The Sunshine State

Snowbirds eye Florida’s fabulous property deals

Despite competition from other U.S. destinations, Florida still attracts more than half of all Canadian snowbirds bound for the American Sunbelt. Hot and humid in the south, cooler (and less pricey) in the north, its lush landscape is perfect for golf while its spectacular coastline lends itself to superb fishing, diving and swimming. It’s little wonder that snow-weary Canadians have been coming here for more than a century.

Priced right
According to Maureen Wright of VisitFlorida, a good rule of thumb when scouting locations is that accommodation prices rise the farther south you travel. It has to do with the weather. The average winter temperature in north Florida is 12 C, while in the south, it’s a balmy 20. However, some don’t crave all that heat. A lot of snowbirds are saying they don’t need 80 degrees every day. If they can play golf and get a reasonable rate, that will do for them, says Wright.

 Places you’ll love
New Smyrna Beach
New Smyrna Beach may not get headlines, but snowbirds are learning to love its moderate prices and the safest swimming beaches in the state.
Average prices House (single family): $136,900; condo: $176,000

Cape Coral
Cape Coral features 640 kilometres of waterways and canals, making waterfront living both available and affordable. The subtropical climate means there are as many as 355 days of bright sunlight a year.
Average prices
House (single family): $119,000;
condo: $88,500

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood
A car-free Beach Boardwalk promenade is the central attraction in Hollywood, while nearby Fort Lauderdale features nearly 40 kilometres of beaches as well as a marina that is home to more than 42,000 watercraft.
Average prices (Fort Lauderdale) House (single family): $175,600; condo: $178,900

With its small-town ambiance, Lakeland in central Florida is a snowbird favourite. The area has 38 named lakes as well as more than 60 parks, featuring golf, tennis and shuffleboard.
Average prices House (single family): $90,000; condo: $52,300

Tampa-St. Petersburg
Tampa-St. Pete’s is ideal for those who prefer an environment that mixes both city and waterfront. Its beaches are consistently rated among the best in the world and is home to 178 parks and nature preserves.
Average prices (St. Petersburg) House (single family): $99,400; condo: $74,600

Palm Beach
Palm Beach’s Mediterranean look, historic architecture, lush gardens, palm-lined waterfronts and vibrant social scene have always appealed to the rich and famous.
Average prices House (single family): $2,248,600; condo: $424,900

With more than 40 kilometres of sun-drenched white-sand beaches and more than 70 golf courses, tropical Naples on the Gulf Coast is the gateway to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
Average prices House (single family): $818,100; condo: $364,900

Florida Keys
Blessedly free of resort-style development, the Keys maintains its old-world charm. Key West claims to be the only city in the lower 48 states to have never had a frost.
Average prices House (single family): $382,800; condo: $317,900

Snowbirds need to know
• Nearly 1,000 kilometres of beaches

• Canadians contributed $3 billion to the Florida economy
in 2008

• Each year, 70 per cent of U.S.-bound snowbirds (350,000) choose Florida for their winter getaway

• Florida’s six-month hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30

• A Consulate General of Canada is located in Miami


Seven Things To Look For Before Buying In Florida

Since the real estate crash in 2009, Canadian snowbirds have been snapping up cheap property in Florida, where prices have plummeted by 40 to 50 per cent in the past few years.
A friend of mine recently scooped up a luxurious four-bedroom, three bathroom home in a gated community on the Atlantic coast. In 2006, at the height of a real estate bubble, these executive digs would have fetched well over $700,000. Last year, my friend paid a mere $225,000.
A stunning floor plan with designer furnishings, it’s located in a gated community serviced by a luxe clubhouse, Olympic-sized swimming pool, Jacuzzi and more.
To think I had just paid the same for a small two-bed, one-bath condo in Oakville, Ont. What was once out-of-reach for many would-be snowbirds is now attainable, which explains why Canadians have become the largest single group of foreign homebuyers in the U.S., much of this in Florida. Making these stateside deals even more attractive is our strong dollar and low interest rates.
Despite the great bargains, one should always be aware of possible minefields, including these.
1. Location
While some areas offer tantalizing deals, they may also be located in areas you wouldn’t feel comfortable living. Make sure you’re familiar with the area. Don’t let rock-bottom prices be your sole motivation for buying.
2. Mortgage
Borrowing in the U.S. has different rules: mortgages are amortized over longer periods, and closing costs can be double what they are here. Those with sufficient equity in their primary homes should consider refinancing their Canadian mortgages to pay for their house in Florida.
3. Home Insurance
Florida is home to some of the highest insurance fees, in most part due to frequent hurricanes.
4. Property taxes
Florida also has some of the highest property taxes in the States, while it also taxes part-timers differently than full-time residents. If you’re from out of state, you could be paying 50 per cent more in property taxes than your neighbour. Make sure you factor that into the cost of your purchase.
5. Building quality
During the boom, many Florida homes were built using inferior drywall that was later found to contain both health and safety hazards. Make sure you get a home inspection before buying or you might get hit with an unexpected reno bill.
6. Foreclosures
If you’re buying a foreclosure, where the bank has already seized the home, it’s best to work with a local legal expert. In recent years, the rash of foreclosures were processed so quickly that, in many cases, the legal issues and paperwork were not done properly. Some snowbirds have bought homes and later found out they don’t even hold the deed to the place. Make sure you work with a legal expert familiar with foreclosures.
7. Short sales
Short sales, which now account for one in four sales, happen when the owner and bank avoid foreclosure by agreeing on a selling price that’s less than the value of the outstanding mortgage. While the deals are often amazing, it’s often a lengthy process, and many times you’ll do a lot of work only to have the deal rejected.