A small price to preserve quality of life

From the publisher: James F. Bailey Jr.

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  • | 12:00 p.m. October 14, 2013
  • Realty Builder
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We are a good two weeks into the 2013-14 Jacksonville budget — one that came with a 14 percent property tax increase for most of Duval County.

The City Council's actions marked a turning of the corner here, moving away from a string of budgets that cut or held the line on tax increases while chronically reducing services.

It was a political direction that has been having an obvious and direct impact on our quality of life.

It's interesting to me that during the three months of summer debate, the normally conservative Realtor and builder communities did not issue any formal opposition to raising taxes, nor offer up many complaints.

Is it because the professionals in those industries know that a city that closes libraries, shuts down fire stations and fails to maintain parks while laying off police officers will fail as a marketplace for new residents and home sales?

While the Northeast Florida Builders Association didn't take an official position on the increase, its president knows the importance of quality of life to the industry.

"Quality of life is close to the top of the list for developers and builders, because they know how important it is to home buyers," said Dennis Ginder. "People want a place to live where families can be safe, have essential services and access to recreational and education opportunities."

His words echo those of a JAX Chamber spokesman about making sure those services are in place when a business is considering moving to Jacksonville — and bringing employees who will be looking to build or buy existing homes.

"What it boils down to is basic needs they (the businesses) expect from a city," said Dan Dawson, director of communications for the chamber. "You have to make sure they're as good, if not better, than a lot of the cities we're competing with."

Dawson talked about the danger of cutting budgets year after year — and the importance of knowing when that has to end.

"Eventually you come to point where you cut and you cut and you cut, and you can't cut anymore," he said.

The modest tax increase — about $140 per year for a homesteaded residence valued at $150,000 — is a small price to pay for the $61 million it brought in and the services and jobs it saved.

It's not expected to hamper the real estate industry or recruiting businesses to town.

Ginder said his organization is seeing gains in new home construction and doesn't foresee a negative impact from the tax increase.

"Given current market conditions, we don't believe this tax increase will impair the construction of new homes in Duval County," he said.

Melanie Green, communications director for Northeast Florida Association of Realtors, said the group has "no data to show that the (tax) increase will impact home sales, particularly as the increase is not substantial."

Even with the tax increase, Jacksonville residents still have a relatively low tax burden compared to other major cities in Florida. It's a matter of finding the balance between a low cost of living with a high quality of life.

"It comes down to this: Do you want to be known as the cheapest city to live in or the best city to live in?" Dawson said. "That's a big decision."

It is a big decision – and one that the council made very well.

Interesting trends

Now that home sales are on the uptick, a couple of interesting things are going on in the real estate industry.

The first is a report that says one of the biggest challenges in the rebounding market is the difficulty in attracting younger talent in an industry where the average agent is 57.

The 2013 Thought Leader Survey by Imprev Marketing Technologies shows that real estate companies and top executives see recruiting new talent as their "most pressing concern."

The shortage is brought on in large part because many in the industry are nearing or reaching retirement.

The average age of the American worker is 41, while the average age of the real estate agent is 57.

The second interesting thing going on is the shortage of inventory homes to sell in a market filled with buyers.

The National Association of Realtors has started running a television commercial called "Sidelines," which basically urges homeowners to make a decision now to put their homes up for sale. (If you haven't seen the commercial, you can view it at bit.ly/NARsidelines)

Hoping to stimulate an increase in inventory, the commercial addresses the human nature to be nervous and hesitant when it comes to making big decisions. It demonstrates that stalling tendency by showing a pre-teen boy working up the courage to ask a girl to dance, a father trying to coax his young daughter to jump in the pool and a nervous young man fumbling with the ring and struggling to pop the question.

The ad makes it clear there is a big need for inventory in a market with a flood of buyers, making now an ideal time to put a home on the market.

The message is obvious: Do it. Make the decision. Take the plunge. Now's the right time to put your home on the market.

— Jim Bailey is publisher of Realty/Builder Connection and president of Bailey Publishing & Communications Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]