Chris Danks had had his eye on a villa in Orlando’s Solterra resort for a few years. The boss of a web-hosting company from the Wirral, Merseyside, just kept going back to the gated community in Davenport and wanted to buy a home there.
“I just loved the fact it felt a bit like ‘home’ when I kept going back – the familiarity was reassuring and I thought the resort very well maintained and with a lovely clubhouse,” says Chris, 36, who started running a company at 15. “It still feels like it’s a fairly new resort and because it’s not super close to Disney the traffic isn’t too crazy like it can get on International Drive.”
He loved the ‘magic’ of the Orlando area. “It just seems to buzz with excitement and positivity with all those families enjoying the parks and the restaurants. Being English-speaking also helps, he says.
But he did check out other local resorts. “I looked at ChampionsGate and Reunion,” he says of two of the area’s most well-known communities. “But the HOA fees [service charges] on Reunion were going to be $704 a month; and on Solterra it’s $200.”
After keeping an eye on properties coming up for sale, and putting down a deposit on something three years ago, then pulling out, Chris had saved up some funds during the pandemic and was keen to buy a five-bedroom villa. Familiar with the resort layout, he felt confident about snapping up a south-facing lot, nicely located by trees with a lot of privacy, when it came up in 2020.
Travel hadn’t yet opened up again to Florida so Carol Dudley of the estate agent NobleGate Realty, took photos and gave Chris a video tour of the plot of land. He digitally signed the contract in August 2020 and Carol kept him up to date with the build progress. “I watched the process remotely. It was slightly terrifying buying it like that, but it all worked out OK!”
Getting a mortgage was the most painful part but helped by having a good mortgage broker who shopped around for a good deal – in Los Angeles – after his first company stopped lending on vacation homes.
His seven-bedroom property will allow plenty of room for his parents, siblings and his partner, Jason, to enjoy holidays together. The villa was completed in March 2021 and with rentals in mind he spent $100,000 on ugrades – like extending the deck to allow room for more sun loungers - and furniture. He paid $200 for extra trees. Currently lots with off-plan properties are selling from the ‘high $400,000s’ but at this level the properties are smaller.
He briefed the interior designer with a ready prepared Pinterest of décor ideas, and the result of a well-thought-out collection of rooms, including Harry Potter, Spiderman, and Disney bedrooms for children.
The careful planning and extra expenditure have paid off. Rental bookings racked up and Chris was frustrated that it was some paying guests that got to stay in his new villa even before did, in August 2021. He rents it out for $400-500 a night and there is ‘nothing available for 2022’.
Some similar villas might charge $250 a night but he clearly families are willing to pay for the extra comfort and style it offers. “I have netted $82,000 so far. I manage the bookings myself – via Facebook - but has a British couple on the ground to deal with the running of it,” he says. There’s a cost of $200 per clean after each stay. “I allow $1,000 a month really for all the costs. “I’ve learnt to be careful about accepting bookings from AirBnB – I had a group of sports teenagers who broke all the beds!”
He's been shopping for another villa at the recent A Place in the Sun Live in Manchester. “I’d advise going for a south-facing property that is not overlooked, and not to scrimp on the furniture package,” he says. “You’ll make your money back, like I am doing. A bit of wow factor goes a very long way.”