ST. PETERSBURG — Brad Dieringer's first thought when he opened his property tax bill? Pop a beer.
Taxes for his Euclid-St. Paul home stand to fall almost $660 from last year.
Better to focus on that decrease than the more depressing figure on the notice. His home is worth 25 percent less than last year, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office.
"What else can you do?" said Dieringer, 33, a construction project manager.
Dieringer and his wife, Emily, bought the 1940 home for $205,000 near the market's peak in 2006. They've spent thousands improving its foundation, roof and siding.
Like most Pinellas County homeowners, this year's bill reflected a continual slide in values. Their home is now valued at $94,000.
On average, home values fell 14.6 percent in Pinellas, according to a St. Petersburg Times review of assessments by the Property Appraiser's Office. It was slightly worse than the 13.6 percent decline in Hillsborough County, and the 12.8 percent average loss in Pasco County.
The real estate decline hasn't discriminated, striking ritzy beach enclaves like Belleair Shore and foreclosure-ridden Bartlett Park in St. Petersburg. Both areas saw a roughly 15 percent decrease.
"It's dropping about everywhere," said Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov.
Factoring out businesses, apartment complexes and new construction, nearly every neighborhood dropped. In the few good ones, the average rise was meager, such as 1.5 percent in Historic Roser Park.
"The only reason I can see for it is, people aren't selling," said Debra Camfferman, 56, who has lived in the historic St. Petersburg neighborhood for 14 years.
Harbordale, a community south of downtown dotted with rentals and empty homes, didn't fare as well. Homes there fell 34 percent in value, on average.
Resident Early Bryant, 57, rents a home for $400 but might someday buy, he said. It's tough to even find renters sometimes, he said, but neighbors are trying to keep up. He mowed a vacant house's lawn Thursday.
"I try to keep my alley clean," Bryant said.
Values are as of Jan. 1, and don't include costs for real estate transactions, which drive sale prices higher. But the Pinellas Realtors Organization reported sale prices falling in August from last year, too.
Fewer owners are contesting their values this year, likely because no one wants to quibble with a lower tax bill even though the number means their home is worth less.
Dubov said appeals topped out in 2008, and have been falling since. Last year, there were only 2,900 contested properties.
In isolated instances, Dubov said, some are appealing because they want a higher value to help sell the home.
As real estate rocketed, many people benefited under the Save Our Homes cap that limits taxable value from going up more than 3 percent each year.
Now, values have plummeted so much that 70 percent of owners don't qualify for the cap. The ones who benefit will see their taxable value rise — and probably their tax bill go up — because their home is still assessed below market value. For example, Camfferman will pay $1,412 in property taxes for her Roser Park home, up $65 — despite a market value actually falling $12,000.
The market crash hasn't been enough to erase inequities in Florida's system. Homes with similar values can have drastically different tax values because longtime owners enjoy protection from increases.
"I call it the gotcha of moving to Florida. You're new — gotcha!" said Dieringer, a Texas native, as he rued bigger nearby homes with lower bills.
For example, Ron Wulfeck and his wife, Paulette, stand to pay $57 in property taxes this year. (Yes, that's $57 total.) They've owned their south Dunedin house — valued at $113,000 — since 1987.
"I love my tax bill," said Ron Wulfeck, 72, a retired firefighter.
Even so, their home and neighborhood bear the mark of recession. Wulfeck said he sees a few more renters, and homes selling for drastically less than they would have gone for a few years ago.
He wanted to sell the house and retire to Ohio. That's off until values rise again.
It's the real estate pause. It cuts across homeowners young and old. People just aren't moving.
Jason Jensen, 33, an architect, bought his two-bedroom Crescent Heights home in St. Petersburg in 2002 for $142,000. He watched as the value went up, and now down. In between, he had kids and watched neighboring homes ride the same wave.
Although homes in Crescent Heights lost 15 percent in value on average, Jensen said it's a good place to live. The recession makes him take a harder look at spending money, but he's optimistic about the future there.
He has to be. He won't move soon.
David DeCamp can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.