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Saturday, May 9, 2009


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - May 8, 2009 - Having approved a $66.5 billion state budget, the 2009 Florida Legislature adjourned.

For the Florida real estate industry, the budget includes several gems. Perhaps the shiniest: $30.1 million for downpayment assistance programs. Beginning July 1, those who qualify for the federal first-time homebuyers tax credit will be able to apply for downpayment assistance in advance of closing, and then repay the amount borrowed when they get their tax refund.

"What an incredible opportunity for thousands of families," says Cynthia Shelton, 2009 FAR president. "The beauty of this program is that the state will be paid back and, conceivably, more potential homebuyers could take advantage prior to the Dec. 1 expiration of the $8,000 federal first time homebuyer tax credit."

The program will operate through local county housing administrators, though details are still being worked out. Keep reading FAR's EarlyBird e-news and checking the home page of floridarealtors.org for updates.

The state spending plan passed today also includes the following for real estate-related programs:

• Up to $400,000 to prevent, combat and publicize the dangers of unlicensed real estate activity in Florida.

• $540,000 to continue and complete a study to make recommendations on passive strategies on nitrogen reduction that complement the use of onsite wastewater treatment systems.

• $3 million in the Real Estate Trust Fund for the Education and Research Foundation.

• A reduction in the eviction filing fees from $265 to $180 - the only fee reduction in the 2009-10 budget and one with a negative fiscal impact of up to $36 million.

Even though the session was extended to today for the purpose of budget negotiations, all non-budget legislation was finalized last Friday. Here are the highlights reported previously:

• SJR 532, a constitutional amendment that will ask voters to limit increases in property tax assessments on all non-homestead properties to 5 percent annually. First-time homebuyers could benefit, too, with an additional homestead exemption up to $100,000.

• HB 521, a bill that puts the burden of proving that a property tax assessment is correct on the appraiser, not the property owner.

• In the area of property insurance, the Legislature capped rate increases at 10 percent per year for Citizens policyholders (HB 1495). The Legislature also repealed the requirement that, effective Jan. 1, 2010, sellers of property located in a wind-borne debris region, and which has an insured value on the structure of $500,000 or more, provide prospective buyers the structure's windstorm mitigation rating.

• The growth management bill (SB 360) FAR supported passed as a big package. It includes a provision to encourage urban infill by eliminating transportation concurrency, one that allows for expedited comprehensive plan reviews, and another that eliminates the development of regional impact process (DRIs) in urban areas. The bill also extends previously obtained permits and approvals by two years, creates a transition process for moving towards a mobility fee system, and streamlines and reduces inefficiency in the state's approach to growth management

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