To secure yourself a Florida property for £80,000, you’ll need a cool head and the patience of a saint. Many Florida property agents are currently displaying surprisingly attractive properties at super-low prices that positively scream value for money to those of us getting excited about the two-for-one exchange rate.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of drawbacks. Firstly, in many cases, the agents in question have absolutely no intention of selling you a Florida property for as little as £80,000; they merely wish to introduce themselves to you before heading you in the direction of more lucrative Florida property options. The second is that the two-for-one exchange rate is currently slipping away; at the time of writing, the greenback is back with a vengeance, trading at around 1.83 against sterling. There’s still a long way to go before the dollar gets back to pre-credit-crunch levels, but it’s definitely heading in the wrong direction for buyers.
But just look at what comes with a Florida property: the delights of year-round sunshine; vast expanses of beautiful coastline; the world’s greatest theme and leisure parks (Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, and Epcot, to name but a few). And we haven’t even started on the golf courses.
But is the tide for Florida property now turning? Have Florida property prices now fallen low enough for us to consider taking the plunge? That’s difficult to gauge in a market that’s going through such unusually dramatic turmoil. The trouble is, while the bottom has famously fallen out of the market, the top remains in denial, pedalling furiously in mid-air like Wile E. Coyote. Whether or not the coyote will miraculously run right across the chasm this time and continue on its merry way, only time will tell, but Florida property at a less rarefied level has certainly taken a huge nosedive.
Lee Weaver of The British Homes Group, which specialises in providing a one-stop shop service for Brits searching for Florida property, says: “In all our 30 years helping UK buyers find Florida property, the market has never been so full of bargains. For example, Countrywide Financial Corporation, the US’s number one home lender, is currently marketing over 1,600 Florida homes with some houses listed at 40 per cent less than their market value two years ago.”
With this in mind, Homes Overseas has done some sleuthing and come up with Florida property on the market for less than the price of a new Jaguar.
Orlando, in central Florida, is far and away the most important destination for British buyers, who are lured by its unbeatable combination of family fun, top-quality golf courses and historically reliable rental returns. It is, in fact, the world’s biggest tourist destination, with more than 50 million visitors a year; yet surprisingly has been hit harder than most areas in Florida by the credit crunch. For example, a studio apartment is currently offered by Feltrim at Horizons at the Grenelefe golf resort. This attractive and substantial development boasts three golf courses (one of them Arnold Palmer-designed), as well as a huge water park, a marina, spa, sports and fitness facilities, bars, shops and restaurants. The apartment is newly-refurbished and is now on the market for just $80,000 (£43,500).
In Canary Island Circle, just 14 kilometres from Disney, Feltrim is offering a spacious family home with four bedrooms (yes, four) and two bathrooms, a heated and screened swimming pool and its own garden. The property sits within a gated community that boasts an 18-hole golf course and fishing lakes. This Florida property is currently on the market for just $125,000 (£68,000).
However, before you pack your bags (and your chequebook), it should be remembered that, when the price of a property seems too good to be true, it usually is. Residential appraiser Al Franks sounds this note of caution for overseas buyers: “In some places I see signs of stability, and in other places I don’t. A home may look good on paper, but then you drive by and a lot of the neighbouring homes have grass up to your knees.”
There are also pitfalls for the unsuspecting overseas buyer, such as a two-tier tax system, which is not favourable for non-residents; and the fact that, if you’re seeking a Florida property as a holiday rental, you must ensure it sits within an authorised short-term rental zone.
Golf development property is usually a good bet for those with rental returns and long-term growth on their minds, and another Orlando apartment from Feltrim, at the Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club, could prove a winner with singles and couples, as the development boasts one of the top-ranked courses in Florida. This upmarket development is well located for Disney and Orlando and has lots of on-site facilities and nearby sport and leisure amenities, including a large communal swimming pool and a fishing lake. All that, yet the one-bedroom condominium is on the market for only $115,000 (£62,500).
For those still wondering whether the time is right to jump into the turbulent waters of the Florida property market, it should be said that there are signs of change. Orlando’s residential resale market recorded its second-best sales month of the year in July, and local realtors are saying an improvement in the number of pending contracts bodes well for the rest of 2008.
Prices of property in Kissimmee are a touch higher, but in a very attractive area another large single family home on the market with the British Homes Group – and boasting four bedrooms, a luxury kitchen, swimming pool and large garage – could be yours for just $175,000 (£95,000). On the face of it, this is out of our price range; but let’s not forget that this is a buyer’s market and you should arrive ready to negotiate hard.
For confirmation that the Florida property market is truly being cut down to size, we move south down the coast, to Delray Beach, situated between the seriously upmarket resorts of West Palm Beach and Boca Raton. Here, an attractive two-bedroom apartment with vaulted ceilings is currently on the market, offering numerous facilities on the doorstep, such as a pool, gym, spa, clubhouse and tennis courts. Downtown Delray and the beach are a mere ten minutes’ drive away and the property is on the market for $145,000 (£78,800).
Of course, if you’re looking for something a little more luxurious for your £80,000, you might want to consider vacation ownership (yes, it’s timeshare, but that’s not a dirty word in the States).
The high-end Starwood Hotels and Resorts has a Vacation Ownership arm that owns Sheraton Vistana Villages, a luxury resort with some 1,500 one-, two- and three-bedroom villas. The development boasts three pools plus a children’s pool, tennis courts, poolside restaurant, staffed recreation centre, two fitness centres and lavish tropical landscaping throughout, and buyers automatically gain access to Starwood’s international Vacation Network. Annual weeks at Vistana Villages can be purchased from around $10,000 (£5,450).
Those selling Florida property will always say now is the right time to buy. However, there does seem to be a groundswell of opinion pointing in the direction of at least a bottoming out of property prices by the end of the year. One thing’s for sure, if you love Florida and you can afford to throw £80,000 at a Florida property, you’ve just about run out of reasons not to buy.