Need a Cold Remedy? Florida Lifestyle May Be The Cure

Looking for a better place to live? How about a Florida barrier island?

Looking For a Better Place To Live? How about living on a Florida barrier island?

There’s been brutal weather and record snows in many areas of the country this winter, and particularly the northeast.

For some in traditional Florida feeder markets like the New York tri-state area, it might be the breaking point. Maybe the frost bitten will warm up to Florida in 2011.

Could more moving trucks be seen on I-95 heading south this coming year? Rather than visiting Florida for a dose of warm weather on vacation, some may decide to become sun birds who instead fly north on occasion.

Be sure to have a garage sale before moving to Florida to get rid of the snow blower and snow shovels. Scraping ice off the windshield will become a distant memory. Throwing sand and salt on sidewalk ice will become a ritual of the past. Here in Florida, the sand will be beneath your toes, the salt in the ocean and wafting on the sea breeze.


While no snow is sounding pretty good right now, how about no state income tax? And a place where outdoor activities can be enjoyed year round. It’s an enticing package: gorgeous beaches, some of the best golf in the USA, plus Florida’s more affordable home prices and bonus of historically low mortgage rates in the current environment. In Florida, you can now get much more for less. For those with the means (i.e. cash or ability to get financing), 2011 may be a year when the Florida lifestyle seduces those weary of dealing with ice, slush, and wind chills.


Home buyers, many previously shut out of the Florida market when prices soared, now have an open door. The Sunshine State is much more affordable these days for second home buyers and for those seeking a better place to live year round. Home ownership has become more affordable than renting in some markets like Jacksonville, Florida. But the sale won’t last forever. If you’ve been waiting to make a move, perhaps it’s time.

Some may know the“Rule of 15.” For those unfamiliar, it’s a way to figure out whether it’s cheaper to rent or buy a home. Basically, the thinking is to buy a home with ratio below “15”, or instead rent when ratio is above 20. The formula, like a stock P/E ratio, is to divide the home’s sales price by annual “earnings” (in housing, divide by the annual rent for a comparable home.)


Trulia just released their first quarter 2011 “Rent vs. Buy” index identifying the “Top 10 Cities to Buy vs. Rent.” The index is based on the comparison of “the median list price for a two-bedroom apartment, condo or townhouse” versus the cost to rent a similar property for a year. They determined buying is more affordable in 72% of America’s largest cities. Two Florida cities are identified in the top ten places to buy a home in the USA with the lowest ratios. Miami’s ratio is 6 and Jacksonville, Florida’s ratio is 8, according to Trulia’s rent ratio index.

Those with sound financials are in a position to take advantage of this buyer’s market. Of course, the pool of folks capable of buying a home has shrunk considerably with the tightening of credit. Home purchases usually require much higher deposits, in the area of 20% down, to get financing. Even some people with good jobs and excellent credit don’t always have that kind of money to put down. (Did you know the USA’s largest mortgage lender, Wells Fargo & Co., has asked U.S. regulators to set a new down payment standard of 30 percent on mortgages?)


For the nervous, concerned that home values may sink even more, it might not matter much if you’re buying a home for better quality of life, especially if you plan to hold onto it for awhile. People are thinking less about homes being an “investment” and more as a lifestyle choice.

Some may find the perfect beach haven and enjoy entering a new chapter of life — Florida seaside living.  However, many remain in a mobility freeze. With housing woes across the nation, those wanting to transplant to Florida may have to sell a home elsewhere first, keeping them frozen in another state.


Like an engine trying to crank over with a dead battery on a cold morning, Florida’s real estate market has needed a major charge — the revaluation of inflated home prices from their peak to more realistic levels. Dragged down by distressed properties, Florida home values have receded like the outgoing tide. There are many underwater mortgages (i.e. folks who owe more to the bank than the home is worth in the current market environment). According to RealtyTrac, Florida had the third highest foreclosure rate for the year 2010, with 5.51% of its housing units (or one in 18) receiving at least one foreclosure filing during the year (Arizona and Nevada had higher foreclosure rates than Florida).

Needless to say, the Sunshine State’s housing market has suffered from a build-up of corrosion on its battery connections. There still remains a large inventory for sale. The median sales price of a single-family existing home in Florida was $248,300 at year-end 2006 (when prices peaked in Florida). By year-end 2009, the median sales price had fallen to $142,600, down more than a hundred thousand bucks or (-42%). The data released January 20, 2011 for year-end 2010 by the Florida Association of Realtors indicates a Florida median sales price for an existing, single-family home of $136,500, down 4% in the last year.

However, while home prices are down, home sales activity has been trending up for awhile. Looking back on 2010, Florida’s existing home sales activity rose 5 percent for the calendar year over 2009, with a total of 170,848 homes sold. Statewide, Florida’s existing home sales activity in 2010 also was 37.5 % higher than 2008 statewide sales, according to FAR.


One of Florida’s most well-known economists, Hank Fishkind, recently stated the Florida economy is in the early stages of a recovery, and indicated Florida’s population growth will provide a boost. He reportedly thinks 2012 will see in-migration to Florida of 200,000 to 250,000 net newcomers to the Sunshine State.


The implications for Florida’s real estate market with the looming tsunami of aging baby boomers remains to be seen (the first boomers are just hitting 65 this year, those born in 1946). Traditionally, many retirees flocked to Florida. However, in recent years, some have opted to stay put (or are stuck there trying to sell a home), or head elsewhere. However, people are wondering whether the weather this winter around the country will be an added catalyst to jump start home sales in sunny Florida. For those ready and able to make the move, there definitely are home deals in the sunny South.


For the entrepreneurial-spirited (potential small biz owners, the self-employed), and a rising work at home workforce (who can literally live anywhere), Florida is an attractive relocation option. Florida was rated the 6th best state in the USA for small business entrepreneurs in 2010 (and by far offers the best mild weather of the top ten states on this list). The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council’s “Business Tax Index 2010” ranks US states from best to worst based on the costs their tax systems place on entrepreneurship and small business.

Plus, Florida’s new Governor sworn in this month, Rick Scott, is pro-business. Scott has indicated he wants to make Florida “the best place in the country to do business.” He campaigned on “eliminating the business tax and reducing the property tax.”

With the mobile internet, people can conduct business from their boats, beach towels, and poolside — literally. You can live on an island these days, yet remain connected to the rest of the business world. Online meetings and now 3G-4G mobile internet allows many more to live anywhere they want and just drive or fly to the office once in awhile.

Amelia Island is just 30 minutes from one of the best, low-stress airports in the nation — the Jacksonville International Airport. (Incidentally, JAX was recently named one of the world’s best airports to get delayed, with its high-rated art gallery.)

If you plan to work in Florida (rather than arrive here to enjoy retirement), and are not self-employed or hooked up with a job you can retain while living anywhere, lining up a job before moving would be wise. Florida’s jobless rate is 12% (above the national average of 9.4%) as of December 2010.


Weather-wise, many may be thinking, “what about Florida’s hurricanes?” While Florida comes to mind when speaking of hurricanes, not all of Florida is “hurricane alley.” Some areas of Florida have been relatively free of hurricanes for a century or more. Some may decide to choose a region less prone to hurricanes — but “never say never” is a caveat. Check out NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center’s research (Continental United States Hurricane Strikes map 1950 to 2009).

Manhattan and Long Island, New York reportedly have higher odds of being hit by a major hurricane than Amelia Island, Florida. There’s been one evacuation of Amelia Island in the past 20 years, as a precaution when hurricane Floyd was in the cone of uncertainty (in September of 1999). Floyd’s path shifted, however, and hit land first in North Carolina and then hugged the U.S. coastline all the way up to the north. New Jersey got flooded, instead.


For those not too familiar with the local area, Amelia Island is the most northeastern barrier island in Florida, in Nassau County, on the Georgia border.

A beach vacation destination with posh resorts and fabulous golf, including Ritz-Carlton, Summer Beach Resort, and Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. Yet, Amelia still retains a small-town “old Florida” atmosphere.

Amelia Island’s city is the quaint, historic Victorian-era seaport of Fernandina Beach, with two historic districts. A 50-plus block downtown historic district, located on the northwest side of the island with 450 structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Also, the very last Spanish city platted in the Western Hemisphere is located on Amelia Island, called Old Town Fernandina.

Of course, the most popular adage about real estate is “location, location, location.” Amelia Island is a “location” market with its luxury amenities and laid-back coastal lifestyle. But realize that even on a small island such as Amelia (just 13.5 miles long and about 2.5 miles at its widest), micro pockets of “location” exist. The island’s interior properties will cost less, yet you’re still very close to both the beach and the river/intracoastal on this sliver of coastal paradise. The waterfront properties, both oceanfront and deep water riverfront, fetch the highest prices.


Does small-town living by the sea with great state parks, miles of beaches and sidewalks sound appealing?

Besides oceanfront homes and condos right on the beach, there are plenty of places to live very close to the beach (single-family neighborhoods with sidewalks leading to the beach).  Homes are available where you can enjoy gardening and outdoor activities year round and be able to take your dog for a walk at the shore.

Another perk of living at a vacation destination, is special events and festivals. While these popular annual attractions bring visitors, the residents of Amelia Island (and nearby in Nassau County) get to enjoy some wonderful events.

Do you like the idea of island living in a foot-friendly neighborhood? A community where one has the option to actually ditch the car and be walking distance to life’s necessities — grocery, bank, post office, hair salon (and even the hospital and YMCA)? Plus, still be less than a two-mile walk or bike ride to the beach? Here’s just one specific example:


2 BR/2BA villa with 1,653 square feet, relatively new construction (built during 2005) located in a neo-traditional community, for sale on Amelia Island for $199,000. With nice finishes such as tile floors, granite counters and stainless steel appliances, consider that the previous owner, who bought it brand new, paid $374,900 in April 2006. Thus, the current listing price in January 2011 is $175,900 less (a discount of 47% off peak market prices). While hellish for the original owner who experienced a huge loss in property value, the new owner may think it’s quite heavenly. This property is located in a beautiful neighborhood of single-family homes and town homes, with charming architectural features like front porches and clapboard siding. (This would also be a case of buying one of the lowest-priced, entry-level properties in a very nice neighborhood.)

Two national lifestyle magazines recognized Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach as both a great place to visit and live. Read about what they had to say. “Fernandina Beach, Best Little Small-Town Getaway”… A town that makes one “feel welcome — for a weekend or a lifetime,” said the Southern Living magazine article. Also, Fernandina Beach was on Coastal Living’s list of “Best Little Beach Towns.” According to Coastal Living’s article, the best little beach towns were chosen “after canvassing all coasts for towns with seaside charm, a lively beach culture, and good housing…”

After a record cold and snowy winter, perhaps more people in 2011 will be ready to take a spoon full of sunshine in Florida, as a cold remedy. On Amelia Island, you can get close to the beach, close to coastal nature, and close to American history.


Amelia Island offers golf resort living plus many other options. At around 2.5 miles wide on the north end,  it’s easy to ride a bicycle across the island from downtown Centre Street in Fernandina along Atlantic Avenue sidewalks over to the beach. From the northern tip to southern tip, the island offers 13.5 miles of beaches on the east and homes with marsh views along the river/intracoastal to the west, including deep water dockage. Charming historic homes featuring architecture of the Victorian-era (from around 1860 to 1910), are located in the downtown historic district in Fernandina, within walking distance of the Fernandina Harbor marina.