The Real Deal Miami

Beating the incumbent, Carlos Lopez-Cantera elected Miami-Dade Property Appraiser

Challenger vowed new appraisal standards would lower property taxes
By Alexander Britell | August 16, 2012 11:15AM

Carlos Lopez-Cantera

Former Florida House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera has won his race against incumbent Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia. In a close election, Lopez-Cantera, a onetime industrial Realtor and longtime politician, received 105,914 votes, or approximately 51.2 percent of all votes cast, according to preliminary data from the Miami-Dade County Elections Department. Garcia received 100,929 votes, or approximately 48.8 percent of the vote.

Lopez-Cantera had focused his campaign on a pledge to reframe the way the county conducts appraisals by including foreclosed home sales in assessing neighborhoods’ values. “I think that was probably the biggest thing,” real estate analyst Jack McCabe said. “He said he would lower property taxes by considering all the foreclosures, and I think that was what probably resonated most strongly with voters.”

Garcia, a former Realtor and appraiser, had served as Property Appraiser since 2009. He was Miami-Dade County’s first-ever elected property appraiser.

But he came into the job effectively “starting from scratch,” according to Peter Zalewski, founder of brokerage and consultancy Condo Vultures. “Garcia had some opportunities; he also had some challenges,” Zalewski said. “The challenges were that there was no framework, no real road map — so he was trying to create all of these different things, and so there might have been some things that he overlooked.”

That could prove useful for Lopez-Cantera.

“Lopez-Cantera has the advantage of being able to come in and scrutinize what worked, what didn’t work,” Zalewski told The Real Deal. “It’s much easier to revise than to create — so he can probably hit the ground running based on what Pedro was able to do over the last four years.”

Tom Dixon, a longtime commercial broker and appraiser in Miami, said the biggest priority for Lopez-Cantera should be to educate residents on the role of what Zalewski called a “very powerful yet very overlooked political position.”

“I think Pedro Garcia did a wonderful job, and I look forward to working with Carlos Lopez-Cantera,” Dixon said. “[The priority] would be a public awareness campaign on the importance of the property appraiser — an outreach program so citizens understand what’s going on.”

Lopez-Cantera, who has served as the representative for Florida’s 113th district since 2004, campaigned on other issues, including a crackdown on fraudulent property tax exemptions and improving access to property data.

McCabe cautioned that changing the way the county calculates values may not actually reduce property tax bills, however.

That’s because while the Property Appraiser that determines property value assessments, Florida’s municipal governments establish so-called millage rates, which are the dollar amounts for every $1,000 of assessed value on a property that go toward the property tax payment. “While he may include foreclosures, that doesn’t mean they won’t have to up the millage rate just to keep essential services going,” McCabe said. “Just because the tax rate goes down, if the millage rate goes up, you could still pay the same amount in taxes.”

Lopez-Cantera did not respond to a request for comment.