Frequently Asked Questions

Are Assessed Values on the Web Site Correct?

The values that are presented on our web site are not certified values. During the year the Property Appraiser is analyzing and modifying the assessments throughout the year, so the values are being changed. If you need certified values, please contact the office. Income based assessments used on certain commercial properties only show a cost approach value conclusion on the web site, which can be considerably different than the income model value. The Property Record Search screen identifies the most recent update for the information available on the site.

What Percent of the Market Values on the Tax Roll?

With the exception of classified agriculture property, values shown on the web site represent "just value". This is a value which excludes any consideration of cost of sale, such as real estate commissions, or cost of purchase, such as mortgage expenses. It represents a cash value, based on a knowledgeable, willing buyer, and a seller under no undue compulsion to sell – an "arm's length" transaction. There is no single percentage that all properties are appraised at. Since the real estate market is dynamic, we find that there is a wide range of percentages that our assessed values fall within. Most would fall within the general range of 80-90% of recorded sale price. Classified agricultural values only take into consideration the value based on consideration of the commercial agricultural use of the property.

How Much are the Property Taxes on the Property?

The tax collector handles all revenue collection for the county. You may access tax information on their web site at www.hctaxcollector.com Since the Property Appraiser is only responsible for the exemptions and valuation of property, no information is in our database regarding some items that appear on the tax bill, such as special assessments for solid waste collection, or fire and road improvement districts.

Will You Appraise My Property for Me?

The Highlands County Property Appraiser performs appraisal work solely for the purpose of developing the county tax roll. If you need an appraisal for a bank loan or other purpose, you will need to contact a qualified real estate appraiser. You will find a listing in the local telephone directory under Real Estate Appraisers or Appraisers.

Beware of offers to "lower your taxes"

It is possible that homeowners (primarily new homeowners without homestead exemption) may receive mailings offering them a reduction in taxable value. This turns out to be equivalent to the savings offered by homestead exemption. The services offered (for a fee) are generally nothing more than information on how to obtain a homestead exemption. Information needed to obtain a homestead exemption is provided to you on this site. Also, we would like to remind you that exemptions are available without charge to anyone that qualifies. The procedure is simple and straightforward and can be accomplished in a matter of minutes at our office or during our visits to municipal sites in the county.

What is The Value Adjustment Board?

The Value Adjustment Board (VAB) is created by Florida Statute and is comprised of three members of the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners and two members of the Highlands District School Board.

The VAB members may hear the petitions themselves. However, due to the complexity of the petitions, they elect to appoint Special Masters who are qualified real estate appraisers, personal property appraisers and attorneys. The Special Masters are independent of the Property Appraiser's Office. The Property Appraiser's Office is merely a party before the Special Master just as the petitioner is.

The Special Masters conduct the hearings and make recommendations to the VAB as to whether the value established by the office exceeds the Fair Market Value of the property as of January 1 or if the petitioner is entitled to an exemption, or if agricultural classification is legal.

A completed notarized petition form must be filed with the Clerk of the VAB prior to the deadline appearing on your TRIM notice. Petition forms are available for download from the Clerk of Courts website. Forms are also available at the Property Appraiser's office. A $15 filing fee per parcel is required.

Further information can be found in the Department of Revenue brochure on VAB Petititons.

How Do I Prove My Case?

VAB hearings before Special Masters are quasi-judicial. While you don't need an attorney or an approved agent, you can be represented by one.

In valuation disagreements, the best way to prove your case is to produce evidence regarding sales of comparable properties that sold the previous year, prior to January 1, or provide an appraisal of the just value of the property based on the same criteria required by law for the Property Appraiser to consider. In exemption denials, you must offer proof that you were entitled to the exemption as of January 1st of the applicable year. The Clerk of the VAB will send you notice of your scheduled hearing time.

At the hearing, the Special Master will ask you to present your evidence first. Next our appraisers will present evidence concerning our estimate of your property's Market Value. After any questions, you as the petitioner are usually given the opportunity to make any closing remarks.

After the hearing, the Special Master will make a written recommendation of "Findings of Fact" and "Conclusions of Law" to the VAB. The Clerk of the VAB will mail you a copy of the "Record of Decision" within 20 days after the VAB has rendered its decision.

What Can the Value Adjustment Board Do?

In the case of either real or personal property value petitions, the VAB can only determine whether our estimate of value did or did not exceed Fair Market Value. In the case of exemptions, the VAB can only determine if the exemption should legally be granted or not.

The VAB cannot make decisions based on hardships such as living on a fixed income or an inability to pay increased taxes. However, you may be eligible for a tax deferral or installment plan administered through the Tax Collector's Office. The fact that your value increased from last year is not by itself the basis for a reduction of value, as each year's value stands on its own merits.

The VAB and the Property Appraiser's Office do not set the millage rates and have no jurisdiction over taxes. Millage rates are set by the individual taxing authorities (County, City, School Board and Water Management Districts).

What Happens After the Decision?

No further action is required on your part if you agree with the VAB decision. However, if you disagree with the decision, you may file a lawsuit in Circuit Court pursuant to Florida Statute 194.171.

Even if you do not file a petition before the VAB, you may file a lawsuit within prescribed time limits.

What is Market Value?

Finding the market value of your property is simply a matter of discovering the price most people would pay for it in the shape it's in today.

That is the Property Appraiser's job. He is an appraiser of property. It's not quite that simple, however, because he has to find what this value would be for every piece of property in the County, no matter how big or how small.

There are basically two kinds of appraisal: mass appraisal, in which a community is revalued for tax purposes; and fee appraisal, in which only one piece of property is being appraised, often used in conjunction with mortgages. Both types of appraisal utilize the same appraisal process. In mass appraisal, large numbers of properties are appraised at one time by adopting standard techniques so that equity of appraisal might be achieved between all properties. This office only does mass appraisal.

Highlands County has about 1,029 square miles of land area covering approximately 658,000 acres. In fact he has to find the values for around 110,000 individual parcels of land and the 50,000 buildings on them, 6,000 business accounts, and 9,000 tangible personal property mobile home accounts, 95,000 acres of citrus lands, and thousands of acres of pasture and farm lands.

In addition to appraising property, the Property Appraiser must administer over 24,000 homestead exemptions, determine property entitled to agricultural classification, determine the eligibility of certain religious, charitable, educational, scientific, and governmental properties for tax exemptions, as well as administer widow, widower, and disability exemptions.

Why Appraised Value Changes from Year to Year

The property tax is ad valorem, that is, it is based solely upon value.

When market value changes, naturally so does appraised value. For instance, if you were to increase the total market value of your property by building a swimming pool in your back yard, the appraised value would increase proportionately.

Similarly, should your property's value be decreased by a fire, the appraised value would decrease to show the downward effect of this damage on the market value of your property.

Collection and updating of information is very important in the appraisal process. Our field appraisers do make physical inspections of properties periodically in order to review condition, quality, and size of structures. This is done throughout selected neighborhoods, in addition to those properties on which building permits are issued.

In fact, the economy of the entire community affects your appraised value. Since, for example, the economy of Highlands County has been growing steadily over the years and more and more people have taken up residence here, property values within most of the County have increased.

The Property Appraiser has not created value; he simply has the legal responsibility to discover it as it exists and appraise the property accordingly, since people establish value by their transactions in the market place.

How May Property Qualify for Agriculture Classification?

To qualify land for Agricultural classification , a application must be filed with the Property Appraiser before March 1st of the tax year. Only lands which are used for bona fide agricultural purposes shall be classified agricultural. "Bona Fide Agricultural Purposes" means good faith commercial agricultural use of the land.

Lands which are not being used for, or are diverted from agricultural use, will not be considered for agricultural classification

Frequently Asked Questions About Agricultural Classification

1. Do I have to reapply every year?
No, once you have received the greenbelt classification it is automatically renewed annually. To obtain verification of your agriculture classification, you may print a property card from our website or you may call our office.

2. Will a dwelling on my property cause my parcel to be ineligible for greenbelt classification?
No, the parcel could still qualify. The home site will not be valued as classified agriculture, but will be assessed at just value.

3. Should I notify the Property Appraiser if I push out citrus trees?
Yes. Each year the assessment is based on the status January 1. We will update our records to reflect the status of your citrus grove as of that date. If you have pushed out trees, the assessment on that acreage will be adjusted. Normally, this will reduce the assessment on your grove by bringing the value back to base land value without any value showing for the trees.

4. What precautions does the Property Appraiser take when conducting a physical inspection of my citrus grove?
It is our current office policy to avoid entering citrus groves due to disease concerns. If a grove owner desires a physical inspection this can be arranged to their satisfaction.

5. Are adjustments made to citrus assessments due to disease?
Yes. When we determine that production is being affected by disease, we make allowances in our assessed values. This is also the case with freeze damage.

6. What varieties of citrus are assessed individually?
Currently the Property Appraiser has separate value schedules for: Early/Mid Round Oranges; Valencia; Mixed Round Oranges; White Grapefruit; Colored Grapefruit; Temple/Tangelo/Navel; Early Tangerine; Dancy Tangerine; Murcott (Honey) Tangerine.

7. Are distinctions made for different rootstocks in citrus assessments?
No. The Property Appraiser cannot differentiate this information with accuracy in our database. Also, the impact on citrus production is unknown. Typical production for each variety within various age groupings is utilized in our assessment model.