After living in New York City my whole life, I was exhausted. The younger years of partying and going to restaurants, bars, and clubs were over. Now I was changing diapers and schlepping my son's stroller up and down subway stairs covered in ice. My wife and I decided to sell our house and start life over again down in sunny Florida. We would do a total reset. Which, I assure you, is not for the faint of heart.
We had some family and friends around West Palm Beach, so we decided that would be our new home. I sold my business, bought a cute, 80-year old wood-framed house in the South End "SoSo" neighborhood of WPB, and packed up and left. That's when the journey really began! Being a New Yorker, there were definitely a few things about buying a house in Florida that were unexpected, or just caught us off guard. I wanted to make a list of some of the surprises we had along the way and some ideas about Florida that were proved to be completely wrong.
I know you're really excited about buying your house, but hold on for just one minute! There are a few things that you should know that a real estate agent might just happen to gloss over... things that you really need to be aware of before you start making offers and signing contracts. Insurance, Taxes, Hurricane Preparation and Ongoing Maintenance, will all play a big part in making the decision to buy a home or not. It will also add to the true cost of ownership, some in the short term, and some in the long term, but they will all cost you money.
Homeowners Insurance - This one is not a surprise to anyone, and you need it wherever you live, but what is different down here is, you really should have two other policies to protect yourself: hurricane and flood. These separate policies can be reasonable, or really cost prohibitive, based on a huge variety of factors.
Hurricane Insurance - This is in addition to your homeowners policy. Get a quote for insurance and try to find out what the seller is paying because it may not be as little as you think. You also may be able to make changes to your home to bring the price way down.
On the home my wife and I bought, we added roof straps that keep your roof from blowing off in a hurricane. This minor change saved us, literally, HALF on our policy! It went from $5,000 a year to $2,500. The straps will be paid off in less than a year and a half.
Just remember, you have to ask your insurance agent questions. Go line by line trying to find improvements you can make that make financial sense. Very frequently, they will not offer you ideas on how to save money without asking.
Flood Insurance - Before you even consider buying a home in Florida, find out what the Flood Zone is and what the insurance through FEMA will be. Your Insurance agent can easily get you a quote. Also, keep abreast of changes to the flood maps. Back in October 2017, the flood zones were revised and made insurance a lot more expensive for people who now were in a more flood-prone area.
Car Insurance - If you're coming from New York or New Jersey, the rates wont surprise you, but if you're coming from a low cost state, you may be surprised when you get that policy quote. Do some research up front so you can figure out what that monthly nut will be.
Florida has no income tax! YES, YES, YES!! It's the promise land! But that doesn't mean its cheap to live here. Just like everywhere else, we have property tax. For instance, in Palm Beach County your yearly property tax is a little more than 2% of the sale price. So, the more expensive your home, the more taxes you're going to pay. On a million dollar home, you would pay $22,400.00 a year. Go to your county property tax appraisers website and find their calculator to figure out what you'll be paying. Once you become a resident, you can get Homesteaded, which means your rates can't go up anymore than 3% a year along with some other advantageous benefits.
When you're looking for a home, you really should be aware of how much has been done to the property to make it ready for a hurricane. If you have zero protection, you will have a lot of decisions to make on how you want to handle it. You should consider how much you are willing to spend to secure your home, and how much work you are willing to do when a hurricane comes through.
There are a few options to consider when looking at securing your windows and doors.
- Install steel or aluminum panels every time - cheap but hard work, and frankly, dangerous if you have a second story.
- Get permanent hurricane-proof shutters installed - not cheap, easier than removable panels, and cheaper than hurricane impact windows.
- Have all windows and doors replaced with impact-resistant materials. - NOT CHEAP AT ALL, but when a storm blows through, you will have very minimal prep to do. We replaced our 80-year old windows at about $1,200 a piece. We decided to use the steel panels on our sunroom since there were 7 newer, but not impact-resistant, windows.
You have a few options: whole house, portable, or even solar with batteries. Once again, you're faced with the question of how much hassle you want to deal with and how much money you want to spend. Whole house generators start at about 10K installed, and that's for a small one.
We ended up getting a small 4,800 watt portable generator that can run indefinitely thanks to our natural gas hookup. Along with some extension cords, we can keep a small portable AC running and our beers, and food cold, in the fridge, along with the TV and router. The solution we chose cost about $1,500, including the gas valve installation. Make a list of pros and cons to see what works best for you.
UPKEEP AND MAINTENANCE
It's hot, wet, and sunny, which means, maintenance! There are going to be ongoing monthly costs to take into account.
Landscaping - If you have a property with grass, you, or someone, will be cutting it once a week, along with trimming your trees and shrubs, and fertilizing as well. Ohh, and your irrigation system... make sure that is in good, working order during your inspection. You'll need it!
Pool Maintenance - Pool should be cleaned, and chemicals checked once a week.
Pest Control - Termites, palmetto bugs, mosquitos, and all those other creepy crawlies, have to be kept at bay. It is the tropics!
Air Conditioning - You will most likely have to have someone come a few times a year to check that your system is running in tip top shape. It run's a lot.
All these costs vary, but you could be looking from a few hundred dollars a month on up from there. If you're willing to do some of the work yourself, you can definitely bring your cost of ownership down.
I chose to do my own landscaping and pest control, but we pay $80 a month for our pool service and get AC checks every 6 months. It takes me at least 2 hours a week to take care of my property -it's good exercise and I don't mind, but you'll have to figure out what works best for you.
WHY YOU SHOULD MOVE HERE!
With all that said, West Palm Beach, Florida is a little slice of paradise. Our 80-year old home is a joy to live in, and taking a swim after a long day of work, is more than worth the price of entry. Throw your ice scraper in the trash, drop your parka off at Salvation Army, and come on down! The water is always warm.... no, seriously, it really is!
I hope I was able to help you avoid a surprise or two.
If you're looking to relocate and need the help of someone who's done it before, just give a shout. We'll do it together!
Nicholas LaSorsa, P.A., Realtor®