Property Taxes, Vacation, & Friendship with the 1%

We sneaked away this weekend for a last-minute beach retreat, courtesy of the 1%.  Ridiculously luxurious surroundings, a feast for the armchair architect, but eventually I kept thinking the place needed an overhaul from Extreme Makeover, Monastery Edition — too much rich food begins to wear.  (All the same: Lovely weekend and we are very grateful to our patron.)

But here’s what I want:  Property tax reform that protects middle-class vacation retreats. My arguments:

1. There’s a legitimate need for retreat.  To withdraw to some quiet, natural place and just be very quiet.  It would seem self-indulgent except that even the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal  agree.

2. For married people with children, a house or cabin or apartment with amenities for children seems appropriate.

3.  In much of the world, there is a real shortage of monasteries set up for the drooling / yelling / jumping-on-the-bed set.

4.  But it’s not so hard to find a nice quiet place near a good Catholic parish church.

5. Somebody’s got to own the house.

But here is what is happening in my state: 

1. Ordinary families with normal middle-class incomes purchase land in some remote, unpopular, but peaceful location.

2. They erect a frugal structure suitable for family retreats.

3. For a while, family, friends, and guests (including complete strangers on tight budgets looking for a rental cheaper than a hotel), get to enjoy the retreat.

4. Then the area becomes popular, rich people buy up neighboring properties (no complaints there, rich people need retreats too), and land values rise.

5. So what?  You still have your humble little family cabin.

6. Until property taxes are raised to reflect the increase of land values.

7. And your family has to sell the retreat.  Because the taxes are so ridiculously high.  The buyer bulldozes your cabin and builds a beautiful, tasteful, mini-mansion that rents for more than anyone you know can afford.

8.  And then you don’t have anywhere to go.

9.  And you know that if you buy a little retreat somewhere else, the same thing will happen again.

I guess one could argue that if you take the windfall from selling the place then you’re so much happier with all that cash from your investment.  Except that a) you weren’t trying to invest for cash, you just wanted a family vacation cabin b) my experience is that the finances don’t end up working that well.  The general consensus is that the family well-being was greater when the family had the cabin.

I’m not sure how you do this in a way that protects the family cabin without also making it easy for land magnates to hoard vast stretches for future development and not pay taxes on their accumulation.  But that’s what I want.

9 thoughts on “Property Taxes, Vacation, & Friendship with the 1%

  1. I am laughing, but in that sad sort of way. This is not a problem I’ve ever considered. Around here, there are no “remote, unpopular, peaceful” retreats. Everywhere remote is popular, somehow.

    But, I do see the frustration. I think it is easily solved. The state has a homesteader’s exemption for seniors. If they’ve lived in their home for ten years, they don’t pay property tax. That is, until the state needs the cash. Then they waive the exemptions and charge everyone. Or, the poor soul moves to a smaller single family home (as opposed to a retirement home or assisted living facility) and ends up paying again.

    So, maybe it’s not a perfect solution. 😉 Or maybe the state should just learn how to budget and balance it, too. Sometimes I think I ask too much. lol

    1. I’m laughing because I just wrote a defense of vacation homes. : – ).

      “Or maybe the state should just learn how to budget and balance it, too. Sometimes I think I ask too much. ”

      Ditto. Ditto ditto ditto.

    2. If they’ve lived in their home for ten years, they don’t pay property tax.

      Perhaps a better solution is for their property tax to be frozen at a certain level. I am not a big fan of certain groups getting a wholesale waiver on paying taxes!

      (And it makes me irate when I read stories about people who are too poor to do whatever – buy their own health insurance or whatever the cause is – who admit they are getting paid under the table. Great. So I pay almost 50% on my meager self-employed earnings while other people cheat? Doesn’t sit well with me.)

  2. Factotum — definitely agreed that if you have more than one home, you aren’t ‘poor’. I generally prefer income taxes over property taxes for a variety of reasons. But setting that aside, in the vacation-cabin scenario, I think the main thing is avoiding penalizing people for having an inflow of wealthy neighbors. Something where the land-appraisal has a ceiling at purchase price (possibly with an adjustment for general inflation, ie 1 or 2 % a year, something modest), and the building value holding steady in a similar way, only going up with actual additions and improvements (not mere maintenance).

    I don’t know. You can’t have a perfect system without being ridiculously complex. But I really dislike the whole thing where gentrification promotes instability.

    1. That’s why freezing the taxes is better than waiving them. One would assume that when a person buys a vacation home, she takes the taxes into account. But having them waived altogether is not appropriate.

      When I lived in Miami, there was a ballot measure (I think I am remembering this properly) to waive property taxes for anyone over 65. A lot of the proponents were saying this was fair because the retirees didn’t have kids in school any more.

      We don’t have any children, yet we pay property taxes! If that’s going to be the rule, then I would like my $4,500 annual tax bill waived, please.

      1. Agreed.

        I don’t have kids in school either. But if they ever start basing taxation on library usage, I’m sunk*.

        [Weirdly, I always think of property taxes as going for things like police / fire / rescue. Things directly related to having property. And roads.]

        *Actually now that my children can read, I’ve paid about three librarian’s salaries in lost book fees. It was much better back when I read to them. Literacy is overrated.

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