When it was time for Allison Newlon, Democratic candidate for property appraiser, to list the value of her 100-year-old home on a financial disclosure form, she disregarded the opinion of her potential opponent, 16-year incumbent Mike Wells.
"The just value reported on the property card of $125,357 does not reflect the true market value of my home in today's marketplace," said Newlon, a real estate broker. Newlon and her husband, Tim, a certified public accountant, decided their 2,500-square-foot home was worth $230,000. So that's what's on the disclosure form.
She said her house in San Antonio, with original pine floors and two "updated bathrooms," is hard to quantify. Comparable homes that sold in the last nine months cost more per square foot than the value she used for her own home.
"I stand behind my opinion of value as reported on my disclosure," she said.
Wells defended his assessment of her house, which he said reflects no improvements as there is no record of permits being pulled. He said the house is worth $145,000 to $150,000 "tops."
He said he'd be glad to have a staffer inspect the house and adjust the value, just as he does for anyone who disagrees with his assessment.
"If she wants to do it quickly, I can have it done before the TRIM notices go out," said Wells, who is facing his first re-election challenge since 1996. Private appraiser Walter Price Jr. is seeking to unseat Wells as the GOP nominee.
But Newlon isn't the only Pasco candidate to disagree with Wells' assessments.
Commission candidate Kathryn Starkey listed her Trinity home at $600,000. Wells' office said it is worth $388,992.
"I would never sell it for $388,000," she said. "My house is worth a lot more than that. We're very comfortable with the value we're putting on our house."
According to the instructions on the disclosure form, real estate "may be valued at its market value for tax purposes, unless a more accurate appraisal of its fair market value is available."
Wade Barber, the deputy property appraiser under Wells, said their appraisals reflect the property's fair market value. But state law says the figure must be reduced by reasonable costs to sell the home, including commissions and closing costs. He said that difference is usually about 15 percent.
Commissioner Jack Mariano listed his Hudson home at $240,000, though it's appraised at $112,395. He said he included the same value as his disclosure from last year, figuring his home's value hadn't fallen by much.
"If you went back to look at it from years ago, what the numbers were, it's stepped down," he said. "I don't think I changed it from this year to last year."
Several candidates — including Republican tax collector candidate Ed Blommel, Sheriff Chris Nocco and judicial candidate Frank Grey — said their higher values come from independent appraisals of their homes. The difference was stark for Grey, who said his home is worth $316,00, compared to the appraiser's figure of $158,837. "I wouldn't sell my house for that unless I was forced to," he said.
Most of the other judicial candidates listed significantly higher values — and they were surprised to find out the appraiser's numbers.
"I'm really shocked," Joseph Poblick said after being told his Zephyrhills rental property is valued at $46,847. He listed it at $110,000. Like many others, Poblick would like to sell the house but can't find a buyer. He estimated his family has put $150,000 worth of work into the house, including a new addition.
Eva Vergos bought her house for $425,000 in 2006. She figured, with the depressed economy, an estimate of $400,000 would be correct. Wells' office said it is worth $181,028.
"We owe more than that on it," she said, "so there's no way we would sell it at that price."
She also owns another property she estimated is worth $150,000. The appraiser said it's worth $58,577.
Several candidates — surprise! — simply used Wells' figure.
"I'm not a real estate expert, so I just used what the property appraiser has," said Clerk of Courts Paula O'Neil. "I don't know how else to do it."
Some candidates didn't include their home on the disclosure form, but most — such as commission hopeful Ron Oakley — have their property under their spouse's name.
That's not the case for Rep. Richard Corcoran's GOP primary opponent, Strother Hammond of Land O'Lakes. He simply didn't include the $126,659 home that he and his wife own. He didn't respond Friday to messages for comment.
Michael Kennedy is in a three-way winner-take-all state House primary with longtime lawmaker Mike Fasano and party activist James Mathieu. He valued his Hudson home at $50,000, compared with Wells' value of $21,587. Kennedy also owns seven other properties, and all but one were listed at more than double Wells' figure.
"Do you really know anybody who sells their house at the property appraiser's values?" said Kennedy, who assigned his own values. "If you do, have them give me a call. I'll buy it."
Wells — who valued his own home 19 percent higher than the figure from his own office — was jovial about all of the discrepancies: "I'd like to have a dollar for every time someone disagreed with my values."
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