En­joy Sum­mer Year-Round

2017 Travel Guide to Florida - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - BY RICHARD WESTLUND

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.

SEA­SONAL RENTALS

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.

RE­GIONAL AP­PEALS

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.

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