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November 18, 2004

Texas couple gets sticker shock while looking at homes in Rochester

Editor's note: This story was first brought to the attention of The Business Council by an essay in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on November 5. The essay, by local real estate agent Geri Dellfava, highlighted the experience of a couple from Texas who "almost fainted" when they heard the property tax bill for a property outside of Rochester. We tracked the couple down and interviewed them.

A Texas couple who considered retiring in Rochester abruptly changed their mind after learning property taxes on a modest home outside the Upstate city would be more than $4,300 per year.

Lynne and Bart Vertrees recently had an opportunity to move anywhere in the United States. Bart, a recent retiree, and Lynne, cutting back her hours as executive director of a spa in Austin, TX., could move anywhere they liked.

“So I got on the internet and started looking,” Bart said. And Bart found Rochester.

Rochester, complete with four full seasons, was a dream come true for Bart, a native Californian, as well as Lynne, who grew up in Wales. Even the idea of mountains of snow intrigued them. Bart remembers watching Budweiser Christmas commercials that featured Clydesdales prancing through the snow, and promising himself that he would live in that sort of country one day.

So in late October, Mr. and Mrs. Vertrees climbed in their car and drove more than 1600 miles to Rochester, New York.

“We thought we were going to buy a place, come home, pack and go,” Bart said. And Rochester seemed awfully promising. Their real estate agent, Geri Dellfava, took them on a tour of the area, showing them area landmarks, stores and movie theaters.

Ms. Dellfava showed the Vertrees a modest house in a quaint Rochester suburb. Both Vertrees fell in love with the house, and the area. At around $125,000, the house was within their budget.

But then she showed them the tax bill.

“The taxes on that house were $4,350,” Bart recalls, with real astonishment in his voice. “We can’t put money into our community, put money into shops and stores in Rochester-we can’t play golf if we are spending that money on taxes.”

That tax bill may not seem so shocking to New York natives. But even though New Yorkers may be used to paying more than $30 in taxes for every $1,000 of home value, most people outside the state are not.

And the sticker shock the Vertrees experienced may be a bit more understandable when they tell you that their $300,000 home in a gated, golf community outside of Austin had only cost them $3900 a year in taxes, or $13 for every $1000 of home value.

So the Vertrees decided that Rochester was not doable. “It would just mean we would be able to do less during our retirement,” Bart said. “We want to be able to travel and visit our family and California and England.” The couple wouldn't be able to travel extensively, indulge Bart’s love of golf, or Lynne’s penchant for spa-days, all while paying a $360 tax bill a month.

“We would live there in a New York minute,” Bart said. “We liked the people, the environment. We liked everything about it.” But, he adds, the couple want to live comfortably on their fixed income, which will be much easier in some other state.

The couple is now looking at property in Kentucky and North Carolina. Recently, they were shown a 100-year-old house in Georgetown, KY.

It was completely redone, Bart said. The 2500 square foot house has new heating and cooling systems and beautiful hardwood floors. And the taxes on that house? “Under $1,000 a year.”