FLORIDA CONDO--seeking general advice

Nov 21st, 2010, 02:34 PM
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FLORIDA CONDO--seeking general advice

Like many others, my thoughts occasionally turn to the subject of buying a condo in South Florida due to the apparent bargains that appear to be available these days. Although this will likely remain a daydream, I would be interested in learning more about the area, particularly the southern eastern coast, and would welcome opinions on great places to live. I realize that all of these will be generalities and that, should I ever be serious about this, I would need to spend some time in the area.

But where to begin? How does one even choose an area to visit?

Just to get the conversation stated, I will mention that a pool suitable for serious swimming is a priority. A water view would be lovely, but not essential. Not interested in nightlife, but a couple of good restaurants would be nice. Other than that, I have no fixed ideas and would love to hear opinions. Areas that I have visited briefly in the past, or have heard about through friends, include Jupiter, Boynton Beach, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Tequesta, and others. What about the Miami area? (Not South Beach)
Should I place the Sarasota area, or other west coast locales, in the mix?

Can we make generalizations about these, and other, locations, keeping in mind that they will be just that--generalizations? Is there a website that can give me information about the various towns? Or a book?

Please feel free to state any and all opinions...many thanks.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 21st, 2010, 04:08 PM
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If you are serious and this not a pipedream, you need to come to South Florida and spend a week or two and discuss this with a Realtor who is much more knowledgeable about these matters. Outline your preferences and have him/her show you around. This is not a long-distance project that you can do yourself hundreds of miles away. Better yet, do this in August when you can see Florida at its worst (weatherwise).

Having said this, I must ask you why are you considering only Southeast Florida? It is a fact that Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties have the highest probability of major hurricanes making landfall. Palm Beach County is not far behind. It is my opinion that South Florida is terribly overcrowded. Others may disagree, but that is my perception.

Vic's travels: http://my.flightmemory.com/vogilvie
Orlando_Vic is offline  
Nov 21st, 2010, 05:52 PM
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Like many others, we have also had thoughts about purchasing in Florida for the same reason you mention. However, good friends who are knowledgeable about the area have basically dissuaded us. They pointed out that "bargains" generally exist in communities where there have been numerous foreclosures and people abandoning their homes. That leads to a host of problems. First of all, do you want to live amongst empty units, or abandoned homes? And secondly, you have to consider the effect of losing the condo or HOA fees from these units. The remaining homeowners are then required to pick up the slack, and/or the property is not maintained up to proper standards.

I would suggest that you check the Lounge for a recent thread about condo fees. Even if you are not considering a condo, many of the homes there are part of planned developments with a "country club" lifestyle and have a HOA to maintain the amenities.

I'm not saying not to consider a purchase, just that you need to be informed and decide what your tolerance is for the situation. In our case, we decided we were too chicken to take a chance on what could be a big problem. I guess if it sounds too good to be true . . .
Judy24 is offline  
Nov 21st, 2010, 07:41 PM
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You'll find info on the cities you mention here: http://www.city-data.com/ They also have a forum which can provide info from people who live in those communities.

I agree with Judy24 that there are areas in Florida (particularly Miami) that were wildly overbuilt with condos which are now in financial trouble. But there are also perfectly good condos available at decent prices. You have to have a good realtor who can tell the difference between the two.
321go is offline  
Nov 21st, 2010, 08:00 PM
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Would you consider Sarasota? or Boca Raton?
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Nov 21st, 2010, 08:04 PM
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Even w/the current 'bargains', you can rent pretty much whatever/whenever you want (for the remainder of your life), w/out the risk or being tied to one locale, & likely spend much less $$$. Others suggestions also offer sound advice, IMO.
SAnParis2 is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 04:09 AM
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Thanks, everyone. I am open to almost anyplace including Sarasota and Boca. When I look online at condos on the water in the southeast, I see that most of them have small swimming pools. That is about as far as I have gotten...

I would certainly rent first but even then, I need a place to start...a geographical area in which to concentrate the search.

And even working with an agent, one needs to have an idea of the various communities and what they are like..

So please, give me your ideas---
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 04:10 AM
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That is a great point about the foreclosures and how they affect current residents.

To be clear, I am looking for an apartment, not a freestanding house.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 05:08 AM
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Three considerations in your evaluation. Florida does not have income tax, therefore the state and local revenue come from higher property taxes. The water view carries higher property and flood insurance. Lower ownership results in higher HOA fees. Some bargain ownership locations can easily carry $3,000 a month and more in tax, insurance and association fees. Part of the reason for so many second home foreclosures.
stumpworks73 is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 07:00 AM
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A few more considerations:

As stumpworks73 mentions, there's no state income tax in Fla., which is one of the reasons we were looking into purchasing. There is some rule that if you spend a certain amount of time each year (I think it was 6 months plus 1 day, but don't quote me), you were considered a Fla. resident. This gave you the dual advantage of having no state income tax (which was important to us since we live in a high state income tax & estate tax state), plus gave you protection from future property tax increases. So that may be something to think about.

As for geographic areas, I think most people tend to choose to those areas already chosen by friends/family. Many years ago someone told me that northeasterners tend to gravitate toward the east coast of Fla. whereas midwesterners tend to choose the west coast. I don't know whether that's still the case, but I know that anecdotally from the people I know, I've found that to pretty much be true. If it were me, I'd be looking at Boca Raton & north, since that's where those in my area go (although I loved Naples when I was there for a vacation).
Judy24 is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 07:19 AM
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ekscrunchy, we rent in a condo on Miami Beach and love it. Our condo has a real pool, but it's not an Olympic size pool. Other condos may have bigger ones.

Another thing to consider: Our building is older (built in 1968) and our walls are solid as rock-we have a projector for movies/tv and DH has a big sound system-during the day we've played movies pretty loud. One day we asked neighbors if they'd ever heard anything and they said no. We were impressed. Our realtor that we rent from lives in a fancier building and we visited them once and they said some of the newer buildings have really thin walls. However, our building is lacking a lot of the luxury that others have. It shows its age in places, but we don't mind-willing to trade that for an ocean view!

We have considered (and still haven't ruled out) buying, as the prices are really low, but we haven't been able to bring ourselves to do it. As others have mentioned, property taxes here are very high. I have never priced hurricane insurance, but am sure it isn't cheap. It's kind of nice knowing we can pack our things into the car if there's a storm and leave and not worry about it. Also, our rent is really, really cheap for what we have.

The communities in S. Florida, I think, vary greatly. Miami Beach, to me, is a vibrant, fun place (also has tourists, but they are mostly in South Beach). We are not nightlife people, and rarely venture into South Beach, but do occaisionally eat out. We are in what is called Mid-Beach and it's one of the quietest places either of us has ever lived. We do face the ocean, so we hear no street traffic noise-just surf. We have easy access to the city/restaurants. We are about 15-20 minutes from the airport. We are working part time in West Palm right now and it has more of a sleepier/small town feel to it.

DH and I aren't sure where his work will take him, but we have said we will keep the condo no matter what. That's how much we love it.

If you have more specific questions, feel free to ask. I'll try to answer them!
Florida1 is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 10:34 AM
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But where to begin?

I would START with a long visit to Miami Beach, not just mid-beach but the whole swath from 47th St. down to 1st St.

Spending time in a neighborhood is the only way to know if it and it's people are a good fit for you.

I would also submit that while South Beach (17th St. and points south) has a lot of tourists, there is also a sizable year round community.

You could also visit Key Biscayne, time allowing.
bardo1 is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 11:30 AM
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Florida has some of the most complex property tax laws anywhere. You have to be a bona fide resident of Florida to qualify for the Homestead Exemption on your property which provides an exemption from some property taxes up to $50,000 of assessed value. To be considered a resident you need to show a Florida driver's license, have your car registered in Florida and be registered to vote in Florida. Snowbirds do not qualify for the Homestead Exemption. The increases that Judy refers to are from the Save Our Homes amendment to the state constitution. It limits annual increases in property taxes, HOWEVER, it's not that simple. Without going into the ins and outs of the law, I can tell you that some properties have been subject to increases even though the value of their property has been lowered (under the "recapture rule" in the law). As I say, it is pretty complex. But Florida's tax burden generally ranks among the lowest in the nation - last time I looked we were 45th out of 50. So my in-laws in NY pay about 5 times what I do in state taxes. What you should be aware of is that Florida's low taxes = fewer services.
321go is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 02:53 PM
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Thanks to all who answered so far. Florida: That condo sounds ideal! I had not even thought about Miami Beach but your comments are certainly positive.

I am a long way from buying anything right now, so what I am interested in most are opinions on the reputations/ambience/feel/demographic of the various areas/towns....

I've made trips to south Florida over the years, but have not visited in perhaps 10 years or so and am really overwhelmed by the vastness of the area in terms of where to look, even for a rental....

Please--more impressions of the various localities...
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 03:00 PM
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We owned a condo on the West Coast of Florida for five years and really enjoyed it. But there is a lot to think about. You have given a lot of good advice to others over the years, so here's some help for you!

You have gotten good advice on how to look at an area, and you have gotten both confused and good advice on financial and tax issues. 321go has the best advice, but even his/hers is just the beginning. If you have any thought at all about establishing residence in Florida, you need to talk to a lawyer there AND in your home state, esp if you plan to die there. There can be huge tax benefits for dying there, but the laws and regulations are confusing, and northern states, esp MA and NY, will do everything they can to keep you as a resident of the home state unless you dot every i and cross every t. Where do you keep your wedding photos? NY has held that you are stil a NY resident if you keep them in your NY State (along with your kids baby and prom photos, etc) no matter how much time you spend in Florida. If you keep your family treasures in your northern home, that shows your northern home is your real residence.

See a lawyer.

I will post how to evaluate a condo complex in another message.
Ackislander is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 04:37 PM
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When othink you have found a place or if you are trying to decide among places, here are some things you need to research. Most people don't find this fun, but it is really, really important.

1. Does the condo association have sufficient financial resources to meet emergencies such as trees dying, the pool heater wearing out down or the piping or ducting wearing out without assessing the members for additional contributions? Better: is there a schedule of replacements of mechanical and cosmetic items for which the board is preparing?
2. Are there financial reserves to support the condominium if some owners are unable or unwilling to pay their monthly fees and assessments? A number of people above allude to the problems that emerge if there are not.
3. Are the trustees willing to foreclose on owners who do not meet their financial obligations to the association? If they aren't ("Poor Mary, she is having a tough time.") you will be paying their share.
4. Does the Association have sufficient insurance to replace/repair roofs, windows, common areas, etc in the event of damage, particularly storm damage?
5. Do the age regulations in the condo docs meet your needs? Do you want to be in a 55 plus community (not everyone will be over 55)or a mixed age community? Are there limits in the time allowed for children to occupy units (you want your grandchildren to be able to visit for two weeks, but you don't want your neighbor's daughter with five teenagers to move in permanently)?
6. Ditto rental regulations. NO ONE should expect to pay for a condo by renting it out. I said NO ONE SHOULD etc. But do you want to rent it? Most of the better condos have a 30-90 minimum rental and charge rental fees to avoid transients, party houses,etc.
7.Do you want to be able to loan your condo to friends or family when you are not there? Sure. But how do you prevent your neighbor from "loaning' (really "renting") their unit to everyone who works in their office? Regulations should address this.
8. Try really hard to spend the night, preferably a weekend night or two, in the condo you are considering. If they want to sell it badly enough, they will let you. Does the pool turn into Swingin' City over the weekend? Are there loud parties after your bedtime? Can you hear the man upstairs urinating into his toilet because the soundproofing is so poor? If you can't spend the night, go hang out for an evening. Talk to other owners around the pool. Are they they kind of people you want for friends? How do they feel about the complex? Its problems?
9. Similarly, it is very useful to walk around the complex on a holiday weekend. Has half the State of New Hampshire been invited to visit grandma? Can you get near the pool? Are people obeying pool regs?
10. Every condo we have owned (four and counting) has a "condo commando", someone who sees his/her duty in life as enforcing regulations on everyone else. Who is that person in the complex you are looking at and do you have the same issues and ideas?
11. Have a lawyer, have a house inspector, and read the condo documents and financials until you understand them, even if you have to pay your lawyer and accountant to explain them to you.
12. Do not buy a condo as an "investment." They are better than timeshares, but the Florida bubble was huge, propertiew regularly being bought and sold several times between the beginning of construction and completion. I lived in Florida in the 1950's, and there were still abandoned properties around from the real estate boom and bust of the 1920s. Buy in a good, well-built complex with people you like and pelnty of amenities in the area, and buy with the idea that it is mad money, like going to bingo or the movies or NOBU. You are buying entertainment and four or five months a year of better weather than you would have at home.
Ackislander is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 06:24 PM
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I bought a condo in the Panama City Beach area for most of the reason you state. I decided not to buy on the water due to the high HOA's (mostly do to hurricane insurance). I was able to buy a brand new condo that's 3/4 a mile from the beach. I paid approx 30% of the original asking price. I realize you need to do your home work, but I would not hesitate to buy another condo for the right price. For what it's worth, my unit has appreciated approx 15% since my purchase.
SiteC_er is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 07:19 PM
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It is true that being a Florida resident -- 6 months plus a day -- carries some great advantages. I currently pay about $1100 annually for real estate taxes. If I sold my unit to my next door neighbor and she sold hers to mind for current values, my real estate taxes would jump to roughtly $9000. annually. That's something to consider.

It is true that some condos could have horrible assessments to cover the many foreclosure units that don't pay.

It is right that you need to come and find what you like.

I must laugh at the idea that things were overpriced and will never reach those values again. I've live in Florida full time for 33 years and have been three major busts and several smaller ones. The first condo I bought in 1977 for $ 32,500 which people said had been overpriced and woudl never reach the prices of $60,000 and more, most recently sold for around $250,000.

Right now people are saying that property values will never reach what they were before. Trust me. They will. It's happened over and over again.

But you do need an educated and honest real estate person to help you. Buying here is a lot more complex that it may seem.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Naples.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2010, 06:24 AM
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Neo Patrick, you bring up a great point....prices will come back. My brother lives in California and we thought he was crazy for paying $400K for a home (1990). Today, even during this recession, his house would sell for $800K.
SiteC_er is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2010, 06:38 AM
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To elaborate on my impression of Miami Beach since you asked for ambience/feel/demographic...Just my opinions, of course...others may have different input.

I love the mix of cultures that we have on Miami Beach: Jewish, Hispanic, European. It sometimes feels like a small place, because it is geographically separate from the rest of Miami, but yet still feels cosmopolitan. I love the Art Deco architecture on Miami Beach too.

There are lots of restaurants. And if what is on Miami Beach isn't enough, there's always the rest of Miami, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, etc. which are not very far away. And the Keys are a day trip!

South Beach is maybe a 5-10 minute drive for us, but seems a world away. We can go partake if we want to (people watching down there is fun) but most of the time, we'd never know it was there - except for going to Whole Foods. You'd just have to buy a little further north--just north of the Fontainebleau/Eden Roc hotels, where things quiet down. I personally wouldn't want to be further north than we are, however, as it really does get to be just condo after condo, and not much "real city/town" as we have.

The airport being so close is a big bonus for us. We have a number of direct flights to Europe and of course, many, many direct flights to the Caribbean, Central and South America. You also have the option of flying into/out of Ft. Lauderdale, which is about 30 minutes away (without traffic).

The one thing that is kind of annoying, and seems to be a general South Florida problem, is a lack of customer service in some places - Walgreens, Target are ones that stand out in my mind.

Palm Beach - where we are working/living part time now, doesn't not have that cultural mix and as I said before, feels like a sleepier place. Not nearly the choice in restaurants that Miami has. It does have an airport, but I have no idea of prices/connections there. I'll just say that I am always really happy to get back to Miami!

If you come down on a scouting trip, we should arrange a South Florida GTG--that way you could get input from people who live in a lot of different areas!
Florida1 is offline  

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