you bought in Florida must have been your permanent home starting January 1st - and yes - the county does require actual proof for this, and we’ll get into what proof you need in just a bit. 

This means, if you bought your Florida home or condo in December of 2019 just a few weeks ago, as long as you were living in that property by January 1st of this year 2020, you have until March 1st of this year 2020 to file for that exemption and get the extra real estate tax benefits.

2) Who is Eligible to File for an Exemption?

Well, in short, homeowners, who’s names are on the deed, and who live in the home as of January 1st as primary residents of Florida. 

This means you have to hold a valid Florida Driver’s License. I know going to the DMV after you close and getting your driver’s license switched over is a pain, but this is just one of the many reasons why it is crucial to get that done as soon as you close on your Florida property. 

This next part is very important, so come back to us if you are multi-tasking!

Who ISN’T Eligible to file for the Exemption?

Property owners that personally rent out their home or condo, including renting through home-sharing services either temporarily, seasonally, or annually are NOT eligible for the homestead exemption. That means Airbnb, too. Based on the information available directly from the Lee County Property Appraiser’s website - and I quote - “seasonal or temporary rental of the homestead may be considered abandonment of the homestead exemption.” 

Why is this important for you to know? Because many of our buyers, and many buyers from up north in general buy property in Florida to use for 6 months and 1 day, which is the minimum required to be considered a primary resident of Florida. The rest of the year, they intend to rent out the property for “season,” which is usually January through April. We have to advise you to always discuss any rental plans with the appropriate legal advisors to make sure you don’t jeopardize your exemptions. In some cases, renting out a property more than makes up for the tax savings you would get from your homestead exemption, and this is something your accountant or financial advisor can go over with you.

3) Where & How to File for Homestead?

Anytime I’ve had to call the county or property appraiser’s office for anything, which in our line of work is very often, I’ve always found the employees to be extremely helpful. So do not hesitate to call the county and property appraiser’s office. 

Officially, you can file for your homestead exemption by mail, in person, or online. I haven’t found the online filing to be a smooth process, so I highly recommend dropping off your forms in person or via mail, instead. 

Don’t forget this week's download available right here on this page will give you all the details you’ll need in terms of the address for filing in person, the opening hours, applicable phone numbers, and copies of the forms you’ll need to fill out. 

Speaking of forms, in order to fill them out there are a few main things you will need:

  • The completed application form along with:
    • Your FL Drivers License 
    • Evidence of relinquishing your drivers license from your previous state 
    • FL vehicle tag number 
    • FL voter registration or if you aren’t a citizen, your Permanent Resident Alien Card
    • Your Social Security Number
    • Date of Birth
    • Proof of Ownership (deed, Lee County tax bill)
    • Bank statement and checking account mailing address 
    • Proof of payment of utilities at your homestead address 

When filling out the application, you’ll see additional benefits that you can apply for, like some age restricted exemptions, widow or widower exemptions, as well as disability exemptions ranging from veteran to service-related incidents. It’s best to refer to the application itself, or the county for more detailed info on this. 

A Note on Trusts 

Many of our buyers’ properties are in the name of a trust. If this is the case for your property, too, you’ll need to provide a copy of the trust, certificate of the trust, or proof of applicant qualifications as stated in the trust. All trustees must sign the application as Trustee, i.e. John Doe, Trustee of John Doe Trust.

Let’s Summarize: 

You must have bought and lived in your property no later than January 1st of the year, and must file your application for homestead exemption by March 1st of the year. You have to be a primary resident of Florida, and your property cannot be a rental property. 

Would You Be the Best Friend Ever? 

On another note, if you have a friend or a family member that is thinking about buying a place here in Florida or that just bought one, would you please be their best friend ever and forward this episode to them? This is one of the most common things for new Florida homeowners to forget to file with all the hustle and bustle of moving, and once that filing deadline has passed there’s not much you can do. You’ll have to wait to file for the following year, and won’t get your tax break until then. 

Have questions or comments? Email us directly at Brad@FloridaHeritageTeam.com or call us at (239) 908-1310