Enjoy Summer Year-Round
If a Florida vacation is a ritual you look forward to every year, now is a great time to purchase a home or condominium in the Sunshine State. Ranging from elegant beachfront properties overlooking the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico and townhouses or estate homes in golf and country club communities to retiree communities and moderately priced homes or condos, your choices are endless. Whether you’re retired or working, owning a home in Florida can offer significant financial benefits; there is no state sales tax and a “homestead exemption” discount on property taxes applies to residents. Even if you’re not ready to buy, you might consider a seasonal or long-term rental for your next visit.
LOCATION OR LIFESTYLE
When searching for a Florida home, there are two basic approaches to consider: location and lifestyle. You may already know where in Florida you want to live. If so, you should familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods, look at typical houses, townhomes or condos, get a sense of prices, and contact a real estate professional who understands the local market and can help you make the right choice.
Another strategy is to focus on your desired lifestyle. Do you picture yourself in a private golf community, a high-rise on the beach or in a scenic, rural location? Then, you’ll want to compare homes, prices and amenities in different locations around the state. Those over age 55, for example, might want to compare the offerings at On Top of the World in Ocala with The Villages northeast of Orlando. Again, a real estate professional can help you make a well-informed decision.
WORK THE NUMBERS
If you’re considering a move to Florida, be aware there are some differences in home design and construction compared with houses in cooler climates. For instance,
few Florida homes have a basement because of the underlying hard limestone rock and high ground-water level. Newer homes may be more spacious and feature modern kitchens, baths, flooring and fixtures.
A number of leading homebuilders in Florida develop residential communities throughout the state. For example, in Southeast Florida, the family-owned Minto Group Inc. recently broke ground on the final phase of Artesia, featuring an additional 123 townhomes and bringing the total number of residences to 837 in a 75-acre, resort-style community in Sunrise. This award-winning developer also designed LakePark, a smalltown charmer at Tradition in Port St. Lucie, one of the top 10 best places to retire in the US according to portfolio.com. Just five miles from Walt Disney World is Festival, Orlando’s newest vacation resort community surrounded by 200 acres of natural Florida woodlands, lakes and walking paths. Nearby, Minto’s affordable single-family homes on Lake Nona feature award-winning designs, open green space and recreational facilities. On the Gulf coast, Minto offers a variety of options: The Isles of Collier Preserve in Naples; TwinEagles, a premier country club also in Naples; Sun City Center, one of the country’s premier 55-and-over communities located between Tampa and Sarasota; and the gated community at Harbour Isle on Anna Maria Sound in Bradenton.
Condos and apartment buildings vary widely in design and construction and often develop distinct “personalities.” A high-rise condo with 600 units is akin to a miniature city with many services and amenities, which command a higher monthly maintenance fee. However, if the purchase price and monthly fees are a big consideration, you may prefer a smaller building with a pool, spa or entertainment area—or no amenities at all.
Condos have been a major part of the Florida market since the 1970s, so the age and condition of a building can affect its desirability and price. A recently constructed residence may have a more appealing design, new appliances, marble baths and other modern features compared to an older unit that has never been updated. However, the older unit may still appeal to buyers on a tight budget.
If you love the Florida lifestyle, but aren’t ready to buy, consider a seasonal rental. You can enjoy the beach, boating, golf, shopping and all the attractions for several weeks or months without making a permanent financial commitment. It’s also an excellent way to “sample” different locations and lifestyles to see where you feel most comfortable if you do decide to purchase in the future.
Almost any type of home, condo or apartment around the state can be used as a seasonal rental. For example, Royal Shell Vacations, voted “the Best Vacation Rental Company on Sanibel Island” for 10 consecutive years, offers hundreds of quality vacation rentals on Sanibel and Captiva, as well as in Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Naples and other locations in Southwest Florida.
Buying a vacation club membership or a time-share unit is another “in-between” option. With a timeshare—sometimes called “interval ownership”—you can purchase one or two weeks in a professionally managed community located in your favorite destination. Many buyers like the familiarity and peace of mind that comes from returning to the same Florida community year after year. Most vacation clubs and interval-ownership programs allow you to “swap” your vacation weeks and spend that time in other locations. Or you may be able to put your unit into a rental pool if you will not be using the time yourself.
Today, more than 12 percent of all Florida real estate transactions involve a foreign buyer. Two key reasons for their interest are the state’s warm-weather location and homes that offer a good value—a winning combination for any buyer. Due to its global appeal, Florida has large second-home communities populated by Canadian, European, Russian and Latin American occupants, as well as those from elsewhere in the USA.
While US and international visitors purchase homes and condos throughout the state, four regions tend to attract the largest share of second-home purchases: Southeast, Southwest, Central and the Panhandle.
Southeast Florida has traditionally attracted buyers from the Northeast US, Canada, Europe and Latin America. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach have many waterfront condos and apartments that appeal to those accustomed to a faster-paced lifestyle, which includes cultural, shopping, dining and sports activities.
Southwest Florida historically appeals to buyers from the Midwest, Canada and Europe. Golf, boating and white, sandy beaches are among the major attractions. This is a preferred destination for empty nesters and retirees who want a relaxing lifestyle.
Central Florida is prime family vacation territory, attracting buyers from throughout the US and around the world. The primary appeal: owning or renting a home near Orlando’s theme parks and just a short drive from the beach.
The Panhandle primarily attracts buyers from throughout the southeastern US. With its miles of beaches and small-town communities, the state’s northwestern region appeals to families and friends also seeking a weekend getaway within a few hours’ drive from home.
CONSULT THE EXPERTS
For the past few years, prices for vacation homes and condos have been rising gradually in many Florida markets. Be sure to take a close look at the local community, since pricing and inventory of residences for sale can vary dramatically from neighborhood to neighborhood or from building to building. For vacation-oriented buyers, it’s best to avoid buying a foreclosure or a distressed property and to look for a home or condo that’s in “move-in” condition.
Since financing a second home is an important consideration, take time to talk with several lenders about mortgage terms. One source is the Florida Association of Mortgage Professionals, which offers an online directory.
It’s also a good idea to talk with an attorney before buying a home. Obtaining legal advice in advance can help you protect your investment and minimize potential tax liabilities. The Florida Bar offers an online “find a lawyer” service.
While it may take a little time to navigate the legal and financial issues, purchasing a Florida home can turn a great short-term visit into an appealing long-term lifestyle.
TOP: Aerial view of The Isles of Collier Preserve community in Naples. ABOVE: Living the dream in Florida. OPPOSITE CENTER: Waterfront condos in Cape Coral. OPPOSITE BOTTOM: A houseboat anchored at Silver Glen Springs.
LEFT: Kitchen at Minto’s Sun City Center, a premier community between Tampa and Sarasota. BELOW: A vacation rental with a backyard swimming pool.