YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Taxes like yesteryear

The dream: Ditch family digs for a beach home. The dilemma: Property taxes push it out of reach. The solution: For one 55-plus pair, Prop. 60.

May 25, 2008|Patrick Duffy | Special to The Times

Like many other baby boomers, Manhattan Beach residents John Osten, 62, and his wife Rose, 61, were in search of a simpler life.

After raising their family in the "tree" section of this ocean-side city, and with plenty of equity built up during 18 years at their 3,000-square-foot, single-family home, the Ostens were hoping to return to the Strand area adjacent to the city's beach, where they had once lived an active life of surfing, running and biking.

Everything in their grand plan seemed workable except for one thing: the higher property taxes the Ostens would have to pay if they moved. Although they would have been able to sell their existing home for about what a smaller house near the beach would cost, they worried their taxes would quadruple from their existing tax base of just $220,000. Until, that is, the Ostens learned about California Proposition 60.

Proposition 60, a constitutional amendment passed by California voters in 1986, provides tax relief to homeowners older than 55 by allowing them, with certain restrictions, to transfer their existing property tax base to a replacement home of the same or a lesser value within the same county if the transactions take place within a two-year period. In 1990, Proposition 110 extended those same benefits to severely physically disabled homeowners of any age. Proposition 90, approved in 1988, allows California counties to accept an existing property tax base from another participating county.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, May 28, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Manhattan Beach: An article in Sunday's Real Estate section about the tax benefits of Propositions 60 and 90 said the home John and Rose Osten sold in Manhattan Beach's "tree" section was three miles from the beach. The home is about three-quarters of a mile from the beach.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, June 01, 2008 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 12 Features Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Manhattan Beach: A May 25 article about the tax benefits of Propositions 60 and 90 stated that the home John and Rose Osten sold in Manhattan Beach's "tree" section was three miles from the beach. The home is about three-quarters of a mile from the beach.

The savings in taxes was the deciding factor for the Ostens to sell their larger home three miles from the beach for $880,000 and buy -- for $1,000 less -- a three-level house on a lot shared with another home just steps from the sand.

"I really could not have afforded to get back to the beach," said John Osten, who credits real estate agents Serene and Barry Sulpor for telling him about the money-saving tip and following up with the paperwork.

The Sulpors, a Shorewood Realtors husband-and-wife team covering the South Bay region for 20 years, said they are seeing the use of this tax break increase as boomers begin to retire and look to trade more spacious homes in the suburbs for smaller ones, often in lifestyle-oriented locations near golf courses, lakes and beaches.

"It's becoming more and more popular," Serene Sulpor said, "but we're often surprised at how unfamiliar people are with the law."

Consequently, the Sulpors strongly recommend sellers work with agents and escrow companies familiar with the necessary paperwork to ensure that all rules are followed and deadlines met.

Benefit can be used once

For one, there are numerous restrictions for eligibility: either a single person or a spouse must be at least 55 years of age when selling the original property, the replacement property must be a principal residence with a current market value equal to or less than the original principal residence, and the new property must be purchased or built within two years of the first home being sold. Moreover, because homeowners can benefit from Proposition 60 only once, it's important to choose that second home wisely.

But Proposition 60 covers only property transfers within the same county. Proposition 90 allows broader existing property tax base transfers -- but only if the county in which the replacement property is located chooses to participate.

So far Proposition 90 has not proved very popular, with only seven of the state's 58 counties allowing these inter-county exchanges, and several others passing ordinances in favor of it, then rescinding them later. So, although Southern California residents over 55 who live in the counties of Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego can downsize and keep their existing tax base, those who might consider a move to retirement areas around Riverside County's Coachella Valley (including the cities of Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and La Quinta), the vast mountain areas of San Bernardino County or even much of the San Francisco Bay Area, are out of luck.

Riverside County rescinded its ordinance allowing Proposition 90. According to Larry Ward, the tax assessor for Riverside County, his office received several thousand applications between 1990 and 1995 -- an average of 1,200 to 1,500 per year -- but a financial analysis discovered ongoing losses from the assessment roles, so the county Board of Supervisors decided to repeal participation in 1995.

Given that Ward still receives regular calls about the now-defunct law -- and must inform potential applicants that county leaders have yet to consider reinstatement -- he suggests that some sort of means test or income cap for eligibility might help persuade more counties to enact it.

Los Angeles Times Articles