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Guide to buying a property in Florida

For many, buying a holiday home in Florida is a no-brainer given it’s only eight hours away, with a blissfully warm Caribbean climate, first-world economy and infrastructure.

Florida attracts some 76 million tourists a year meaning a good oppoerunity to rent the property out to holiday-makers and by British standards property is spacious, luxurious and affordable.

Many like the mix of holiday home and investment, using their overseas purchase for vacations, and renting it out the rest of the time to cover running costs. Just beware of optimistic rental yield promises when it comes to short-term rentals in the Disney area – breaking even might be a realistic goal rather than a regular income.

Many experts believe this is the right time to scoop up ‘short sales’ (negative equity homes),  foreclosures and other property that’s had considerable price reductions due to a surplus of new homes that were thrown up during the boom.

You can pick up a ‘short sale’ bungalow, or even a ‘non-short sale’ condominium or house from only $75,000 (£47,400).

 

Property hotspots in Florida



Orlando, Disney and surrounding area

Most British buyers flock to central Florida near Orlando, close to the theme parks of Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando, Disney-MGM and Universal Studios, and the Epcot Centre. Few people actually buy in the city of Orlando itself, preferring to live in one of the housing estates outside Orlando that make up one of the world’s largest holiday communities.

Popular areas include the gate communities that make up Kissimmee, Windermere and Davenport where four bedroom, three bathroom townhouses start from around $100,000 and a detached villa with a pool from around $150,000.

A waterfront location will bump up the price you will pay and whilst you may like the idea of being waterfront, if you’re planning to rent the property out, it’s worth remembering that you may not get a higher rental rate to help cover this additional expenditure.

Miami

Florida’s playground, the stylish city of Miami, offers a wide range of property options from seafront condominiums to high rise luxury apartments.

The gateway to the Everglades and the Florida Keys of Key Largo and Key West, the city sprawls across the south east corner of Florida and encompasses the cities of Fort Lauderdale and Homestead at its outer reaches.

You can pick up a townhouse for as little as £45,000 in Miami, and with prices in many parts of the county 50 per cent below the pre-economic crisis peak.

The Gulf Coast – Naples, Tampa and Sarasota

Naples, with its sun-drenched white sandy beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, great shopping, restaurants and golf courses, is popular with retirees and families.

Once a small fishing village, Naples boasts the calmest seas and best ‘sandboxes’ (beaches) in these parts, and comes with good shops, restaurants, golf courses, boating and fishing. It’s also close to the untamed wilderness of the Everglades, which is ideal for days out to spot alligators and manatee (native aquatic sea cows).

Savvy buyers with cash are picking up some good deals here: think low pricing mixed with favourable exchange rates. A three-bedroom house at Northshore Lake Villas, for instance, with a communal pool, biking/fitness trail and close access to the beach costs just $350,000 (£220,000).

Naples’ specialty is homes in golf communities, such as Lely Resort, Eagle Creek, Collier Reserve and the Wilderness Country Club, where homes start at about $250,000 (£158,000).

We have the Scots to thank for the Gulf town of Sarasota, 50 miles south of Tampa. Scottish families set sail in the mid-1800s to this once sleepy fishing village in search of fresh air, citrus groves and affordable housing. Today, Britons still head out to art-meets-nature Sarasota County, (population 370,000) with the US’ number one beach, Siesta Key.

A decent one-bedroom condominium starts from $70,000 (£44,240) and two-bedrooms cost $100,000 (£63,200). A new, three-bedroom ‘single family’ (detached) home is about $200,000 (£126,400), with another $20,000 (£12,600) on top for a pool.


The buying process

Before seriously looking at individual Floridian properties, you must ensure that you have a conveyancing lawyer, a building surveyor, a NIE (identity) number, a bank, a specialist currency firm, and any financing you need in place (at least in principle).

Doing your homework before you buy applies to the USA, like anywhere else.

1.    Find a state approved well-qualified and licensed real estate buyers agent (realtor).
2.    Find the property you wish to buy
3.    Once you have found a property, the buyer and seller will both sign a contract that sets out the conditions of the sale. This should include property title checks and inspections. Remember, that typically a house survey in America isn’t as rigorous as one carried out by a chartered surveyor in Britain. You might have little recourse if a boiler breaks down, for instance, which you believe the surveyor should have informed you about. In some instances, it might be worth paying extra for a more detailed survey.
4.    A 10 per cent deposit is paid when contracts are signed and at this point the property is sold as seen. If you as the buy back out at this stage, you will lose the deposit.
5.    In the US, the closing date is established when both parties sign the contract, usually 30 days from the signing of the contract.
6.    The buyer and seller appoint a settlement company to complete the transaction. Th buyer pays the balance owing and both parties sign all the final documents.
7.    The transfer of ownership is registered with the local authority after completion. Generally, the local authority assesses property taxes on your purchase. This property tax (about 1-1.5 per cent of the purchase price annually) is included in the closing costs. If you are buying on a development, add in homeowner association dues.


Buying costs

Foreign purchasers, just like US citizens, will be subject to various state and county taxes at the time of purchase, annual taxes based on the value of the property, and on any value gains made when the property’s sold.

Foreign investment in the Real Property Tax Act of 1980 (FIRPTA) requires that an amount equal to 10 per cent of the selling price is withheld from a foreign seller of real estate to cover potential taxes on the profit.

Foreign buyers are also eligible to defer the tax of gains when they sell an investment property held over for one year, and then purchase another within a specific timeframe.

If you rent your property out you will need to complete a federal US income tax return declaring your rental income less expenses such as maintenance, utilities and mortgage interest.

A foreign purchaser is wise to talk to a tax attorney or accountant prior to buying, renting out or selling a property.

You'll also need to find the most cost-effective, safe and easy way to move your money to the USA to complete your purchase.  Bank charges and fluctuating exchange rates can both have an impact on your overall cost - but you can save up to 4% of the cost by working with a specialist currency firm.  They can help you achieve currency exchange rates better than the banks, and reduce the risk of your international payments increasing.

On a £100,000 exchange, a currency specialist can save you up to £4,000 by providing better rates compared to your high street bank.  Click here to read more, or here to download your free guide to saving money on your purchase.  


Buyer beware

When hunting for a home in Florida, keep in mind that guaranteed rentals might not be what they seem. What happens if there’s a drop in visitors going to a particular location that would scupper the supposed guarantee from the developer? And don’t forget you are probably paying more for the property in the first place (this is how the developer covers generous guaranteed rentals payouts).

Also, Americans are good at decking out show houses in a glamorous fashion. Ask what comes as standard and how much extras cost. You could end up paying another 30 per cent for goodies that aren’t included in the basic price. Also, be careful you don’t buy a home you hope to let out in an area that is not zoned for short-term rentals. An unscrupulous or lax realtor might not point out this important fact, so make sure your solicitor carries out a rigorous check.

Need more information?

If you would like more detail about some aspects of buying a property in Florida, then download our FREE guide, sponsored by My Florida Property Store, which covers the popular regions, with a run-down of the local property market including the types of property and things to watch. We give tips on legal, currency and tax as well as the steps involved in the buying process.

 


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