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Some Roll Out 'Extreme' Unwelcome Mat
By MIKE SALINERO The Tampa Tribune
TAMPA - On radio talk shows and computer message boards, a simmering resentment is building over Tom and Cynthia Tate's good fortune.
People wonder why a family living on affluent Davis Islands needs help from the hit TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
"I don't understand the charity needed for the Tates," an e-mailer wrote to a TBO.com message board. "I am sure they can afford to build again."
Why, they wonder, didn't the family's homeowners insurance cover the cost to rebuild?
"I don't begrudge them a new house, but it seemed like it was their responsibility; they should have been up to date with their insurance," said another e-mailer.
The resentment stems in part from the sketchy information given about what happened with the insurance, and because Davis Islands residents generally are perceived as wealthy.
The Tate family is out of town while their new home is being built and could not be reached Friday. Tom Tate's sister-in-law and the TV show's executive producer say the Tates' insurance had indeed lapsed, either through an error on the family's part or on the part of the bank that refinanced their mortgage in 2005.
Despite what most people think, they said, there are people on Davis Islands living paycheck to paycheck.
"People can feel like Joe Shmoe is more deserving than Tom and Cynthia," said Jeanne Tate, the sister-in-law. "But that doesn't mean they're wealthy people. It doesn't mean they have a pot to crawl into besides the [new] house."
Plane, But Not Simple
Tom and Cynthia Tate bought their Davis Islands home in 1993 and raised their three children there: Ryan, 21, Tommy, 14, and Loren, 11. Tom works at a Davis Islands restaurant, Tate Brothers Pizza.
Although it has been reported that he owns the pizza shop, Jeanne Tate said the business is owned by his father.
On June 12, a plane careened off the runway at nearby Peter O. Knight Airport and crashed into the Tates' home. The crash killed the pilot and severely injured the co-pilot. Cynthia Tate was home alone that day, but escaped injury. The family pets died in the crash.
At the time, the four-bedroom, 1,773-square-foot home had a market value of $368,000 and a taxable value of $223,000, according to property records. The family had refinanced in 2005, and mortgage records show they owed $165,000 at the time of the refinancing.
Jeanne Tate said that shortly after the crash, the family received a letter from their property insurer saying their policy had been canceled for nonpayment.
Before the crash, she said, the couple had received a notice from the insurance company saying they owed between $100 and $200. She said they ignored the letter because they thought a year's worth of premiums had been paid upfront by their bank and the cost would be added to their mortgage payments. That is how they paid insurance under their old mortgage.
Jeanne Tate, who said she is a lawyer, said the couple cannot sue the bank for not notifying them that the insurance needed to be paid. Although banks and mortgage companies insist that the property be insured, that is only to protect their loan, not the homeowners.
The Tates recently reached a settlement with AIG, the company that insured the plane, according to AIG attorney John Murray. The details of the settlement were not disclosed, but Jeanne Tate said the insurer paid to clean up airplane fuel on their property and gave the family a small lump sum to cover some of their belongings lost in the crash.
Now that "Extreme Makeover" is building their home free, the Tates cannot sue AIG for the value of the home, Jeanne Tate said.
"You can't double-dip; that's the law," she said. "If 'Extreme Makeover' hadn't rebuilt the house, the insurance company would have been liable for the fair market value of the house, which was hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what it would cost to rebuild."
New Law Gives Tates A Break
In addition to a new home, the Tates will be able to take advantage of a law passed last year that will lessen the property tax increase they will face next year.
In the wake of the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, the Florida Legislature passed a law that shelters new homes from valuation increases if the old home was destroyed by a calamity.
The Tates' former home was protected by the Save Our Homes amendment, which caps homesteaded property tax increases at 3 percent a year. Had a plane not hit their home, and had they torn it down to build a new one, their new house would have been reappraised at current market values.
Under the new law, however, up to 110 percent of the square footage of their old home will stay capped at the lower tax rate in the new home. That means that though the new "Extreme Makeover" home will be 3,400 square feet, only about 1,400 square feet will face the new, higher valuation.
Also, the tax rate on the land itself will stay capped because the Tates plan to continue living there, according to Warren Weathers, Hillsborough County chief deputy property appraiser.
Weathers said a new 3,500-square-foot house on Davis Islands probably would be taxed at $19,000 a year. Because of the breaks the Tates are getting under the calamity law and the capped value on the land, they will pay about $10,000 a year starting in 2008. They were paying $5,500 a year, Weathers said.
Fans of the show have grown to expect heart-wrenching tales about families facing unusual challenges. Compared with some of those families - those with disabilities or with sick children - the plight of the Tate family seems less dire.
Denise Cramsey, the executive producer of "Extreme Makeover," said the program did an in-depth investigation of the Tates and found that they were needy and deserving of help.
Their story is expected to be broadcast on ABC in March.
Reporter Mike Salinero can be reached at (813) 259-8303 .
Here is an interesting story about a previous make over family and how they are fairing.
Dream home brings a big tax hike
Legislation seeks help for 'Makeover' families
January 8, 2007
BY EUNNIE PARK
RECORD (HACKENSACK N.J.)
The Llanes family had a fairy-tale moment when "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" swept into Bergenfield, N.J., last spring, knocked down their creaky old home and built them a futuresque dream house.
The community celebrated. People shed tears of joy.
Happily ever after, right?
A better home means a higher assessment. And a higher assessment, of course, means a higher tax bill. In this case, more than $14,000.
Now, Vic Llanes is beginning to feel the burden of his family's windfall.
"We feel an ax hanging over our head," said Llanes, who is blind and has three disabled children. "With all the taxes, it's like we're on a chopping block."
Some state lawmakers are trying to calm the family's fears through a proposed law that would permit short-term tax exemptions for homes that were renovated for disabled residents by charitable groups. Measures have been introduced in the Senate and Assembly, and the sponsors are hoping for approval this year.
"When we heard that their taxes would be going up and they wouldn't be able to keep this beautifully new, improved home, we just felt that we should try to do something in the Legislature," said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, one of the cosponsors.
Under the proposals, homeowners' property taxes would remain at the level they were paying before the makeover. At least half the residents in the home must qualify for federal tax credit as a result of being disabled, and the improvements must be made as charity to accommodate the residents' disabilities.
A similar bill was introduced by New Jersey State Sen. Ronald Rice in July to help a family where a woman with 12 disabled adopted and foster children was facing a huge tax hike after "Extreme Makeover" built them a home twice the size of the original.
The proposed exemption for the Llanes family is limited to five years, under the state constitution. But lawmakers could always revisit the issue when the time is up, said Rocco Mezza, Huttle's chief of staff.
Before the makeover, a small split-level with faulty plumbing and steep stairways was home to the family -- Vic; his wife Maria, who has thyroid cancer now in remission; their 16-year-old deaf son Zeb; their two nearly blind daughters, Guen, 20, and Carrie, 13; and Vic's blind mother, Isabel.
It was assessed at $222,200, and they were paying about $6,110 a year in taxes, according to Bergenfield Tax Assessor Art Carlson.
The new state-of-the-art home has about $100,000 worth of technology built into it, including solar panels and a computer called Rosie -- named after the robot maid on "The Jetsons" TV series -- that ostensibly runs the place.
But the value of their property has more than doubled: Carlson estimates it's worth about $497,000, putting the Llaneses' 2007 tax bill at about $14,550.
"If the (proposed law) doesn't pass, we will be in a far worse situation than we were in before," Vic Llanes said. "What choice do we have if we get driven away with the taxes? The last thing we want to do is to move."
The issue of how contestants cope with maintenance and tax bills after a home makeover has been raised several times since the show began airing in 2003. There have been reports of families facing similar problems coast to coast.
In 2004, Newsweek reported that the show's producers had found a loophole by "leasing" the contestant's home for 10 days, during which they renovated the property. IRS allows tax-free rental of less than 15 days, and the renovations are then considered "leaseholder improvement," which is tax-free. The production company was widely criticized, however, for putting contestants in a precarious situation with the IRS.
David Goldberg, president of Endemol, the show's production company, countered that contestants are made well aware of the potential tax increase and sign a contract before agreeing to the makeover.
"This show is about benevolence," he said. "It's about making people's dream of owning a home come true. It isn't about duping them and then leaving them riddled with a bunch of tax bills."
Even if the proposed bill passes in the Legislature, the Bergenfield Borough Council will have to approve a local ordinance.
High taxes have been a sore spot for the borough, especially since a revaluation a year and a half ago. Still, local officials said they can't imagine this issue being very controversial.
Carlson, the tax assessor, said the Llaneses' exemption wouldn't make a substantial difference for the rest of the town.
While the Llaneses await the outcome, they are also getting help elsewhere.
Pinnacle Foundation, a charity founded by The Pinnacle Cos., a real estate developer, has raised more than $100,000 for the family.
The money will pay the mortgage for five years and will be used for medical, educational and other expenses.
Llanes said he has no reservations about the new home other than the taxes.
"Taxes have been the ghost of my life," Llanes said. "Minus the tax, everything would be fully, fully, fully great."