What a Florida Homeowner Should Know

Do you own your home free and clear, or have considerable equity in it? If so your property is extremely valuable, whether you hope to stay and “age in place”, to sell it to finance a safe and affordable retirement plan, or to provide a home for family in years to come. This fact sheet provides information to help you make informed decisions about how to protect your property and your investment.

Why do I keep getting calls about selling my house?

One reason is that the current market is very profitable for real estate investors who buy homes for a relatively low price, only to re-sell them at a much higher price. As part of the deal, these investors may offer to pay your back taxes or a construction or other lien, or even probate the property if the title is in doubt.

Is it bad to sell to one of these investors?

For most people their home is their most valuable asset. Deciding whether to sell is a major financial and lifestyle decision which should be made carefully. Many investors in the marketplace use high-pressure techniques to make a homeowner accept their offer immediately. These investors don’t give homeowners an opportunity to find out what their house is actually worth, or to consult with trusted friends or relatives about the wisdom of selling at that time or under the terms offered. All too often those who sell under pressure find they accepted a low price and gave up their paid-for house without time to make adequate alternative housing plans, and without receiving enough to finance an affordable replacement.

How do I find out how much my homestead property is worth?

There is no one measure but there are several good indicators. Every county has a Property Appraiser who determines the value of your homestead property for property tax purposes. The information is available online or by calling the Appraiser’s office. Though the Property Appraiser’s valuation is usually less than “the going price,” it can give you a starting point. Also, many property appraisers’ websites give comparable sales for the area, which can be helpful. Finally, a licensed Florida real estate professional can help you determine a realistic asking price; getting more than one realtor’s opinion is often very helpful.

My house needs repairs I cannot afford. Should I consider selling?

Before you consider selling, research whether you are eligible for home repair or rehabilitation programs which would make the repairs affordable for you. For example, many counties and cities have special loans and grants designed to help homeowners make essential repairs or modifications to accommodate the needs of an aging or disabled household member. Contact your county and/or city for more information about “Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Assistance” in your area to see what’s available and whether you might qualify.

A contractor told me that my taxes will cover energy-saving improvements. Is that true?

NO. Here is the truth: A type of financing called a PACE loan is authorized in some Florida counties. A PACE loan allows a homeowner to finance “green” or “energy-saving” improvements like solar panels, certain types of windows, and/or air conditioners by adding the expense to their property taxes. Instead of paying the contractor directly, the homeowner pays for the improvement by means of a special property tax assessment, which can amount to thousands of dollars. In other words, the homeowner’s tax bill can be much, much higher than usual due to the PACE obligation. Also, a PACE-financed improvement can make it more difficult to sell your property. BEFORE agreeing to an energy-saving improvement, determine whether it will be PACE-financed and what that will mean for you, your property taxes and your ability to sell your property in the future.

A contractor says he can help me with my homeowner’s insurance claim for house repairs. Is that a good idea?

In many cases, often after a disaster like a hurricane when a homeowner can be overwhelmed, a contractor will offer not only to do the repair work, but also to handle the homeowner’s insurance claim. Some contractors also ask a homeowner to sign an Assignment of Benefits (AOB), in which case the insurance company will then deal directly – and often only – with the contractor. The office of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer offers excellent information on the pros and cons of these AOB contracts, and provides important information on the first steps you should take if your home is damaged. Review their website and/or call the CFO’s Consumer Helpline, 1-877-693-5236, for details BEFORE signing an AOB contract. https://www.myfloridacfo.com/division/consumers/assignmentofbenefits

How do I know whether my name is on the deed?

One way to determine how your home is officially titled is to start with the Property Appraiser for your county. Search for your address. The Appraiser’s record begins with the name of the legal owner/s associated with that address and usually contains a link to the deed for that property in the county’s Official Records. Call the Property Appraiser if you have questions or need assistance with this search process.

What if my name is not on the deed to the house I live in?

It depends on why the deed is not in your name. Perhaps you inherited the property but you never officially probated the estate of the person who left the property to you. In that case, it may be necessary to probate the estate and have the title transferred by court order. Consult an attorney for more information about this and other situations involving title and to learn about your options.

I signed a quitclaim deed. Can I change my mind?

Usually, the signature of a competent seller on a properly executed deed (witnessed, notarized) is legal and binding. However, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible to determine whether the deed is valid in your particular case and/or whether the circumstances of the signing affect the legality of the transaction.