Its three years since Florida's property market imploded. Foreclosures, surplus inventory and bankrupt developers may have turned the Sunshine State somewhat gloomy, but every cloud has a silver lining. There are incredible deals to be had, and some say the market is beginning to bottom out. Or at least, fall at a more demure pace. Deal-hunters may do well to start their search. Brits and Europeans, who sought holiday homes elsewhere while Florida was in free fall, are now showing renewed interest in their old favorite.
Thorne, a Brit who runs Homes of America Realty with her broker husband, Howard, recommends the small communities of Windermere and Dr Phillips as ideal for retirees or families looking for more than just a holiday home. Surrounded by the Butler chain of lakes, they offer beautiful scenery with the attractions of the City of Orlando nearby and beach less than an hour's drive. "Windermere is so pretty," says Thorne. "It's like going back in time with a small cobblestone street lined with boutiques and cafés. People tend to think of Orlando as the Disney area and yes it is, but there's so much more to explore."
On the Atlantic side in colorful Miami, sales are gathering momentum but there is still plenty of choice. Here, Patricia Tan warns: "There have been problems with buyers purchasing what seems like a really good deal in an apartment building only to find that a huge percentage of the units are in some stage of foreclosure, or other residents are not paying their monthly fees."
With so many foreclosed properties around, you might think finding that deal of a lifetime would be easy. But repossessed homes often come with hidden baggage. So find an expert agent and legal advisor you can trust, run a title search, and ensure the contract includes contingencies for financing and inspections.
John McLoughlin, a realtor and home inspector with British American Property Solutions notes on their site: "It's extremely important to understand why and how the property has become a foreclosure in the first place. Make sure you take action with a home inspection to prevent buying someone else's liability." Other factors to watch for, he says, include utilities. Many foreclosed homes will have had services cut off due to debt before viewing. This makes it impossible to tell whether water and energy supplies function at all. Then there are pie-in-the-sky promises of high rental returns by unscrupulous agents.
To ensure decent rental returns, know how competitive the local market is. Greater Orlando, at the highly competitive end of the scale, has a glut of empty rental properties at present, despite its tourist draws. In contrast, some Florida beach areas that have limited rental supply can offer better returns. These may also benefit from long-term lets to Canadian and American sun seekers - so called 'snow birds' - in the winter months.
Wherever you choose to search, deals are abundant. As the New York Times trumpeted earlier this year: in Florida you can now get a condo for less than the price of a new car. That may be so, but no reason to throw caution out the window. If the subprime mess has taught us anything, it's that fools rush in. So take your time and shop around.
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