tampabay.com

Tax vote opens gate to upscale hideaway

By JAMES THORNER, (Un)Real Estate
Published February 1, 2008


Iasked a simple question and got a surprising answer.

My query for David Denslow, a top economist from the University of Florida, was how property tax reform would help Florida attract the baby boomer retirees Realtors are counting on to resurrect their careers. After all, the portability provision, which allows in-state residents to transfer their tax breaks to a new house, doesn't apply to the out-of-state retirees who have historically buttered Florida's bread.

Denslow didn't miss a beat: Richer retirees will flock to our fair peninsula. Many poorer ones will be opt for Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

If Denslow's right and Florida is becoming a more economically exclusive state, I think it's significant news for the housing market.

True, some parts of the home market may suffer if migrating New Yorkers and Ohioans turn right before reaching Jacksonville. Migration from other states slowed last year to a relative trickle, although foreign immigrants are picking up some of the slack.

But I can't help thinking a richer state will be a nicer state. People will happily pay more for a house if it means a better-quality life.

The transformation's already begun in place like Pasco County, where new homes are socked with more than $10,000 in fees to pay for infrastructure like roads, libraries, schools and parks.

Homes now have garages - many of them three-car - not just car ports. We demand trees and landscaping, not just sand-blasted moonscapes developers foisted on buyers decades ago. Restaurants will have to transcend fast food chains and $5 grouper sandwiches. And try selling a house to a young family without a soccer field or pool in the vicinity.

There's something to be said for cheap living. But we're not just a poor man's paradise anymore, where a high school dropout from New York could start anew or penniless retirees could camp out in a trailer on the gulf. California was once a dusty place full of miners and Spanish missions. But its beauty, climate and vitality have made the state a desirable location worth paying for.

I know some still pine for the Old Florida of sweating under the tin roof, of Johnny Reb and Yankee Go Home. But the state's going more upscale, like it or not. In approving tax reform this week, voters unknowingly nudged that transformation along.

Tampa Bay: Look to Sarasota and Naples and glimpse your future. Better get used to having filet mignon with those grits.

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com. Read his UnReal Estate blog at blogs.tampabay.com/real estate.