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Some candidates inflate value of their homes on documents

When it came to valuing homes in a depressed market, many political candidates went with what their county property appraisers said the houses are worth.

Others, like House 45 candidate Kathryn Starkey, were more optimistic.

Starkey put the value of her home in the upscale Aristida development at $750,000 — about 47 percent higher than the $509,123 market value assigned by Pasco Property Appraiser Mike Wells last year.

The instructions on the candidates' financial disclosure forms say real estate "may be valued at its market value for tax purposes, unless a more accurate appraisal of its fair market value is available."

Starkey said Wells' number was too low and that her husband, Trey, a developer familiar with the real estate market, estimated the higher figure.

"He estimated it based on what it's worth," she said. "I didn't overvalue my house."

One of her opponents in the House race, Fabian Calvo took an entirely different tack: He did not even acknowledge the Clearwater house he owns with his wife.

He did, however, list his share of various real estate holdings, as well as the values of his stocks, bonds and precious metals.

Calvo said in an e-mail Tuesday that he was busy this week and did not have time to answer questions.

Calvo's Clearwater home is outside the House 45 district. According to Pinellas Property Appraiser, the market value is $248,608. The couple paid $425,000 for it in 2005.

Calvo has said he would move into the district if elected.

The instructions make clear that assets in the candidate's name, worth more than $1,000, should be listed.

Starkey and Calvo are two of the three Republicans running for the District 45 seat that represents parts of Pasco and Pinellas counties. The third candidate, Richard Corcoran, rents his home in Longleaf.

The Florida Commission on Ethics, which oversees the forms, does not audit them and only responds to complaints or requests for clarification, a spokeswoman said.

While Calvo's omission seems a little unusual, Starkey wasn't alone in going with her own value this year.

For instance, Ken Littlefield, a Republican candidate for Pasco County Commission, listed his Wesley Chapel home as having a $189,000 value, higher than the $125,514 market value assigned by the Pasco property appraiser's office.

He also valued his Tallahassee condo at $199,000 — significantly higher than the $166,000 he paid for it in 2007 and the $94,050 market value provided by the Leon County appraiser. He said he used those higher values because they were the asking prices.

Littlefield later said he made a mistake in doing so.

Rep. John Legg, a Port Richey Republican, noted that when he ran in 2004, gauging values was difficult because property appraisers' values were generally lower than what people would pay for the homes.

His consultants urged him then not to undervalue the home, lest someone accuse him of hiding assets.

This year, Legg, who won reelection by not drawing a challenger, listed his house at $130,000, higher than the value of $75,985 that was listed by the property appraiser's office for last year's tax bills.

Legg said he had an appraisal done three years ago that showed a value of $165,000 on the home. He said he considered that market values near his home had depreciated about 15 percent and came up with the $130,000 figure.

"I look at the property appraiser's (website) and look at what's going on in the surrounding homes," he said. "I take it seriously because someone could file an ethics complaint about those numbers."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Some candidates inflate value of their homes on documents 06/30/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 8:47pm]
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