Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Misleads Citizens

Riptide has a friend named Betty, who earlier this year picked up a two-bedroom condo on Brickell Avenue for $109,000. Betty got the unit at a bargain because it was in foreclosure. But you wouldn't know that by checking the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser's online property search database, a tool used by everybody from real estate agents to regular folks to help determine selling prices.

A search of Betty's purchase shows she paid $340,000 in 2006. That's the price the person who lost the condo paid. And it's not just Betty. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Natacha Seijas bought a three-bedroom house in Hialeah last year for $225,000. Yet the online property records show she forked over $320,822 in 2006.

It is not an anomaly but standard practice for Miami-Dade property appraiser Pedro J. Garcia, who elects not to list sale information on foreclosed properties — a practice allowed by the Florida Department of Revenue. By comparison, Broward County posts the sale prices of foreclosed property but does not count them on the tax rolls.

Leaving out sale information on foreclosed properties obscures trends affecting Miami-Dade's troubled housing market, according to local blogger and community activist Alan Farago, who uncovered the problem. "How can anyone use the property appraiser's data to say the housing market is stabilizing?" he asks. "It creates a false impression."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.